When I visited the devastated houses that were the scene of a Turkish police raid on hideouts of the Islamic State (IS) armed group it never crossed my mind that I would be visiting the scenes of IS attacks in Paris less than three weeks later. The Paris attacks cost at least 120 lives and have sparked a wave of sympathy across the world. IS has claimed more lives in Turkey – 135 in the Suruc and Ankara bombings, which appear to have been targeted because of their links to the Kurds, alone – but, although those attacks received plenty of media coverage, there was not the same outpouring of grief worldwide. The story of the IS and the Turkish state is a complicated one, as I found on my visit to Diyarbakir, in the Kurdish-majority south east.
Diyarbakir 29 October 2015
There’s a gaping hole where the house’s front door used to be. That’s where a booby trap went off, killing two police officers trying to enter and capture or kill the house’s occupants.
The windows are blown out, the interior is a charred shell, there are bullet holes in the walls and a hole in the garden where a jihadist detonated a suicide vest. The trunks of trees in front of the house are splintered and torn by shrapnel.
Seven IS fighters were killed and a significant haul of weapons and explosives seized in the this house and another nearby. They buildings in a residential area of the city served as an IS commando’s base in Diyarbakir.
Although the raid was on Monday, the house still attracts the interest of a group of men and youths. There are no police present and the site had not been cordoned off, so kids and adults go in and clamber among the ruins, oblivious to the possibility that there might still be undiscovered explosives inside.
The police were not particularly diplomatic with Fatma, who live in the house next door, either. They told her and her family that they would fire on their house if they failed to leave the lights on before evacuating them and starting their assault.
Fatma didn’t have much to do with her young neighbours, their main contact being when they put up a tarpaulin in the garden and she asked them to take it down because it interfered with her family’s satellite TV reception.
“We didn’t expect Islamic State to be our neighbours!” she comments.
The pink house around the corner is in almost as bad a state of destruction and also excites the interest of neighbours, both adults and children.
Sinan, who is taking photos on his smartphone, lives in a block of flats over the road.
His family was woken be the fighting.
“Of course I was frightened,” he says. “My children woke up and they were frightened.”
Before the attack, the occupants, all young Kurdish men, gave lessons in religion to local people.
“I didn’t go and I didn’t send my children,” Sinan says.
To read my report of IS in Diyarbakir for RFI click here.
The government and the security forces insist they are taking the threat from IS seriously and are even issuing alarming reports of possible further attacks.
Police told the media today that a commando of 10 women, four of them foreign, is at large and planning suicide bombings. They are said to be part of the Dokumacilar group, to which those who were living in these also belonged.
Yesterday Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu slammed Selahattin Demirtas, the leader of the left-wing, pro-Kurd HDP, for accusing him of legitimising IS.
His office says that 285 IS suspects have been arrested in the first nine months of 2015.
But he quickly changed the subject to the Syrian Kurdish YPG, an armed group allied to the Turkish PKK that has proved the most effective force in fighting IS, most famously by recapturing the town of Kobane.
The military have bombed the YPG recently and Davutoglu says that is justified because they represent a threat to Turkish territory.
An indication that he and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are more worried about armed Kurds than armed Islamists came when Ankara agreed to join US-led air strikes on IS … and then proceeded to bomb PKK positions in northern Iraq, having broken off peace talks with the guerrillas following the inconclusive 7 June election.
The government is believed to be worried that the autonomous area, known as Rojava to the Kurds and established by the Kurdish National Council (KNC) and the PKK-linked Democratic Union Party (PYD), could serve as an example to Kurds in Turkey, as, indeed, it has. Autonomous zones have been declared in parts of Diyarbakir itself, as well as in towns like Silvan, since the peace talks were broken off.
The HDP and other opposition parties accuse the government of more than sitting on the fence, however.
They claim that it has helped the armed Islamists in Syria – firstly the al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra front and then IS – party because a part of the electorate and membership of the ruling AKP sympathises with them ideologically and partly as a counter to the Kurds.
Evidence of the state’s complicity appears to have been brought to light in 2013 when a convoy heading for Syria was stopped and searched.
It was found to be carrying arms and agents of the secret services, the MIT.
The five prosecutors and one military commander responsible for stopping the convoy were rewarded for their vigilance by being charged with seeking to overthrow the government and revealing state security information.
A secrecy order has meant that their trial, which began earlier this month, is being held behind closed doors.
Kurdish activists believe that the state facilitated two bombings – one in Suruc in July that killed 33 young left-wingers and injured 104, the other at a peace rally in Ankara on 10 0ctober that killed 102 and injured 400 – for which IS has claimed responsibility.
“There are hundreds of cameras in Ankara. They knew there was going to be a demonstration. Why wasn’t there any protection?” asks HDP youth activist Cuneyt Cihan.
On the day of the Ankara bombing, after Erdogan called it an attack on Turkish unity and equated it to PKK attacks on Turkish police and soldiers, Demirtas came right out and accused the state of involvement.
“This attack is not targeting our state and national unity, it is perpetrated by the state against the people,” he said
Davutoglu is in town to officially open the airport – now we know why it’s operating although not exactly fully functional in all details – and hold an election rally.
“Turks and Kurds, brothers,” he has the crowd shout in a fine example of Erdogan’s conception of unity. “The separatists are traitors!”
When I came here in 2007, many Kurds found the AKP readier to listen to their discontents than the secular MHP and CHP, whose nationalist agenda had vigorously supported a dirty war in the south-east while in power.
The AKP had no Kemalist axe to grind and a certain amount of support among conservative Muslims in the region. And its supporters among the rising bourgeoisie of central Anatolia were keen to do trade with the European Union and eventually to join it and so ready to concede to concede to its criticisms of Turkey’s human rights record.
Two things appear to have changed.
Firstly, Erdogan has become increasingly authoritarian, casting himself as the heir to the Ottomans, whose legacy in the field of minority rights leaves a little to be desired.
Secondly, ending the peace process seems to have been a calculated attempt to heighten a feeling of insecurity and rally the nation around a strong ruler – himself, in this case.
That’s not an analysis that shared by AKP regional councillor Nejla Uysan when we meet her at the party’s regional office on Friday.
“The government and the state doesn’t support Daesh. Definitely not!” she declared. “This is a barbaric organisation and, as Muslims, how do you think we could support such an organisation.”
She accuses the PKK of breaking the ceasefire and claims that the “liberated zones” punished the local population.
But she surprises me by saying that she thinks her party should work with the HDP.
For my written and audio accounts of the AKP in Diyarbakir for RFI click here
“Why don’t you think (we) will not share?” she asks in response to my surprise. “We are living in the same city. We can share everything.”
Not the party line, so far as I know.
For an audio report on the AKP in the 2007 presidential election click here.