By Harriet Fildes, photography by Emine Kart.
A year ago today, Turkey suffered the worst suicide bombing in its history. On what has become known as ‘Black Saturday’, over one hundred activists who had gathered at the Ankara central train station to call for peace in the country were killed in an ISIS attack. Over 400 were injured.
Demonstrations to mark the anniversary of the massacre were banned however, with sporadic clashes between groups and police occurring across the city today. So far, dozens have been detained, with the number likely to increase as small demonstrations continue throughout the night. Such clashes with police have unfortunately become commonplace even at funerals and memorial services, heightening tensions during politically sensitive times.
A small memorial event has been permitted by Ankara’s Governor, Ercan Topca, open to the relatives and friends of the Ankara victims and a delegation of parliamentary representatives, leftist groups and NGOs. The Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the Labour Party (EMEP) were the political parties most affected by the twin bombings. Many of their members were gathered alongside members of trade unions, chambers, and medical associations to demonstrate against the conflict raging through the country’s predominantly Kurdish south-east, when the two explosions ripped through the crowd.
One year later, the call for peace is falling on increasingly deaf ears. The escalating violence, initially rekindled by the flames of the Syrian Civil War, now has a logic of its own. Playing out along Turkey’s old social and political fault lines, it has left no part of the country untouched.
In the Kurdish regions, the civil war which blighted the 1990s has returned with a vengeance. Once again, families are burying sons conscripted into the Turkish Army; while another generation of families have become internal refugees, with whole cities and communities destroyed in the fighting.
For its part, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has resumed its insurgency against the state with renewed vigour, the most recent attack killing 15 in the southern province of Hakkari. The organisation is widely held to be responsible for a series of suicide attacks that struck at the heart of Ankara, including the Kizilay bombing which killed 37 people in March this year, although a PKK offshoot – the Turkish Freedom Falcons – officially claimed responsibility for the attack.
A bewildering sense of déjà vu has been compounded by the Turkish Armed Forces, once again interfering violently in domestic politics. In the name of the “Peace at Home Council”, elements within the military, allegedly led by the so-called Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organisation (FETO), sought to overthrow the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Over three hundred people were killed after taking to the streets to defend the government and democracy, and this latest attack on Turkish soil, although under a new name, has led the country even further down a seemingly endless spiral of conflict.
Ever present in the background, ISIS has continued its policy of viciously targeting civilians, particularly Kurdish communities. Some have interpreted this as a conscious effort by the organisation to exacerbate divisions in the country — allowing rumour and speculation to fan sectarian flames. Since the Ankara bombing, the most notable of these has been the recent tragic bombing of a Kurdish wedding in Gaziantep which left more than 50 dead.
Both immediately following the Ankara attack last October, and in recent months, there has been an alarming rise in ethnic and social tensions throughout the country. Many blame the government for security failures in the lead up to the bombing, whereas those killed on that fateful day were variably depicted as martyrs, or as guilty of a crime due to their pro-peace or pro-Kurdish activism.
Yet the changing face of Ankara since these attacks speaks to neither of these characterisations. Across the liberal spaces of the nation’s capital, memorials to love and loss appeared. Red flowers were strewn across Konur Street in Kizilay. Ankara’s Middle East Technical University (METU), a somewhat infamous home to leftists and dissidents, hung doves inscribed with the names of those lost in the attack.
Today is about those victims, and a city still nursing the wounds of this tragedy, a community in mourning. Here we remember those who were lost. And those who lost them.