Claim: Sultanahmet blast shows Turkey fights against Kurds not DAESH

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Claim: Sultanahmet blast shows Turkey fights against Kurds not DAESH

2016-01-15 08:56 GMT
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Simon Tisdall from Guardian claims suicide bombing in Istanbul's Sultanahmet district shows Turkey fights against Kurds not DAESH 

A tourist captured the suicide bombing in Istanbul's Sultanahmet district

On 12 January 2016, Simon Tisdall wrote an article in the Guardian newspaper evaluating the blast in Sultanahmet, Istanbul.1  A suspected member of DAESH has killed 10 people, eight of them German tourists, in a suicide bomb attack on 12 January 2016. The  writer claimed that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu are stubbornly fixated on fighting Kurds rather than DAESH terrorists. He said that the Istanbul blast represents Erdogan’s security failure and that struggle of security forces is misdirected to “Kurdish threat” instead of the DAESH terrorist group.

In his article, Tisdall states these:

"Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s combative and choleric president, remains stubbornly fixated on a wholly different foe – the Kurds….Even as the terrorists were preparing their attack on Istanbul’s famous Sultanahmet tourist district, Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s prime minister and loyal Erdogan acolyte, was looking the wrong way. He told a weekend meeting of the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) that the security forces’ lethal crackdown in indigenous Kurdish minority areas would continue indefinitely: “We will pursue our anti-terror fight with great determination until ... our mountains, plains and towns are cleansed of these killers,” Davutoglu said. But the “killers” he was talking about were fighters from the pro-autonomy Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), not ISIS (DAESH) jihadis….The conclusion thus appears inescapable: the Istanbul atrocity represents another damaging and costly security failure to be laid squarely at Erdogan’s door. Awkward questions will now be asked about whether his focus on a Kurdish threat is misdirected and politically motivated – and whether more urgent attention must now be paid to the terrorist menace emanating from Syria and Iraq…. Erdogan’s reluctance to assist Iraqi and Syrian Kurds fighting ISIS (DAESH), notably during the siege of Kobani in northern Syria in 2014, angered the western allies….Erdoğan has also been criticised by EU countries for pursuing his vendetta with the Kurds."

In his allegation against Erdogan, Tisdall notably considers the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) - a south-eastern Turkey based organization aspiring to establish its Marxist-Leninist ideology across the predominantly Kurdish populated region - and the Kurdish community the same. However, Tisdall fails to note that the PKK is considered as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US, the EU and NATO.

Erdogan many times stated that the PKK and the Kurdish community are not the same and that the government’s crackdown is conducted only against the militants. For instance, in his speech on 4 November 2015, Erdogan said: “According to us, a terrorist is different, my Kurdish brother is different. We should separate them from each other.”2

While Tisdall claims Erdogan has deep enmity and vendetta against Kurds; under the 13-year rule of Turkey’s AK Party (Justice and Development Party) that Erdogan founded and led as prime minister until his presidency, a number of radical reforms were made in the field of rights for the Kurdish community. These include the lifting of a 51-year-old state of emergency in the mainly Kurdish southeastern region, and the of removal of the political ban previously imposed by the state on Kurdish politicians.

The AK Party also took political responsibility to end the 30-year old conflict between the Turkish state and the PKK. The Peace Process between the Turkish state and the PKK was started in January 2013 to solve problems on democratic grounds.3 Through pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputies, Turkish government carried out negotiations with detained PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and the PKK’s Qandil leadership in Iraq. On 21 March 2013, detained PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan announced a ceasefire through a letter and called on the PKK to withdraw from Turkey's borders. However, despite this call, armed groups remained in Turkey. On 11 July 2015, the PKK's umbrella group, the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), announced the ceasefire with the Turkish government to be over.4 Since the declaration of the end of the ceasefire, the PKK has conducted armed attacks, laid bomb traps and carried out missile strikes against security forces in areas including city centers.

Almost 300 security forces and civilians have been killed by the PKK since the ending of the ceasefire.5 Some municipalities run by the pro-Kurdish HDP (People’s Democratic Party) have declared self-rule amid the ongoing clashes.6 In response to these attacks, the Turkish government launched military operations against the PKK. Operations targeted headquarters and storehouses of ammunitions. Due to the fact that some PKK cells are located in residential areas where there happen to be armed conflicts, curfews have been declared to protect civilians from being caught in the crossfire. Although some Turkish citizens appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in order to request the lifting of curfews, the court rejected these appeals.7

Tisdall also accuses Turkey of not helping Syrian Kurds fighting in the mainly Kurdish Syrian border town of Kobani against the DAESH terrorist group. However, he ignores some facts in describing Turkey’s attitude during the local people’s battle for Kobani. During the battle, Turkey helped Syrian Kurds militarily by allowing the passage of Peshmerga forces from the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government of northern Iraq to Kobani through Turkey’s borders in order to fight against DAESH.8 Turkey also opened the borders and accepted thousands of civilians from Kobani escaping from DAESH militants.9 In addition, hundreds of vehicles of humanitarian aid were sent to the area by Turkey. 10 

Regarding Turkey’s struggle against DAESH, Tisdall only mentions the deportation of 2,896 people with suspected DAESH links from Turkey. He alleges that Turkey is focused on fighting the PKK rather than DAESH. However, DAESH was recognized as a terrorist organization by a Turkish cabinet decree on 10 October 2013.11 On 24 January 2014, Turkey bombed a DAESH convoy in Syria.12 Later, Turkey got involved in the US-led coalition against DAESH when it was formed on September 2014, agreeing to fight DAESH militarily and financially. Turkish air forces hit DAESH targets many times13 and Turkey also allowed the US Air Force to use the Incirlik and Diyarbakir air bases in southern Turkey for their airstrikes on DAESH. 14Turkey also takes measures domestically and on the borders to prevent foreign fighters intending to join DAESH in Syria from crossing. Within this scope, Turkey placed an exclusion order for 27,000 people. Turkey’s Minister of the Interior Efkan Ala stated on 13 January 2016 that Turkey so far has detained 3,318 people for suspected links to DAESH and 847 of them were subsequently arrested.15