ISTANBUL - At a memorial outside the Besiktas soccer stadium, the mood was somber. Thirty-seven policemen and seven civilians were killed here by two blasts last weekend. Some people silently shed tears over rain-sodden flowers on Monday afternoon, some take pictures of handwritten notes: Siz burada ölmüş. siz bir yerlerde ölüyor ve ben burada yaşıyorken ("While we live here helplessly, you are dying for us").
An official from the Danish Embassy places a bouquet of flowers at the memorial site. As he quietly files off, two young Turkish men toss it away in rage. They tear apart the name tags on the bouquets from several western consulates, including cards from Dutch and German diplomats, leaving only the one from Japan untouched.
“We don’t believe in their friendship,” said Mehmet Tunc, a retired construction worker from Gultepe. “Terror is going to stay here as long as foreign powers are supporting it.”
Though a radical terror group named TAK, the urban wing of the PKK, claimed responsibility for the attack, the incident has triggered public anger against Western countries. People believe that the West is supporting various militant groups, including those that pose a security threat to Turkey in its fight against Daesh, which has emboldened groups like TAK.
This comes at a time when many Turks are frustrated by the decision of the European Parliament, which voted in November to suspend Turkey's long-standing accession talks to join the EU.
At the memorial site, one could see people from various political ideologies – from the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), to the ruling AK party – standing together, praying for the victims, and condemning the terror act.
Tunc, the retired construction worker, supports the Turkish nationalist MHP, a party that criticises the CHP for deviating from what they view as the founding principals of the Turkish state. An hour before the bombing, he had been inside the stadium, watching the football match between the local Besiktas team and Bursaspor, one of the leading clubs in the country.
For him, the terror strike was an attack on Turkish identity. “We are all together in this,” he said. “I did not lose any friend or relative in this attack but I feel sad and I feel angry too.”
“This land has hosted so many different nations, established so many states,” he said, referring to the Turks’ historic role in the region.
From a military standpoint, the Besiktas attack shows the terror group has become more sophisticated in its combat operations.
“The bombers had military expertise to produce such a powerful IED [improvised explosive device],” Metin Gurcan, a former Turkish army officer, told TRT World. “If you trace where this military expertise is coming from, all the fingers point to northern Syria.”
Gurcan explained that the PKK, as well as its affiliates, such as the TAK, didn’t have much military expertise until the period when foreign powers became involved in the Syrian conflict that began in 2011. In the last three years, he said, as the US and other foreign powers backed and armed various proxy groups against Daesh in Syria and Iraq, the PKK’s affiliates have gained extensive military experience.
“We are no longer talking about poorly trained terror groups,” he said, “There are [various forces] from different countries who have been training them. And they have gained some degree of military expertise.”
This understanding is not only confined to military experts. Many ordinary Turks also no longer view the PKK as a ragtag guerilla force. They believe that the PKK, which first sought full independence from Turkey and then changed its mission into one of achieving “democratic autonomy,” has morphed into something quite different.
Increasingly, there is a widespread perception among many Turkish citizens and state media that the “West has betrayed” them. For instance, the state-run Anadolu News Agency reported in November that the PKK and its affiliates had “fundraised 30 million euros across Europe”.
“We believe that there are close ties between Turkey and Europe. But why then should this kind of incident happen?” said Ali Turkoglu, a 51-year-old fan of Besiktas football club, also taking the viewpoint that Western countries had somehow helped boost the PKK-linked terror groups. He had taken an hour long bus drive from Sariyer, a district along the coast of Black Sea, to mourn the victims.
“The West should stop aiding the PKK,” he said.
AUTHORS: Mehboob Jeelani & Murat Sofuoglu