Turning a blind eye to Erdoğan's war, turning our backs on Turkish democracy
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The suicide bombing of the political rally for peace in Ankara, which was sponsored by labor groups and supported by the leftist pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP), was not only the worst terrorist attack in Turkey's history, claiming well over 100 lives, it was the latest in a series attacks that have been targeting civilians and political organizations for the past two months. For example, in July, another suicide bombing claimed the lives of 30 young people in the border town of Suruç. Many in Turkey have accused the Turkish state of being behind these attacks. The outspoken leader of HDP, Selahattin Demirtaş, recently said on CNN International that even if the government was not directly behind the violence, they have at least turned a blind eye to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) elements that are not only likely responsible for the attacks, but, according to Demirtaş, have also infiltrated the ranks of the Turkish government. The West has so far remained silent, but at what cost?


Since the Turkish state declared war on the separatist Kurdish militias in July, scores have been killed and injured, and some Kurdish-majority towns in eastern Turkey find themselves under siege by the Turkish military. To really understand how Turkey ended up here, we need to go back to early June, when, after a tense campaigning season, the president's Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority. This loss came partly because a large portion of the country's Kurdish population and the disgruntled left shifted their vote to the HDP. As the only pro-Kurdish political party, HDP exceeded all expectations by winning 12 percent of the vote, in the process upsetting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's plan for what he calls a "New Turkey."

Having lost its majority in the parliament, the AKP was faced with two legitimate choices it did not like. The first was to form a coalition with one of the other parties and the second was to declare early elections in November. Unwilling to share power, or take the risk of another election so soon after their first loss, Erdoğan went for a third option: Stoking ethnic-nationalist fervor through organized efforts and declaring a "war against terrorists" to cause a measure of instability and fear of a common enemy in order to entice the electorate to rally around the sitting government.

Whether Erdoğan's gamble will bare fruit is yet to be seen. However, it has so far created turmoil on a scale that Turkey has not witnessed for years. The war has spilled over from southeast Turkey to the Anatolian heartland. For example, a couple of weeks back, over 30 policemen were killed in two separate attacks in eastern Turkey. The response was felt in the western part of the country through a set of organized pro-government mob attacks on HDP offices in cities and towns across the country. Mobs have also targeted Kurds, mostly laborers who find work on building sites in western Turkey. Some men were beaten; some stripped down and humiliated in public while the crowds chanted racist taunts. Not only is the Turkish police not doing anything to stop this violence, officers are increasingly becoming implicated in some of the most horrific acts of violence, moving the country ever closer to a civil war. Horrific scenes, such as the video showing a popular Kurdish activist's body being dragged around the city by a police vehicle, will not soon be forgotten.

In spite of all of this, politicians in the West have remained silent. Why?

Well, in addition to declaring war in July, Erdoğan finally cashed in his chips with the Western powers vis-à-vis the war with ISIS. In return for allowing Americans to use airbases in Turkey after long refusing to get involved in the war in Syria, the West would turn a blind eye to his plan to create a state of emergency in Turkey.

Manufacturing a state of emergency in order to rally the majority behind the existing government during an election year is of course not new at all. However, its sting is especially bitter when this manufactured war takes place on domestic soil. Not only are the dead, injured and displaced Turkish citizens, the long-term victim will ultimately be the hard-won Turkish democracy.

Washington's silence on the Turkish state's actions will likely prove to be another shortsighted policy that does not take into account the long-term impact on the Turkish population and the democratic institutions in one of the most powerful countries in the region. We might have won the battle for gaining Erdoğan as an ally, but if we continue to be silent, we might just lose our moral standing with the Turkish and Kurdish peoples alike.

Minawi is assistant professor of History at Cornell University, where he is also director of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Initiative (OTSI).