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    The Syrian civil war has come to Turkey

    Güven Sak, PhD17 October 2015 - Okunma Sayısı: 1046

    Last weekend’s bomb attack was a rude awakening for Turks, who are now beginning to realize that the Syrian civil war has come to their doorstep. Turkey is now one of the battlegrounds for the war between ISIL and the PYD, the Syrian splinter group of the PKK. Both groups see the Turkish state as their secondary, and each other as primary enemies. Neither has any trouble undermining Ankara’s sovereignty by moving their war to Turkish soil. This is a new stage of the Syrian Civil War.

    Two suicide bombers killed a crowd gathering for a Peace March in Ankara scheduled for the 10th of October. The case bore similarities to the 7/20 attack that happened in the small town of Suruç, Şanlıurfa, right on the border with Syria. The Ankara and Suruç bombers were allegedly brothers, and they targeted Turks who support the PYD’s fight against ISIL.

    All of this complicates things. In the past, the state was fighting separatist groups that identified with an ethnic group within its borders, namely, the Kurds. The new factor that complicates the situation is ISIL’s war against militant Kurds. Think about it for a second: these are citizens of the Republic of Turkey who support a group, the PYD, that their government is on a war footing with. We do not consider this treason because of the broad spectrum the Kurdish movement covers, ranging from separatists to the democracy advocates. Either way, the state puts the families of the victims on a salary. At the same time, it uses their tax money to bomb the PYD. That is an awkward position for the Turkish state to be in.

    This blurring of the political lines is going to be a problem as we enter a new stage of the regional conflict. Up until now, the Syrian civil war had an indirect impact on Turkey. We took in over two million refugees, tried to coordinate diplomatic efforts, moved our troops stationed at Suleyman Shah’s tomb, we looked for new trade routes to our southern markets. The hostages ISIL took in Mosul were safely returned. Now we see Turkish citizens being killed as part of the war. And all the while, the political lines are blurred in a way that complicates our emotional reactions.

    All of that is new, and we are not prepared. Ankara still doesn’t know how to cope with refugees who settle in Turkey, maybe indefinitely. We have no institutional mechanism to integrate them. And now with 10/10, Turks are confronted with a gaping security deficit. They realize that there is very little separating their daily lives from the bearded lunatics of the south border. The Salafi terrorist stereotype is no longer part of the “swamp” of the Arab world – he speaks Turkish, walks among us as our own, and he knows where we live. Perhaps the strangest part of it all is that he hates us and wants to tear down our country, while we seem to be ambivalent about condemning his ideology and way of life.

    There is also a question of efficacy here. The father of one of the suicide bombers explained to the daily Radikal that he informed the police about his son’s participation in ISIL in Aleppo as early as 2013. Yet nothing happened. His son was on the police’s watch list, but still managed to stroll around town and kill at least 99 people. Why? Is Turkish police, as some HDP sympathizers suggest, actually helping ISIL? Or is the Turkish security apparatus simply incapable of protecting us from these people? I opt for the second. The US acknowledged this kind of a mistake in the wake of 9/11, and Turkey should do the same. It should focus on reforming its security and especially its intelligence bureaucracy to meet the challenges of its new environment. Neither the Salafi threat, nor Kurdish militias are going anywhere anytime soon. So we must let 10/10 be our 9/11.

    “I have never seen something like this before”, a taxi driver recently told me, “this Sunday and Monday, right after the blast, I did not have a single commercial passenger to carry. Not a single one. That never happened in Istanbul before. Nobody wants to leave their homes.” We used to talk about the economy, the rule of law and individual liberties. But now, the state needs to rethink how it fulfills its most fundamental function: ensuring the security of its citizens.

    This commentary was published in Hürriyet Daily News on 17.10.2015

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