By Sana Johnson, CAS ‘17
The reports of terrorist attacks do not seem to end. The people gathering in Ankara, Turkey on Saturday, October 10th were marching for peace. They were advocating for an end to the violence between the Turkish state and Kurdish separatists. They simply wanted to live without fear. Unfortunately, the actions of two suicide bombers at the rally increased the tension between the polarized factions of Turkish society even more.
“We started dancing the ‘halay’ dance as we were cheerful and determined to promote peace,” said Mr. Goksin, a victim of the twin bombings that killed nearly 100 people and wounded more than twice as many. “Then we heard a sudden blast about 15 metres behind us.”
The bombs exploded near the main train station in Ankara just as the rally began.
“After the explosion I was overcome by shock,” Goksin continued. “I fell on my knees, and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Then 15 seconds later there was a second blast. We saw flags and pieces of bodies flying into the air.”
The various reactions to the attack demonstrate how polarized Turkish society remains: The pro-Kurdish separatists accused the state of sponsoring the bombings,
Thee Prime Minister blamed the Islamic State and the survivors wondered how their government could allow for such an overwhelming intelligence failure to happen.
Mr. Goksin recalls how “people were injured and running around unconsciously. It took ten to fifteen minutes for someone to slap me to get over the shock. She told me to walk fast and scream.”
Unfortunately, the heartbreak did not end on Saturday. Thousands of mourners came together the following day to honor those who lost their lives. Police forces blocked off access to ground zero as fighting broke out among the crowd. Witnesses looked on, horrified as the Turkish authorities used tear gas on the grieving citizens.
“But I will never forget the smell of burned human flesh,” Goksin concludes his account of the event. “Even after I left the scene, I couldn’t help feeling it. So my friends made me smell some flowers and perfume to stop it. It took a few hours to smell the air again. I am OK now but I will never forget it.”
In the aftermath of the explosions, the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) declared a unilateral ceasefire, ordering its forces to stop any guerrilla activities in Turkey unless in self-defense. In spite of this ceasefire, the Turkish military carried out airstrikes against the PKK on Sunday, October 11th in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq. A total of 49 people died in those strikes.
Saddened, angered and confused, Turks are pressuring the state for answers. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the “heinous actions,” the Prime Minister called the tragedy “the most painful incident in the history of the Turkish republic” and Turkey’s Interior Ministry fired several security officials on the following Wednesday—including the police chief in Ankara.
National tragedies have a tendency to unite a country, but instead the attack in Ankara further divided the opposing elements in Turkey. In the wake of the bombings, and especially after the actions of the policy the following Sunday, anti-government sentiment has increased. The political ramifications of the attack are extremely relevant, as parliamentary elections in Turkey are scheduled to take place in the weeks ahead.
The words of the witnesses speak louder than any commentator’s possibly could. Fighting through tears, Ahmet Onen reflects: “A demonstration that was to promote peace has turned into a massacre – I don’t understand this.”