There is no justification on any grounds for the allegedly PKK affiliated TAK claimed suicide bombings in Istanbul. It was an insane, barbarous act of terrorism and potentially reduces Kurdish political credibility in Turkey to zero – if it was the Kurds – but that cannot be stated with any certainty at this point. The vast majority of those murdered in the atrocity were young rookie recruits.
At this time and unless credible doubt can be cast on the definitive identity of the murderers then the sole outcome will likely be the acceleration of Turkey towards complete authoritarianism under the extreme nationalist Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and that was the very last thing that any Kurdish “strategist” should have been indirectly facilitating.
If confirmed that this was TAK then this was the single most idiotic move by a credible separatist group that I have witnessed (rogue splinter group or not). They have tarnished the entire Kurdish project.
However – what about the timing? If the Millî İstihbarat Teşkilatı top brass had of sat down with full authority to dream up and execute the most damaging stunt possible to subvert the Kurdish cause they would likely have failed to go this far but maybe they did.
When examining this incident what must be borne in mind is – “who benefits” from the Istanbul bombings? The recent Gülenist “coup” very conveniently empowered Erdoğan and strengthened his position by allowing him to remove large sections of legitimate opposition in Turkey to his party and his rule – Gülenist’s and others in the army, police force, other areas of law enforcement, the judiciary, government officials, media outlets (TV, Radio & Print) and public life while at the same time deflecting Western concern at the ratio of Turkish airstrikes against the Kurds versus ISIS.
The man (Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) and his party AKP (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi) seem to have uncanny and very timely “luck” in the sense that extreme turn of events seem to coincide with the proposal of unpopular initiatives. These events then garner reactionary support for these previously controversial proposals. Deflecting attention from the core issues and creating “bogeymen” around which to gather popular and extreme nationalist unthinking support is a well worn tactic of tyrants.
The Recent “Executive Presidency” Proposal
When I first heard of the bombings I immediately thought “false flag” because last week:
“Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan inched closer to concentrating power in his office as the governing party officially proposed an executive presidency to parliament. The bill would amend the constitution to change Turkey’s political framework from a parliamentary system to a presidential one. It was submitted on Saturday after the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, reached agreement on its outlines with the nationalist opposition party MHP, whose support it needs to authorize a public referendum on the measures. Erdogan has faced criticism over his increasingly authoritarian style and sway over the AKP despite his official non-partisan role. Under the amendment, he will be able to restore his ties to the ruling party, which he had co-founded 15 years ago. There will be no prime minister if the amendments are approved.”
The proposed constitutional change was met by substantial public criticism – until the “Kurdistan Freedom Hawks” distracted from the discourse by exploding two bombs in Istanbul. Instead of discussions about and protests against what is widely perceived as an attempt to implement a semi-dictatorial presidential system, the AKP, the MHP and associated organizations are now calling for mass rallies against terror (Kurds).
A well informed colleague Allan Duncan (Note: Not the Allan Duncan (namesake) with the Peshmerga in Iraq – current status unknown – at least by me)) did credibly pose the question:
“You’re sure this wasn’t a false flag? I wouldn’t put it past anyone in that regime. I agree with you; it’s an abhorrent act and by a group that had gained so much in the past year with their achievements in Syria against IS etc. To call this act a “shot in the foot” seems trite but it sets their cause back years. It also strengthens the Turkish regimes position. It’s appalling, whoever carried it out but I’m still left with questions.”
If in the fullness of time there is substance to a “false flag” theory then it can be examined at that time. For now it is not a convincing thesis.
What is the Teyrenbazen Azadiya Kurdistan (TAK) Backstory
There are some questions over who the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, or Teyrenbazen Azadiya Kurdistan (TAK) really are and what motivates their actions. Some apologists have been claiming over the last few days that the TAK split off from the PKK in the early 2000s and number no more than about 200 – 300 armed members.
There are unsubstantiated claims that TAK are in part managed by Turkish and NATO intelligence structures – I do not believe the NATO allegation is credible in any way.
The TAK are notorious for carrying out low-cost, high-public-profile attacks that result in support for otherwise controversial Turkish government or NATO policies. The generalized TAK strategy it is being claimed on semi-official news sites, unofficial and pro-Kurd blogs includes attacks on non-combatant civilians and is largely inconsistent with the policy and the strategy of the PKK. The latter primarily launching guerrilla attacks against military targets.
The TAK’s first public operation was in 2005. Then in April 2006, it attacked the police headquarters in Malatya. In June 2010, the TAK killed four military personnel and a civilian in an Istanbul suburb using a roadside bomb. Other notable operations included a mortar attack the TAK launched Dec. 23, 2015, that killed one worker at Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen Airport, and of course the Ankara attack Feb. 17. And now Istanbul.
Al-Monitor contributor Mahmut Bozarslan who is based in Diyarbakir, the central city of Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast wrote a TAK creation myth piece after the Ankara bombings. He stated:
“The public by and large believes the TAK equals the PKK. But the TAK defines itself differently. On its website, which can’t be accessed in Turkey, the TAK says, “For a period, we were inside the PKK and fought the enemy together. We then decided the methods of struggle of Kongra-Gel [the Kurdistan People’s Congress] and the HPG [the PKK’s military wing, the People’s Defense Forces], which pay attention to political considerations, were too feeble. That is why we left the organization … and set up the TAK.”
Zanyar, an alias for a man who served in the PKK’s armed wing, narrated the TAK’s background to Al-Monitor.
“After the arrest of PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan in 1999, the group saw an influx of recruits from urban areas. When the PKK realized in the early 2000s that its struggle in rural areas was not yielding results, it shifted its operations to cities.
Many of the new recruits were schooled in military ideology and received technical training. “The military council sent these city-born and grown-up youngsters back to their hometowns with orders to sever all contacts with the organization and its legal and illegal wings,” Zanyar said.
“They were to have no contact whatsoever with the organization. They were instructed to follow Ocalan and the organization from the news media and act accordingly. They were given unlimited freedom in taking the initiative.”
Initially, about 150 new militants were given explosives training and sent back to Turkey and 150 were kept at the PKK camps. Although some of those who had gone back to their hometowns were caught, most of them succeeded in infiltrating.
They began recruiting people in the places they were posted. According to Zanyar, the TAK inside Turkey is organized in cells of two to three people who have no contact with other cells. They are not subordinate to anyone in the organization. They were told to not attract attention, and to become normal citizens, get married, settle down and manage their own financing.
At the time of the interview Zanyar did not believe the TAK took orders from HPG leader Murat Karayilan. To Zanyar, the TAK exists on its own. According to Huseyin Turhalli, who worked with the PKK for many years and served in the group’s administration, when the PKK was listed as a terror organization, its leaders began searching for alternatives.
Turhalli told Al-Monitor, “After 1994, they started debating whether to set up separate front organizations or tolerate efforts by others to do it. I am aware of opinions that were being widely discussed. For example, they advocated disproportional responses to the state’s cruelty and violence, but without implicating the PKK — hence the need for separate structures. Many of the teams sent to cities for actions were apprehended before reaching their destinations, hence the need for autonomous bodies. Such an organization had to be ideologically attached to the organization, but independent politically and militarily.”
Turhalli believes the TAK is the outcome of all these stipulations. “To me, the TAK is not a PKK wing or independent. It is a structure that has adopted the PKK’s ideology and philosophy, but diverges from it in actions. In other words, if the PKK agrees to cease hostilities, the TAK will follow that line. I don’t think the TAK is an organization that is commanded by the PKK. I think of it as a structure that is guided by the PKK’s general course of action.”
In a nutshell, the TAK may be different things to different people, but to Turkey, it is the PKK.
The Immediate Fallout
The Istanbul bombings are a gigantic backwards step for a unified Kurdistan (Bakur, Bashur, Rojava and Rojhelat) in general and any chance of a halt to the widespread oppression and persecution of Kurds in Bakur by the Turkish state.
For context, the film “Bakur (North)” shot in 2015 by Yönetmen (Directors) Çayan Demirel and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu takes an in-depth look at the PKK. The film, which was shot at PKK camps in Dersim, Amed, Botan and South Kurdistan, explains Kurdish geography and he examines the PKK guerrilla camps in these three different regions within the borders of Turkey. (Bakur (Kuzey), Türkiye’de onlarca yıldır devam eden, adı konulmamış savaşın en önemli öznesi olan PKK’ye derinlemesine bir bakışa davet ediyor bizleri. Dersim, Amed ve Botan ile Güney Kürditan’daki kamplarda gerçekleştirilen film, Kürt coğrafyasının Türkiye sınırları içinde kalan üç ayrı bölgesindeki gerilla kamplarındaki hayata tanıklık ediyor.)
The High Moral Ground
Until serious and substantiated doubt can be cast on the “actors” who conspired to bomb Istanbul then for now the TAK are the name in the frame and the TAK are the PKK (by proxy) and the PKK are the fulcrum of Kurdish resistance to Turkish state terror and the struggle for Kurdish autonomy and ultimate independence.
For those us who have been vocal supporters of the Kurds and the Kurdish cause we are left with a feeling that there was supposed to be a higher moral ground on which the Kurds resided – respected for remaining moral, and adhering to and upholding a universally recognized standard of justice and goodness, secular, supporters of democracy and advocates of civil rights.
To adopt the tactics and reduce yourself to the level of your opponent is not the way. These bombings were pure folly. It will be seen as such for now that the Kurds were responsible in general (populism is not interested in examining the detail) and it will close any possibility of a positive outcome for Kurds in Turkey.
Whether the “intention” was to “target” riot police while they were standing around smoking and unable to defend themselves or not – which is an abortion of an excuse or justification for the outrage – the fact is that it was an indiscriminate suicide bombing from the ISIS playbook and civilians were killed.
If there is any doubt and for my own peace of mind (as I am not arrogant enough to think that anyone may care) I would like to definitively state that any perceived sympathy for the PKK or Abdullah Öcalan that people may have thought that I had I would like to publicly state that I have nothing but contempt for the cowards who carried out this despicable act – and for now that looks like the PKK affiliated TAK.
Acknowledgements & References
- Mahmut Bozarslan is based in Diyarbakir, the central city of Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast. A journalist since 1996, he has worked for the mass-circulation daily Sabah, the NTV news channel, Al Jazeera Turk and Agence France-Presse (AFP), covering the many aspects of the Kurdish question, as well as the local economy and women’s and refugee issues. He has frequently reported also from Iraqi Kurdistan. On Twitter: @mahmutbozarslan ;
- Christof Lehmann – Dr. Christof Lehmann is the founder and editor of nsnbc. He is a psychologist and former independent political consultant on conflict, conflict resolution and a wide range of other political issues. In March 2013 he established nsnbc as a daily, independent, international on-line newspaper. He can be contacted at nsnbc international at firstname.lastname@example.org ;
- Heise Medien Geschäftsführung GmbH Amtsgericht Hannover HRB 60405 Ein Unternehmen der Heise Gruppe ;
- Çayan Demirel and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu ;
- BBC World Service ;