You are here

Istanbul bombings – perfect timing for conspiracy theorists

Commentary, 28 July 2008
Domestic Security, Terrorism, Europe
Those responsible for the latest atrocity in Istanbul could well have struck to coincide with the prevailing political crisis in Turkey. It remains to be seen whether their action has made any impact.

Those responsible for the latest atrocity in Istanbul could well have struck to coincide with the prevailing political crisis in Turkey. It remains to be seen whether their action has made any impact.

By Alistair Church, RUSI Eastern Mediterranean Forum

The weekend bombings in Istanbul come at a time when Turkey is holding its collective political breath as it waits for the Constitutional Court to finally pass judgement on the ruling AK Party. They struck when plots and counter plots have been foiled and further details of the intentions of the so-called Ergenekon group have emerged who, it is alleged, plotted to cause chaos so that the armed services would be compelled to intervene and oust the Government. Political tensions are high in Turkey and despite the track record of the Constitutional Court it is no longer a foregone conclusion that the AK Party will be closed down. History certainly points that way but the party gave a good defence of its position and there have been several debates in the press and on television that have highlighted the impact closure will have on Turkey’s image to the outside world. These debates are quite normal in Turkey, both on the public stage and in tea houses and raki bars across the country, but they prove that the country is split about the impact of this brewing political crisis.

It is not clear yet who is responsible for the bombings in Istanbul, coming as they did just a week after the failed attack on the US Consulate. But they have all the hall marks of the PKK terrorist organisation that has consistently bombed Turkey over the years and often indiscriminately. The PKK has used the ‘dustbin tactic’ many times before, last summer Ankara was targeted and they remain keen to bring terror and chaos to Turkey and its growing tourist sector. Whilst these most recent bombings were not directly aimed at tourists they appear to be standard practice for the PKK who will no doubt be conscious of the current political climate and the impact these bombings will have.

Whilst many may point the finger to the PKK, it is uncertain whether the act will affect the prevailing political situation in Turkey. Regardless, one thing is certain; the Constitutional Court will decide soon, there have been various estimates of a decision being announced ranging from this week to the end of August. Most commentators are convinced that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be banned from politics because he has proved to be the thorn in the side of the secularists. If he is indeed banned it remains unclear who will replace him. The front runners are the Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, who is seen as a true Erdogan loyalist, and the deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek. The debate rages as to who will be Erdogan’s puppet and who will be their own man, a label, fairly or unfairly, given to whoever becomes PM and who has shown loyalty to Erdogan in the past. But the problem remains that the AK Party is a broad alliance of factions that has been held together by the political glue and force of personality of Erdogan. If he becomes unstuck there is a distinct risk that the party itself will no longer need to be banned because it will begin to fall apart. No one can accurately predict what will happen in the coming months and so the atmosphere is perfect for various fanciful claims and ideas. We have to review each day as it comes.

The Constitutional court is clearly aware of the impact that its decision will have abroad but they will be focused purely on what they see as right for Turkey. If a ban on the ruling party is chosen the Court would have acted completely within the law and so foreign leaders and opinion formers should decide, when condemning the decision, whether they believe in the rule of law or not. That said the pressures within the Turkish political system are unlikely to burst because of the ban unless a terrible financial crisis is the main result and we see a wide scale loss of confidence and retracting foreign investment. These shock waves are what terrorists wish to see after a campaign of violence and the PKK have regularly carried out bombings like the ones this weekend in Istanbul particularly during the holiday season. This year is likely to be no different. However the conspiracy theorists will claim that the bombings prove that the Deep State is in civil war with the political establishment but the reality is far more likely to be a PKK inspired attack nicely timed to fan the flames of mistrust both at home and abroad.

Turkey will survive this political crisis because it has done so many times before in its short modern history. It will however be stronger if its friends remain loyal and continue to work for its development both politically and economically and don’t allow terrorists, conspiracy theorists and its enemies to undermine it at a time when friends are needed the most.

The views expressed above are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of RUSI.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Support Rusi Research