According to the official figures, 97 civilians died in a deadly blast in Ankara on Saturday although the death toll is contested. They were there to participate in the peace rally organized by leftist associations, syndicates, and unions. Many NGOs and People’s Democratic Party (HDP) representatives and supporters were among the participants. Photos of dead bodies lying on the ground covered by the flags prepared for the rally overwhelmed social media accounts, reminding one of the irony of death at a rally organized to call for an end to the accelerating violence since the 7 June elections. It is heartbreakingly unfortunate that hopes for peace were once again interrupted with violence in Ankara yesterday. The political ambitions of President Erdoğan to remain in power, coupled with a century long tradition of despotic state power in Turkey, are the main causes behind the current political and moral crisis.
Increasing Violence Since Suruç
The 7 June elections mark a threshold in the decades-long history of violence and conflict in Turkey. For the first time since its rise to political power in 2002, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its simple majority in parliament. Crucial to this was the success of the HDP in gaining thirteen per cent of the votes, bypassing the ten percent election threshold rule, and sending eighty deputies to the parliament. What followed was a rapid escalation of violence as the ceasefire between the Turkish military and the Kurdish guerrilla forces under the leadership of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) ended after the deadly blast in the southeastern town of Suruç on 20 July, and the killing of two policemen by the PKK in their homes in the southeastern city of Şanlıurfa two days later.
The death toll since then has reached 696 people, among which there were eighty soldiers; sixty-two policemen; three village guards; 341 guerrillas (according to Turkish military sources); 113 civilians, twenty of whom are babies and children, in the Kurdish southeast and eastern Turkey; and the 97 civilians who were killed in Ankara two days ago. Extensive and intensive securitization policies in the form of “special security zones,” declared in most of the cities and towns of the Kurdish southeast and east, directly targeted life itself. Nevertheless, the physical violence that led to hundreds of deaths since the deadly blast in Suruç only partially demonstrates the depth of the current political and moral crisis. The interim government led by the AKP also launched a systematic program to suppress and criminalize dissidence and opposition, mainly targeting the HDP. In addition, Kurdish citizens in different parts of the country have faced serious lynching and humiliation of different sorts by ordinary citizens.
Two Problems: Erdoğan and the State
One recent case of such physical and symbolic violence is that of a young Kurdish man, Hacı Birlik, whose body was dragged behind a Turkish military truck through the streets of the southeastern city of Şırnak. As proclaiming life, and sometimes even death, becomes the most pressing issue in the midst of such horrific violence, it is important to name the source of the problem.
Today we are faced with two interrelated and significant problems that were exasperated under a complex geopolitical situation in neighboring Syria. One is the President Erdoğan himself. His ambition to remain in power, and his cruel pragmatism to resort to any measure that would make this possible, is a daunting challenge. One terribly dangerous tactic he has been using to this end has been to deploy a highly polarizing discourse around religious/secular, sectarian and ethnic strife. Securing loyalty to himself within the party, he has become the de facto ruler of the party as well as the country. Turning this into a de jure state by changing the current parliamentary system into a presidential one seems to be the final phase of his enduring power struggle: first against the military hegemony that he overcame with the support of Gülenists, and second, against the Gülenists who were extensively mobilized within the judiciary and the bureaucracy. For this, he either needs a simple majority in the parliament or abiding coalition partners that would allow changing the constitution accordingly. Neither of these were possible after the 7 June elections, and thus, the elections remain to be renewed on 1 November after “failed” attempts to form a coalition government. In short, the political ambitions of Erdoğan dragged the country into a deadlock.
Although the degree and rapidity of violence during the past three months was unforeseen in the history of the republic, the state in Turkey has a century-long history of exercising despotic power against its citizens. Examples of such ruthless state violence targeting so-called “infidel” or “disloyal” citizens, mainly including Alevis, Kurds, non-Muslims, and leftist factions within society, who challenged or perceived to be challenging national unity guarded by the state, are countless: the Armenian genocide in 1915, the Dersim massacre in 1938, the 5-6 September 1955 riots, the Taksim Square massacre on 1 May 1977, the Maraş massacre in 1978, the Madımak massacre in 1993. Add to this the war between the army and the guerrillas during the 1990s that led to forced migrations, deaths of many, torture in prisons, and so many other atrocities committed under the name of national unity and stability.
The history of the republic is one of violence that has caused many deaths, interrupting hope for a peaceful future. Today, we continue to suffer from a despotic state and the struggles among political actors over capturing its institutions. Hence, it is misleading, I argue, to name the current problem as the “Kurdish” problem. It is rather a state problem that fails to provide justice to its own citizens regardless of what and who they are. The century-long state problem has reached an unprecedentedly horrific degree, as ownership over state institutions shifted hands from the military-judiciary-bureaucracy complex claiming to safeguard the republican ethic at all costs to a single individual, that is, President Erdoğan.
Drilling in Ambiguities
In such a context, the tragedy of living in Turkey is to live in constant ambiguities. One knows very well by experience that the past ill-doings of the state only imply that the main responsibility for the deadly blast in Ankara falls primarily on the state actors and institutions unless otherwise proven. Most of the hard evidence in such cases most often disappears or is manipulated in (see, for instance, the trials for the killing of the Armenian journalist Hrank Dink).
Here comes the paradox. It is almost never possible to find the perpetrator by resorting to hard evidence because loyalty to the state far exceeds the sense of justice. The simple yet effective discourse of the friend/enemy binary accompanies this loyalty, most often labeling dissident voices as the enemy. The coverage of the pro-AKP media of the deadly blast in Ankara, putting the responsibility entirely on the HDP, is the most recent example of this. Moreover, the lack of an independent judiciary leaves much suspicion on the reliability of investigations.
Hence the insurmountable pain of past and present atrocities that are left as total mysteries, taking away the relief of justice to render each of us in constant ambiguity. None of this means, however, that we do not know who is responsible. We do. In fact, for the first time in the history of the republic, more people know right now and they are rapidly losing confidence in the state and its institutions as its despotic nature becomes much more visible day the day during these past three months. We are standing at a critical moment that is full of possibilities, good and bad. Anything can happen. We, as peoples, have already lost too much and we cannot afford to lose more. This is why the call made yesterday by the oppositional factions for civil disobedience by not going to work and to school on 12 and 13 October to commemorate those who died in Ankara is very meaningful. Hope for the future lies in continuing to resist together, embracing one another.
 Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-leader of the HDP, claimed that the number had reached 128, and the HDP office released 120 names of those who were killed.
 Although initially claimed by the PKK, a senior member of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) claimed that the PKK was not responsible for the murder.
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Behzad Yaghmaian and the Turkey Page editors for their comments on an earlier version of this piece.