Ankara’s Recent Terrorist Attacks and Turkey’s Domestic and Foreign Campaigns

Friday, October 23, 2015

Hossein Mofidi Ahmadi, Ph.D. in International Relations &
Visiting Researcher at the Center for Middle East Strategic Studies

During recent days, Turkey has been witnessing the most destructive terrorist attacks in its modern history. The attacks immediately gave rise to many questions. What have been the driving forces and main factors behind incidence of these terrorist attacks? What effect, if any, will this development have on domestic campaigns in Turkey, including during the forthcoming and important parliamentary elections? What will be the possible effect of this development on Turkey’s regional policies?

There are many analysts who believe that during the past three decades, under the influence of such factors as globalization, emergence of new Anatolian bourgeoisie, expansion of public sphere and the process of accession to the European Union, Turkey has been witnessing rise of new interpretations and meanings for “being a Turkish citizen” or “being a Muslim” most of which have been inclusive and civil than exclusive and ethnic. However, influenced by such factors as reduced possibility of accession to the European Union from 2005 onward, as well as the Arab Spring developments accompanied with certain changes in domestic balance of power, we have been witnessing the rise of a more inclusive interpretation of being Turkish citizen and a more sectarian interpretation of the Islamic aspect of the country’s national identity among the rulers of Turkey during recent years. On domestic scale, this development has led to relative distancing of Turkish rulers from democratic governance, while on regional scale it has led to relative pursuit of ethnic and sectarian policies in the face of the ongoing crisis in Syria and Iraq, and also in dealing with the issue of Daesh or the issue of Kurds. In the meantime, Turkey has relatively distanced from its Europeanized foreign policy during this period.

Another thought-provoking issue is the role played by activities and behavior of Daesh, which is both a product and effect, and a major activator of historical, ethnic, religious, and political fault lines in the region. In fact, since in spite of some ambiguities, Daesh is the first party to be blamed for the recent twin terror attacks in Turkey’s capital, it seems that this group has carried out the attacks with such goals as undermining the nation-state building process, preventing establishment of a broad-based government and further deepening of national divides in Turkey. The ultimate goal of the attacks also include creating instability, recruitment of new forces, preventing further prominence of the moderate Islam, and replacing it with the caliphate discourse in this country. These goals are quite similar to goals that Daesh has been pursing in Syria, Iraq and other countries in the region.

Despite the above concerns and realities, there is evidence to uphold this hypothesis that social, political, and economic developments in addition to European identity of Turkey have reached such a degree of strength due to developments in the past three decades that despite occasional political conflicts, or prominence of ethnic, sectarian and nondemocratic approaches among the ruling elite, the society in its totality is capable of managing and reversing such campaigns.

Recent parliamentary elections in Turkey confirmed the proposition that the process of Europeanization in Turkish society has never stopped despite many ups and downs it has gone through, and has paved the way for the establishment of more powerful and more stabile democratic institutions. In the meantime, the elections proved opposition of the majority of the Turkish society with the government’s exclusionist approaches and its regional policies. The results of an opinion poll recently published by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, also confirmed that about 60 percent of Turkish people are against any form of military intervention aimed at supporting groups opposing the ruling regime of Syria and also more than 70 percent of Turkish people are against the idea of creating a buffer zone on Syria’s soil. Meanwhile, 82 percent of Turkish people consider these terrorist groups as a threat to security of Turkey as well.

From another standpoint, the recent terror attacks in Ankara will boost awareness about the strong connection that exists between Turkey’s policies in Syria and internal campaigns in Turkey. Within this context, we have seen signs of this increased awareness. Although Turkey moved with more delay compared to the United States and European countries, including the UK, France and Germany, to get cooperation of Iran and Russia for management of the Syrian crisis, it has nonetheless declared in recent days its willingness to enter into negotiation with Russia and Iran in a bid to put an end to the civil war in Syria. Within this framework, Turkey is possible to put a stronger focus on mediatory approaches and crisis management mechanisms in cooperation with regional powers like Iran and through more alignment with strategies of European countries and the United States in the Middle East.

As for the impact of recent terrorist attacks on the results of the forthcoming elections in Turkey, there are two possibilities to be taken into consideration. It is usual that when a country is facing major crises and big risks, the “coming together under the national flag” approach gains more importance for transition through the crisis, and as such, bolsters the standing of the ruling government. Therefore, it is quite possible for the Justice and Development Party to be able to win the upcoming elections and establish a single-party government. This is especially true because the Justice and Development Party has been apparently successful in keeping its 40-percent share of the vote and only needs to attract undecided voters.

Another possibility is a repeat of the vote ratio that happened in previous elections (a possibility which has been upheld by many opinion polls) with the main difference being that due to increased awareness about the necessity of weathering the current crisis and also due to more profound understanding of the risks posed by heightening political, ethnic and religious conflicts, formation of a coalition and relatively successful government will be possible. Of course, it must be noted that since nation-state building is a process and also due to “securitization” of the issue of separatist Kurds in Turkey, it is not possible to expect political, ethnic and religious conflicts to hit zero in the country, at least over the medium term.

Key Words: Turkey, Ankara, Terrorist Attacks, Domestic and Foreign Campaigns, European Union, Kurds, Justice and Development Party, Iran, Russia, Syrian Crisis, Daesh, Iraq, Globalization, Mofidi Ahmadi

More By Hossein Mofidi Ahmadi:

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*An Identity-Based Approach to Effects of Recent Parliamentary Elections on Turkey’s Regional Policies:

*Historical Bitterness Still Overshadowing Turkey-Armenia Relations:

*Photo Credit: Focus Information Agency