Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Suruç Massacre: the Tragic Death of 32 activists

Hatice Ezgi Sadet was a student at Turkey's Mimar
Sinan Fine Arts University-she was 20 years old
Yesterday, a massacre took place in Suruç (pronounced su-ruch), a city in Turkey’s Southeastern Kurdish region. The Federation of Socialist Youth were on their way to deliver humanitarian aid to the war stricken Kurdish Syrian border town of Kobane, when an ISIS suicide bomber blew herself to pieces, taking 32 lives, and leaving many others injured.  

Unfortunately, for me, the killing of this group, which was made up of many university students, did not come as a surprise. Over the last year, groups in Turkey supporting the Kurdish struggle in Syria have been targeted both by radical Islamic factions, some who openly identify with ISIS, and by the Turkish government, which fears that a Kurdish Syrian stronghold could tilt the balance of power in the region, giving the Kurds an independent Kurdish autonomous zone not only in Iraq, but also in Syria, causing concern due to their close ties to the outlawed PKK.  

In other words, there is no doubt that both ISIS and the Turkish government share a great amount of disdain for the Syrian Kurds (and their sympathizers), who have been fighting day and night to free Syria’s northern border from ISIS control. In fact, just last month, as the ISIS controlled Syrian city of Tel Abayd fell to the Kurdish YPG forces, pro-government newspapers close to Turkey’s president Erdogan, such as Sabah, went so far as to state that the Kurds were even "more dangerous than ISIS." Even worse, even if there have been recent crackdowns on ISIS in Turkey, just last year Turkey’s Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, avoided calling ISIS a terrorist organization, keeping in line with others members high up in the government (not to mention the claims that Ankara might have supplied arms to ISIS in January 2014).

Suleyman Aksu was a 27 year old English teacher
Since last year's breakout of fighting between Syrian Kurdish forces and ISIS, the Turkish government has shown the least bit of sympathy towards the Kurds who are fighting a long drawn out battle for their homes, and their future. As I stated last year, I never believed it was Turkey’s role to fight alongside the Kurds, however, it did not suffice in silence on the topic, but also set out to demoralize them and their supporters in Turkey. Last October, Erdogan brushed off Kurdish chances of holding on to Kobane, stating it “is about to fall.” In the meantime, in Turkey, those protesting on behalf of Kobane were regularly attacked by Turkish police, while peace activists, such as Kader Ortakaya, protesting on the border were killed by the Turkish army (see my blog: This One is for Kobane). 

Let me be clear, I am not claiming that Turkey is complicit in the attack, but it has failed not only to protect these activists, but also prepared the ground through a continued campaign of delegitimization, treating ones supporting Kobane and the Kurdish struggle as if they were traitors. Not surprisingly, last night in Istanbul, a political demonstration of multiple left parties, showing solidarity with the victims, was violently dispersed with water cannons and teargas.   

Yunus Emre Sen was a student at Ankara University
Making things worse, the current bomb attack comes just as many feared that if the AKP did not reach enough votes to rule as a single party government, Turkey could enter a stage of chaos, with a scenario of widespread violence. Just a day before the elections, a bomb went off at the mostly Kurdish leftist party, the HDP, which even induced more fears for the future. This recent attack will no doubt leave on all on edge about what the future could hold, while no coalition is in sight, with Turkey possibly seeing a new round of elections to solve this political impasse. 

For me personally, this attack hit too close to home as well. As a university professor (and a parent), seeing so many young souls taken was tragic. The truth is, any of these activists could have been my students, friends at bars with whom I would talk about politics into the wee hours of the morning, or ones I march with in demonstrations.

Activist Cebrail Gunebakan was killed; just last year his face
became famous as Turkish police held brutally held mouth
wide-open, as he was detained at pro-Kobane protest
It is perhaps for this reason that with this attack, I opted not to turn the television on, and avoided the gory photos. On my facebook I shared the photos of these three activists killed (and added one more here to the right). Let us remember them this way, and remember the good in their hearts for embarking on a humanitarian aid trip, which was bringing diapers, baby formula, and goods to needy people in Syria.   

Yes, these were not terrorists, and it is too bad that they have been portrayed this way so often in the pro-government press and by the Turkish government. Let us hope that the Turkish government will understand that it needs to work diligently to rid Turkey of ISIS. Sadly, the massacre in Suruç just shows that the Turkish authorities are a bit too late in realizing the real threat this group poses in Turkey. 

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