Numan Kurtulmus, the second most senior leader in the Turkish government, hadn’t slept much since the October 10 bombings in Ankara.
He had stepped out of an emergency cabinet meeting late on October 12 to tell us journalists, about the death toll, the injured and about the attackers.
‘Two suicide bombers carried it out. Each with five kilograms of explosive TNT’ said Kurtulmus who compared the Ankara attacks to the suicide bombing Suruc, blamed on ISIS by the Turkish government, even though ISIS never claimed responsibility for the July attack.
And now the Ankara bombings were following a similar pattern according to Kurtulmus. Without naming it the deputy prime minister had pointed the finger for Ankara at ISIS too.
Kurtulmus seemed distracted and the conversation quickly moved to other, related subjects such as the unilateral cease fire offered by the outlawed PKK after the attacks in Ankara.
‘Would you be willing to restart peace talks with the PKK’, I asked Kurtulmus. ‘Only if they are willing to lay down their weapons for good’ he said, continuing, ’you can’t hold a rose in one hand and a gun in the other.’
Kurds in Turkey represent up to fourteen percent of the population. The Kurds' decades long struggle for political and cultural rights has had both political and violent manifestations, like the Kurdistan Workers Party, or the PKK.
The group brands itself as ‘leftist Kurdish-nationalist’. The PKK has waged an armed struggle against the Turkish state in which at least 40,000 people have been killed.
The group’s founder is Abdullah Ocalan, who was captured by Turkish intelligence with the CIA’s help in 1999. The PKK says it ‘fights for cultural and political rights and for self-determination for Kurds living in Turkey’.
The Kurdish struggle for more rights has also sprouted a non-violent political arm, the most successful manifestation of which is the People’s Democratic Party, commonly known as the HDP.
This is a non-violent Pro-Kurdish leftist movement, which made history in June by entering parliament as the first Kurdish political party to cross the mandatory 10% threshold.
The victory came at the cost of other political groups such as the AK Party.
‘We were very happy when the HDP entered parliament’ said Orhan Miroglu. An ethnic Kurd, Miroglu is a former journalist who authored more than a dozen books on the Kurdish struggle in Turkey.
Miroglu said reforms made possible by the AK party were instrumental in paving the way for Kurdish groups, like the HDP to enter parliament.
For some Kurds both the political (HDP) as well violent (PKK) movement has served a purpose and may even have value. It’s resulted in crossover support for both groups. A common pool of support is viewed with suspicion by the AKP.
‘We felt betrayed after Suruc’, said Miroglu. He told me that the HDP’s reluctance to condemn the PKK’s violence is a source of resentment. Kurtulmus’ rose and guns reference perfectly articulated this frustration.
The day had begun with a series of emergency meetings at the Presidency.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hadn’t addressed a wounded country yet, following the worst attacks in Turkish history. Erdogan was looking for answers.
And so he met the interior minister, Selami Altinok first. Altinok had offered to resign following the attacks, but he still had a job to do.
“Since political discussions are ongoing, I will consider resigning once the proceedings related to the attack are finalized,” Altınok reportedly stated.
But the interior minister faced immense external pressure. Leader of the main opposition Republican Peoples Party or CHP had taken the first shots against Altinok.
“Who has political responsibility in this incident?” asked Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. Kılıçdaroğlu proposed the minister be sacked if he refused to fall on the proverbial sword.
The residence of the President commonly known as Ak Saray or White Castle is nestled atop a hill in the Bestepe district of Ankara. The palace was built at an estimated cost of $600 million, which critics said was further evidence of ‘extreme opulence’.
The complex houses many buildings, including a large mosque and multiple annexes. The press area is next to Gate C and has a workspace for at least forty journalists. Polite chaperons serve fresh tea and the internet speed is decent.
After Altinok, the president met the army chief and intelligence chief, amid claims of a security lapse. The conversation between the president and the men remains confidential.
The president then met Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who arrived as fast as he would leave to chair an emergency cabinet meeting.
It was at this gathering that we had met Kurtulmus.
‘The attacks aimed to sow discord and create deep fissures within Turkey’ said Numan Kurtulmus.
‘This we will never allow’, he ended.
Author: Ali Mustafa