The devastating attack in Gaziantep that left 54 dead and dozens more injured has renewed criticisms of the government for failing to prevent attacks that target Kurdish gatherings – while the ruling Justice and Development Party has suggested the bombing may be a false flag of sorts.
Conspiracy theories have been emerging in the sphere of Turkish politics as the public continues to grapple with the often bewildering political developments of the past few months.
Just last month, Turkey’s failed putsch drew heated and often contradictory claims of conspiracy. Some voices critical of the government suggested that, considering the “inexplicable sloppiness” of the putsch attempt, the whole operation may have been staged. Voices close the government have suggested the putsch was a CIA backed operation aiming to prompt a civil war in Turkey.
Conspiracy theories have also become a kind of political currency for rival political parties, especially between the ruling AKP and the Kurdish-backed Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
The HDP has been essentially side-lined from the post-putsch democracy rallies and celebrations, as the two other opposition parties, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), have enjoyed an increasingly close relationship with the ruling party. This new atmosphere of unity and cooperation has been catalysed by the threat of FETÖ, the alleged group behind the putsch and everyone’s common enemy.
The suicide bombing in the southern province of Gaziantep, which took place at a wedding on Saturday killing 54 and injuring 69, many of which were women and children, is the latest tragic event in Turkey drawing competing claims of conspiracy.
HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş released a statement concerning the event, drawing attention to the primarily Kurdish makeup of the wedding party and the presence of HDP party members: “They targeted Kurds in Antep; this was a wedding of our party colleagues. The message is clear; they were hoping to create conditions for chaos, for a civil war.”
Demirtaş also pointed out the significance of the timing of the suicide bombing; “Just yesterday, the KCK [Kurdistan Communities Union] released a declaration stating that they would be open to ceasefire negotiations and finding a diplomatic solution. And then the attack in Gaziantep took place. None of this is a coincidence, the targeted crowd, and the targeted region were not coincidences.”
Demirtaş’s statements appear substantiated as, according to the Turkish Evrensel newspaper, the KCK (the urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party) announced on Saturday, August 20, that the organization would be open to ceasefire negotiations, outlining a number of conditions the AKP should meet in order for negotiations to go forward. Evrensel published its piece on the KCK declaration at 15:26 on Saturday. Five hours later, around 22:50, the suicide bomb went off at the wedding in Gaziantep.
Demirtaş also pointed out that the Gaziantep bombing is not the first major suicide bombing to occur on the heels of ceasefıre negotiations;
“On October 10, the day of the Ankara Massacre, the KCK again was planning to announce a ceasefire, and with the massacre that took place that day, they were successful in their plan. The calls for a ceasefire were drowned out by the chaos of the massacre,” stated Demirtaş, referencing the suicide bombing that took place in Ankara on October 10, 2015 during a primarily Kurdish and leftist political rally which left over 100 dead and over 500 wounded.
The theory the HDP seems to be proposing is that the ISIS linked suicide bombings disproportionately target Kurdish gatherings, particularly at politically critical times. ISIS has a significant interest in preventing ceasefire negotiations between Turkey and the Kurds, on the basis that a stable domestic political climate could enable Ankara to more fully participate in anti-ISIS operations in Syria, to which the Kurdish People’s Protection Units are central.
Demirtaş noted that: “There are forces which want to prevent us from talking with each other. And these forces have nothing to do with the government or the state.” This statement is likely referring to FETÖ, an organization headed by Fethullah Gülen and identified by the government as a terrorist organization and a parallel state.
Demirtaş’s criticisms have also indicated an intelligence failure on the part of the government in preventing the attacks however, an issue also raised to the fore of public debate after the Ankara bombing.
“Our call, our plea to the Prime Minister is that, starting from the Suruç bombings, investigations are carried out to identify points of weakness in security and intelligence information. The Antep attack has again revealed a vulnerability of intel”, Demirtaş stated.
Intelligence failures in preventing ISIS-linked attacks have become a common criticism of the ruling party. The day after the attack in Gaziantep, left-leaning newspaper Evrensel published a piece alleging that the government had access to intel indicating an attack of this kind might take place.
In the article, journalist Birkan Bulut notes that after police raided the home of October 10 Ankara suicide bomber Yunus Durmaz, they found a host of inter-ISIS correspondences and memos. The correspondences revealed a number of plans for future attack in Turkey, including explicitly targeting Kurdish weddings, like the one in Gaziantep. Bulut pointed out that the newspaper had previously covered the intel tips, and “because the proper precautions were not taken, another attack took place.”
The ruling AKP has its own theory about the Gaziantep bombing however. Speaking at a press conference, party Vice President Yasin Aktay commented on the attack, stating that “As soon as the attack occurred, the fact that an HDP convoy arrived at the scene of the attack even before ambulances got there seems to signal that they were somehow prepared for this event.”
“The HDP parliament members brought a busload of people to the funeral and turned what should have been a sombre funeral service into a political rally of sorts” continued Aktay.
While the culprit of the attack is suspected to be a ISIS linked teenage suicide bomber, Aktay stated: “The incident is being very thoroughly investigated in all of its many dimensions. Nothing will remain in the dark. However, everyone should be sure of that fact that there is no difference between ISIS and the PKK. When you tug at the string of ISIS a bit you will find the PKK on one end FETÖ on the other, and number of other organizations.”
Aktay’s statements are interesting because they essentially represent a conspiracy-theory cocktail of all the shadowy forces plaguing Turkey’s national security; ISIS, PKK, FETÖ, and maybe even a slight nod to the CIA. In a sense, Aktay’s theory indicates the basic impulse behind the conspiracy theory, which is the need to make sense of a world that feels increasingly out of one’s control.
Regardless of the factual merit of such conspiracies, as long as the government drags their feet in investigating ISIS attacks on Kurds, preoccupied with the more politically expedient campaign against the PKK, we can expect to see these unhelpful and competing claims of conspiracy continue. All the while, the public continues to live in fear of when the next attack will be.