When an ISIS suicide bomber killed 32 and wounded 104 young men and women in Suruç, Turkey—near the Syrian border—on Monday July, 20 2015 everything changed forever. Some say that it means Turkey has now been sucked into the Syrian violence as a result of the Turkish leadership’s failed policies and thinly veiled support for ISIS in Syria; ten years ago, during the US-led war in Afghanistan, who would have thought that anyone would be able to say that “In many respects, Turkey has provided a safe sanctuary for Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra, playing a similar role as Pakistan does in support of providing safe haven for the Taliban in Afghanistan.” But the Independent did, and that is what is alarming, disturbing, and infuriating to me as both an American and as a Turk.
One Cumhuriyet columnist, Orhan Bursalı, outlines eight reasons why Turkey could become an ISIS state. Again, who would have thought that anyone could say that because of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s pro-Sunni sectarian stance—while occupying the highest political positions in the secular Turkish Republic—that Turkey could possibly go this route? Certainly no one would have thought it possible back in 2012, when US President Barack Obama named Mr. Erdoğan one of his top-five friends among world leaders. But Mr. Obama did, and this miscalculation is as great as Mr. Erdoğan’s in following a sectarian foreign policy, and that is what is alarming, disturbing, and infuriating to me as both an American and as a Turk.
Now the divide-and-rule policies of the AKP’s 13 year one party rule have brought back a similar political divide to what was seen in 1970s Turkey, where fighting between members of right-wing and left-wing groups killed ten people a day for a decade. But 2015 is not 1980. The world has changed. There can be no military coup to stop the bleeding. The conflict is not confined within the context of the Cold War. The battle is no longer between right-wing Turkish nationalists and left-wing Turkish nationalists. It is between normal religious citizens—some who are supporting the Sunni Islamist militants of ISIS—and various left-leaning Turks—urban intellectuals and students—and Kurds, some liberal and some supporting the terrorists of the PKK—looking for a more inclusive democracy and a move away from divisive politics. But as the conflict rages the divisions get blurred. To see just how complicated the delicate situation is I will present the stories of a seven different Turks who were lost in this heinous attack and its aftermath.
Hatice Ezgi Sadet and Polen Ünlü were 20 year-old girls studying in Istanbul and fellow members of the Sosyalist Gençlik Dernekleri Federasyonu (Federation of Socialist Youth Organizations). The living tell a story of the dead that shows two girls who went everywhere together—whether it was to campaign for the HDP in Istanbul’s Beşiktaş district or to attend Beşiktaş matches; friends from the stadium attended the funeral services in Beşiktaş jerseys and scarves. They went together to Suruç in order to help build a children’s park in the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane, instead of to party on the beaches of the Mediterranean like so many other twenty-something girls in Turkey during the summer. Now they lie buried together in the same grave, inseparable forever.
Koray Çapoğlu was a thirty-two year old “revolutionary” in the sense that his friends say he always stood up for right in the face of wrong, faithfully attending every protest with the flag of the team he supported, Trabzonspor. The fan group he helped found—Devrimci Trabzonsporlular (Revolutionary Trabzonspor Supporters)—made an announcement following his death noting that though he was bringing toys to Kobane this time, he was in Suruç just as he had been at Gezi, as he had protested the building of a Nuclear Power Plant on the Black Sea coast, as he had remembered the murder of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. These are the same things Beşiktaş’s Carşı group has protested in standing up for right in the face of wrong. Now all that remains are memories of a young man and a photo of his bloodied clenched fist wrapped in the claret and blue of Trabzonspor.
Image Courtesy Of: http://gencgazete.org/koray-gibi-olmak/
Image Courtesy Of: http://www.milliyet.com.tr/bedeni-bayrakla-ortulu-bordo-mavi-gundem-2090473/
The left-wing mainly Turkish students were killed by a fellow Turk from Adiyaman province who had joined ISIS; Şeyh Aburrahman Alagöz. The twenty-year old suicide bomber was studying mechanical engineering at the university, but he was no normal university student. He was neighbors with fellow Adiyaman resident Orhan Gönder who set off two bombs on June 5 2015 in Diyarbakir at a rally for the leftist and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), killing 4 and injuring 402, despite the fact that police had—suspiciously—released him from their custody a day before the bombing. Alagöz had taken a break from his studies and was running a teahouse in the center of Adiyaman; the front of his Islam tea house was decorated with passages from the Koran and had an ISIS logo inside, and here he provided a place to recruit young Turks to the terrorist group. During the Kobane events the teahouse closed for a few days; locals say the owner and his patrons had gone to fight for ISIS against Kurdish militants. His teahouse was closed down three months after it opened last October but the Koranic passages remain on the storefront, just as those recruited from this terrorist cell remain anonymous and at large. More than 200 young people from Adiyaman province have left their homes to join ISIS.
Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/turkiye/327893/iste_islam_Cay_Ocagi.html
But such visions of martyrdom in the name of Islam are not only confined to young males. Seçil T. is a young 18 year-old girl with her life in front of her. On July 8, 2015 she ran away from her home in central Turkey’s Kırşehir province leaving just a note reading “I’m going to Afghanistan of my own accord, I am going to become a Martyr. Don’t worry about me.” She also texted her brother: “I am going to blow myself up and become a martyr. Vallahi victory is Islam’s”. Luckily the Turkish police stepped up their search for this young girl at her family’s behest and she was caught on July 22, 2015 in Hatay Province’s Reyhanlı district on the Syrian Border. But Seçil T.’s story is not unique. Her picture shows her in a headscarf, and some young conservative girls—just like their young male counterparts—have visions of fighting for ISIS in the name of Islam. James Traub, in a book review for the Wall Street Journal, reminds us that “Many of the European “lone wolves” who carry out attacks at home in the name of either ISIS or al Qaeda are . . . bored and alienated young men with giant chips on their shoulders who find in Islam a rationale for their violence.” It is in some ways similar to the young people, male and female, which were willing to risk their lives protesting for liberal democracy in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. Young people in the prime years of their lives are lining up to fight for their political ideologies across the political spectrum, a very dangerous development that could be sowing the seeds for a violent civil war in Turkey amidst the global struggle of youth in the face of rising unemployment and frustrations with their governments and lives.
Some people have noted this sharp rise in violence and can see the writing on the wall. On Wednesday July 22, 2015 two police officers were found dead in their home in Ceylanpınar, killed in their sleep. Terrorists from the Kurdish PKK said the killing was in retaliation for the Suruç bombing because Turkish police officers had been collaborating with ISIS (on July 29, however, the PKK denied responsibility in a strange development). The link between Turkish security forces and ISIS has been posited before, but I personally doubt that these two young men had anything to do with it themselves. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But it doesn’t matter, now 25 year old Okan Acar and 24 year old Feyyaz Yumuşak are dead before they could even marry, victims of the failed policies of the country they served.
Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2015/gundem/sanliurfada-2-polis-sehit-889987/
This is just a small sample of the steadily increasing violence that threatens Turkey and the region. In the nine days since the Suruç bombing things have gone from bad to worse and 42 people have died—students, soldiers, generals, and police officers:
20 July: Suruç suicide bombing kills 32 dead and wounds 104.
20 July: Specialist Corporal Müsellim Ünal died in a firefight with PKK militants in Adiyaman.
22 July: Police officers Feyyaz Yumuşak and Okan Acar were murdered in their home in Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa.
23 July: Sergeant Yalçın Nane was killed by ISIS militants in an attack in Elbeyli, Kilis. Two other soldiers were wounded.
23 July: Police officer Tansu Aydın was killed in Diyarbakir.
25 July: Gendarme Sergeant Major İsmail Yavuz and Gendarme Specialist Sergeant Mehmet Koçak were killed in Diyarbakir.
26 July: Police officer Muhammet Fatih Sivri was killed during unrest in Istanbul’s Gazi neighborhood.
27 July: Major Arslan Kulaksız was killed in Malazgirt, Mus. His wife was wounded in the attack.
28 July: Sergeant Ziya Sarpkaya was killed while talking to his father in civilian clothes in Semdinli, Hakkari.
The situation is confusing with everyone putting forth different opinions, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and Time Magazine. The government seems to want chaos so as to prove that only it can provide security both domestically and regionally; a Cumhuriyet story showed how, over the last fifteen years, as violence increased so too did support for the AKP. By now bombing PKK positions in Syria and restarting the Kurdish-Turkish war of the 1980s and 1990s the AKP is trying to project an image of Kurds as terrorists so as to win back the votes they lost to the Kurdish HDP in the June elections. And, unfortunately, this means the United States may have miscalculated as well.
But what isn’t confusing, what is very clear, is that this needs to stop. The divisive policies of bringing back the left-right fighting of the 1970s, of fomenting Turkish-Kurdish mistrust and bringing back the war of the 1990s, of supporting ISIS on the battlefield as a bulwark against Kurdish gains on the ballot, will not get Turkey anywhere. It only means that more young people will die just so that the AKP can stay in power of a slowly disintegrating nation. It is reassuring that some people can see the dangerous path Turkey is heading down: On July 28, 2015 the fan groups of Turkey’s three biggest football teams came together again, as they did during the Gezi protests. Beşiktaş’s Carşı, Fenerbahçe’s Genç Fenerliler, and Galtasaray’s UltrAslan published a joint declaration on their websites, I have translated it to the best of my abilities and have presented it below in its entirety.
Barışın, kardeşliğin, sevginin ve saygının gönüllere hitab eden, birleştirici diline olan inancımız vesilesi ile derdimizi sözcüklerle anlatabileceğimize sonuna kadar inanıyoruz. Beraber ektiğimiz toprağı, beraber içtiğimiz suyu, beraber soluduğumuz havayı bizden sonra gelecek olanlara kirletmeden teslim etmek insanlık borcumuzdur. Bunu başaramadık belki, bari birbirimizi sevelim ve saygı duyalım.
Formalarımızın arkasında hepimizin gizli adı “BARIŞ” yazsın. Hepimizin sponsoru hayat olsun.
Dünyayı devredeceğimiz çocukların renklerini, seslerini birbirinden ayırmadan o çocukların gözlerine utanmadan bakmak istiyorsak insanlığımızı yeniden hatırlamamız gerekiyor. Medeniyetlere beşiklik yapmış bu toprakların hamurunda şiddet ve ona karşı gelecek kardeşlik ve merhamet duygusunun bu günde var olduğunu biliyoruz. Bize benzemeyenlere ve hayatlarına insan oldukları için saygı duymak zorundayız. Bu aynı zamanda kendimize saygının da bir gereğidir. Dilin bir anlamı da gönüldür. Kalpten kalbe yolun olduğuna inanıyoruz. Dilden ve insandan umudu kesmediğimiz için derdimizi sözcüklerle anlatabileceğimize bu günden yürekten inanıyoruz.
Bu geçici dünyaya insani güzel huylar eşliğinde kırıp dökmeden, kesip biçmeden insana yaraşır, onurlu izler bırakmak istiyoruz.
Taraf olduğumuz yarışmalara, müsabakalara, maçlara olimpiyatlara evet, yenmeye yenilmeye, beraberliğe evet. Ama öldürmeye ve bir insan eliyle ölmeye, “ŞİDDETE” HAYIR.
Bu yüzden çeşitli sebeplerle sürekli olarak haksız ve acımasızca şiddet ve ayrışmaya örnek gösterilen tribüncüler olarak biz söz konusu vatanımızın milletimizin birlik beraberliği, huzur ve güveni olduğu zaman gerisi “TEFERRUAT”tır!
TO THE PUBLIC
Due to our belief in unifying language appealing to hearts with peace, brotherhood, love, and respect we believe without question that we can make ourselves understood with words. It is our human responsibility to surrender the soil we have plowed together, the water we have drank together, and the air we have breathed together to those that come after us without polluting it. Maybe we didn’t succeed in this, at least let us love and respect one another.
Our secret name, “PEACE”, should be written on the back of our jerseys. Our sponsor should be life.
If we want to look without shame into the eyes of the children we will hand the world over to, without separating their colors and voices from one another, we need to once again remember our humanity. We know that these days violence and, on the other hand, feelings of brotherhood and compassion exist in the essence of this land that formed the cradle of civilization. We have to respect those who are unlike us, and their lives, because they are people. At the same time this is also a requirement for respecting ourselves. One meaning of language is also heart. We believe there is a road from one heart to another. From this day on we believe from our hearts that we can make ourselves understood with words because we haven’t lost hope in language and people.
We want to leave honorable traces worthy of humanity on this ephemeral world in a kind and humane way, without destroying or killing.
Yes to the competitions we are part of.
Yes to the games we are a part of.
Yes to the matches we are a part of.
Yes to the Olympics we are a part of.
Yes to winning. Yes to losing. Yes to tying.
But NO to “VIOLENCE”, no to killing and dying at the hands of human beings.
Because it is us as football supporters who have constantly—for various reasons—been unfairly and mercilessly depicted as examples of violence and division, we say that when our country is secure, peaceful, and united the rest is just “DETAILS”!
Even a casual fan of Turkish and European football knows the deep divisions between the fans of Istanbul’s fierce rivals. But that doesn’t mean they can’t come together when something bigger than football is at stake. All football fans are not violent thugs intent on destroying everything in sight just like not all Muslim Turks are ISIS sympathizers and not all Kurds are PKK sympathizers and not all Ataturkists are anti-religion. Such blanket labels on groups of people only serves to further divide them into rival camps making cooperation impossible; one Turkish political commentator put it well when he described the one division that does exist–are you, as a person, one for peace or one for fighting? Answering that question will go a long way toward uniting people and saving human lives, preserving the future of a country, and determining the future of a region.
Remember the words of ISIS’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi when proclaiming the caliphate, “RUSH, O Muslims, to your state. Yes, it is your state. Rush, because Syria is not for the Syrians, and Iraq is not for the Iraqis.” ISIS’ Caliphate “constitutes an exercise in nation-building and a viable alternative to the apostate regimes otherwise covering the face of the earth,” according to James Traub in the Wall Street Journal. Clearly ISIS has an ability to appeal to frustrated Sunni Muslims across the Middle East and beyond, uniting them across the imagined boundaries of the imagined states created in the aftermath of the colonial regimes. By using Sunni Islam as the unifying identity they are able to recruit a vast number of members from many different national backgrounds.
If this global culture war is not to become a violent regional war—or worse—then those of us on the side of democracy, peace, and justice—both political and economic—must unite as well. Whether American or Turkish or Kurdish or any other nationality or religion or ethnicity it is important to remember—like the football fans did—one thing: United we stand, divided we fall.