The timing of the blast was impeccable and suspicious, and had the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK) not come forward taking responsibility for the attack; one could almost assume that the whole thing had been orchestrated. TAK said on their website that the attack was retaliation against President Erdoğan’s increasingly suppressive policies against the Kurdish people and security operations in the country’s Kurdish south-east.
The group also stated that attacks will continue and revealed the identity of the suicide bomber as Abdulbaki Sönmez, a 26-year old Turkish national. The claim contradicts that of the Turkish government, who said that the perpetrator was 24-year old Syrian national, Saleh Necar. Despite TAK coming forward, Turkish news sources explain that the authorities are standing firm that the YPG was behind the attacks and are carrying out DNA tests on the bomber in a bid to prove this.
TAK was once linked with the PKK, and both are designated as terrorist groups by Turkey and its ally, the United States. Although the relationship between them is murky, with the TAK insisting their relations with the PKK are severed, some assert that the group takes the hit for the PKK when it suits them.
This may well be. Regardless, Turkey was always likely to use this attack in order to legitimise ongoing air-strikes against the PYD in Syria. This is why the government was so quick to create links with the YPG and the bombing. An attack by the PKK did not fit the bill they needed to further justify their actions against Syrian Kurds and potential military action in Syria. The YPG quickly denied any links, and asserted that the government’s accusations were likely to justify further attacks against the rapidly expanding territory the Kurds are carving out in northern Syria, known as Rojava.
The YPG was always unlikely to have been the culprit of the attacks on Wednesday. They have bigger fish to fry as they take on ISIS in Syria and focus their resources, backed by the US, on the fight against ISIS. Further, there is no precedent of the YPG carrying out attacks on Turkish soil. An attack in Turkey would only have hurt their cause and relationship with the US and provoked Turkey to respond, unsurprisingly, as it has done.
US president Obama urged Erdogan to remain restrained, and Obama has taken this latest attack more seriously than those of previous as he increasingly realises the complexities of becoming pulled into local confrontations and disputes. The attack also highlights the growing fractures between Turkey and the US as Turkish efforts to force Washington to renounce the YPG have been met by rejection.
The US is aware that Turkey’s military action would be directed at the Syrian Kurds and the YPG more than they would be directed toward ISIS, and they cannot afford to lose their greatest allies on the ground.
Erdoğan is likely looking for a justification to intervene militarily in Syria and asking allies to take part in a ground operation in Syria. The Saudis and Gulf States are keen to get in on the action and Saudi has already amassed a substantial force for a ground invasion. An invasion into a sovereign state is still illegal however, even if the Syrian quagmire might indicate otherwise, and would not be taken lightly by the international community.
Erdoğan’s options are limited, much to his dismay, as there is a strong Russian air force presence in Syria, and restrictions from its NATO membership. NATO would not help Turkey in the event of its own unilateral action against Syria, and will only come to its defence in the event of an attack. This looks increasingly likely as Russia-Turkey tensions heighten.
Turkey-Russia relations have been at a low since Turkish fighters shot down a Russian military plane last November. The Turkish government is vehemently against Russia’s support of Assad, and has accused Russia of war crimes. As their relationship worsens there is an alarming risk of direct military confrontation between the two countries. Russia has already threatened world war 3 if Turkey sends troops into Syria, which the AKP is keen to do. They have also reportedly threatened Turkey with nuclear missiles. It is no surprise then that Turkey is also trying to foster tensions between the US and Russia. A return to Cold War dynamics is looking likely.
The Syrian conflict could turn from one of international involvement to an all-out international war. With China considering putting boots on the ground in Syria marking the end of their policy of non-involvement, and the likelihood of them joining Russia’s side, the result wouldn’t be pretty. The war in Syria is reaching a pinnacle. The Syrian army is advancing into the north of Aleppo to cut off the Syrian armed opposition from the Turkish border, supported by the Russians. The Syrian Kurds are closing in on ISIS and their supply lines, supported by the US.
Now that Turkey is threatening military intervention in Syria in retaliation for the attack we watch and wait. Turkey is becoming perilously impulsive and some form of military action cannot be ruled out. We risk going from bomb blast to bombast, and moving onto a state of affairs far more dangerous even than the one we face now; with the biggest refugee crisis since World War II and a toxic mix of actors tearing Syria to pieces. What we see unfold before us could mark the beginning of the kind of chaos the world hasn’t witnessed since 1939.