As many as 128 people died in Turkey Saturday when nearly simultaneous explosions ripped through a pro-peace rally in the country’s capital of Ankara. More than 245 people were injured. The bombs went off just as Kurdish groups, trade unions and leftist organizations were preparing to begin a march protesting the resumption of fighting between the Turkish state and Kurdish militants. Earlier today, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu blamed ISIL for carrying out the attack. But march organizers accused the government of failing to prevent it. Saturday’s bombing occurred three weeks before Turkey’s snap parliamentary elections. Tensions in Turkey have escalated since June, when the ruling AKP party lost its parliamentary majority in a major defeat for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The opposition HDP party won 13 percent of the vote, securing seats in Parliament for the first time. Since the elections, hostilities between Turkish security forces and Kurdish militants have sharply escalated. We speak to Turkish parliamentarian Hisyar Özsoy and UCLA professor Asli Ü. Bâli.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: As many as 128 people died in Ankara, Turkey, on Saturday when nearly simultaneous explosions ripped through a peace rally in the capital. More than 245 people were injured. The bombs went off just as a large group of Kurdish groups, trade unions and leftist organizations were preparing to begin a march protesting the resumption of fighting between the Turkish state and Kurdish militants. Video from the rally shows activists peacefully chanting and holding signs in the moments before the explosions. It’s the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of the Turkish Republic. Eyewitnesses described the horrific aftermath of the bombings.
EYEWITNESS: [translated] We heard the sound of an explosion from where the HDP convoy was arriving.
AMY GOODMAN: Earlier today, Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu blamed ISIL for carrying out the attacks. But march organizers accused the government of failing to prevent the attack.
Selahattin Demirtas is the leader of the opposition HDP, or Peoples’ Democratic Party, which organized Saturday’s march. Saturday’s bombing occurred three weeks before Turkey’s snap parliamentary elections. Tensions in Turkey have escalated since June, when the ruling AKP party lost its parliamentary majority in a major defeat for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The opposition HDP party won 13 percent of the vote, securing seats in Parliament for the first time.
Since the elections, hostilities between Turkish security forces and Kurdish militants have sharply escalated. Hundreds of people have been killed, including dozens of security personnel. In July, Turkey began an air campaign against camps run by the PKK in northern Iraq. The fighting shattered a peace process launched to end a conflict that’s killed more than 40,000 people since 1984. Hours after the bombing, the PKK, as widely expected beforehand, ordered its fighters to halt operations in Turkey unless they faced attack. Turkey rejected the ceasefire and has continued to carry out airstrikes against suspected PKK targets in northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey.
To talk more about Turkey, we’re joined by two guests. Hisyar Özsoy is a member of the Turkish Parliament with the HDP party, or Peoples’ Democratic Party. And Asli Bâli is international law professor and incoming director of the Near Eastern Studies Center at UCLA. She’s co-editor of the Turkey Page of Jadaliyya. Before we go to our two guests, an eyewitness account of what took place.
EYEWITNESS: [translated] We heard the sound of an explosion from where the HDP convoy was arriving. Everybody was running away, and my comrade Zia was trying to calm people down, when the second bomb went off. My comrade Zia was closer to the place where the second bomb went off, and I was near him. Two people behind me were ripped into pieces, and my comrade Zia suffered a head injury from a piece of shrapnel. He collapsed onto the ground, and shortly after, he died. ...
There were bits of flesh stuck to us. The ground was slippery because of the blood. As we tried to carry the wounded away, police attacked us with tear gas canisters. And for about half an hour, we tried to run away from the police. They were trying to prevent us from taking the wounded away. For almost 45 minutes, the wounded had to wait at the blast site. The ambulances did not come. They would not let the ambulances drive in. In a way, they completed the mission of the bombers.
AMY GOODMAN: Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the opposition HDP, or Peoples’ Democratic Party, which organized the march, described—blamed the government for failing to stop the attack.
SELAHATTIN DEMIRTAS: [translated] It is Ankara, the capital of Turkey. Even if a bird flies in the air, the state knows about it. "A bird!" This is the intelligence agency’s stronghold. There’s a rally of 100,000 people, yet there is not a single security measure—not in alleyways, not in major streets. There is not even one security measure. Let’s take a look at their rallies. Security measures start taking place from 10 streets away. Today, it’s as if they purposely let two suicide bombers inside the crowd, who wanted peace—no checking, no security. There was nothing, not enough. The suicide bomber exploded himself. There were wounded people on the ground, 500 people almost. They are not in a position to breathe. The police was given orders to throw gas bombs. The wounded are close to death. They had to fight against tear gas, too. Those who carried the wounded struggled with tear gas. They fought against the pressurized water thrown from police tactical units. One hundred dead, 500 wounded on the ground, and people had to struggle with tear gas and water. Is this your understanding of justice?
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go right now to Ankara to Hisyar Özsoy, member of the Turkish Parliament. Can you describe what is the reaction now to what took place? And were you there at the Ankara peace protest?
HISYAR ÖZSOY: No. Hello. No, I wasn’t in the peace rally. I was in Bingöl, in my hometown, actually. Now I am in hometown still. We had a meeting scheduled for October 11. That is why we couldn’t attend the rally.
The situation is very grim. People are incredibly saddened, and they are also angry, very angry, particularly angry at the president of the country. There are demonstrations, there are protests, regarding the event, the bombing incident. People are burying their dead. Two of the deceased were from my hometown. One of them was buried in Istanbul. The other we buried last night, actually, a young engineer, a 28-year-old engineer who joined the rally, from Bingöl. There is shock. There is panic. But there is also a very striking commitment to continue a struggle for peace, to honor the memory of the peace martyrs, as people call them.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you know so far of these blasts, and who do you believe is behind them?
HISYAR ÖZSOY: I mean, there is an investigation going on by the state authorities, but I think we need—here, we need a larger perspective. It’s not simply who did the bombing. It is—we need to a little bit discuss Turkey’s Syrian policy, Turkey’s support to all kinds of jihadist groups in Syria, and in particular al-Nusra and ISIL, Turkey’s contribution to the militarization of the conflict there, Turkey’s contribution or support to all the groups who are fighting against the Kurds in Syria, because the situation we have now, this bombing incident in Ankara, is a kind of a sign indicating that Turkey has turned into Syria. And this is the end result of Turkish president’s very aggressive and militaristic policy toward Syria and particularly to the Kurds in Rojava, in the Kurdish region of Syria.
As you may know, Turkey has had a very aggressive policy trying to prevent the Kurds in northern Syria from gaining some kind of political status. And to this end, they have been supporting all kinds of groups, particularly radical Islamist groups. They have provided them with ammunition, with weapons, with intelligence, with all kinds of logistics, with diplomacy, all kinds of networks. Despite the fact that Turkey claims that they have categorized ISIL as a terrorist organization, it is very much well known that Turkey has been supporting these groups, because they were fighting against the Kurds. In fact, during the siege of Kobani, Turkey had a very aggressive approach to the Kurds. Even they said that ISIL was better than the Kurdish fighters, YPG, in particular, PYD. They were—that ISIL was much better than the Kurdish groups there. And for them, the Kurds are a national security issue, and any group that is targeting the Kurds, killing them, destroying them, undermining their political status, is, in quotation marks, "a national ally of Turkey."
And so—and we have warned them repeatedly that their Syrian policy and their Kurdish policy in Syria, the government’s Kurdish policy in Syria, will turn Turkey into Syria, that war will come to here, and it’s very dangerous. It’s very dangerous to support, to provide those kinds of groups with weapons. And one day, those weapons are going to turn to Turkey. And now, unfortunately, there is not much difference between Ankara, the capital of Turkey, and Baghdad and Damascus or Aleppo or Kobani.
And so, Turkey wanted to conquer Syria—that was their policy, that Mr. Erdogan wanted a big victory. He wanted—he actually supported all the groups in Syria. And now, unfortunately, rather than conquering Syria, now ISIL is in Ankara and undermining the whole political system there. There is a lot of chaos now, a lot of panic, a lot of shock. And this is the end result of Turkey’s Syrian policy. And that is why people actually blame Erdogan. I mean, whether some sectors or some groups within the Turkish state were a part of this bombing incident, I don’t know. We may never know that. But we know that Turkey’s Syrian policy, Turkey’s Kurdish policy has created the context, the larger context within which this event occurred. And in that sense, they are definitely responsible, particularly the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re speaking to a Turkish member of Parliament, Hisyar Özsoy. When we come back, he will be joined by Asli Bâli, UCLA professor. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report, as we turn right now to the Turkish prime minister, the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who said that the suicide bombers may have been responsible.
PRIME MINISTER AHMET DAVUTOGLU: [translated] We will continue our investigation regarding this attack. At the moment, potential groups that can carry out such an attack are obvious: Daesh, PKK, leftists, MLKP and DHKP/C. A comprehensive investigation is underway regarding potential suspects. ... Our ministers of health, justice and interior affairs have given detailed information with regards to the attack. According to the evidence we have, there are strong suggestions that this attack was carried out by two suicide bombers.
AMY GOODMAN: Speaking Saturday, HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas condemned the remarks made by the Turkish prime minister following the attacks.
SELAHATTIN DEMIRTAS: [translated] They came to a point implying that the HDP bombed its own rallies and killed people to gain sympathy and votes. The prime minister talked about half an hour. He spares 20 minutes insulting us. The prime minister spends half of the time threatening me while talking about an event where 100 people lost their lives. Did you hear one word of condemnation of ISIS? No.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are Hisyar Özsoy, member of the Turkish Parliament, speaking to us from Turkey—he’s a member of the HDP—and Asli Bâli, UCLA professor and co-editor of the Turkey Pages of Jadaliyya. Can you start off, Professor Bâli, speaking about who organized the peace rally?
ASLI Ü. BÂLI: So, there are many labor organizations involved, in addition to the HDP, as you already heard from your other guest, including the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions, the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions, the Turkish Medical Association, the Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects, and so forth. So, this was a left and Kurdish demonstration designed to call for peace and to denounce the turn that the government has overseen since the June 7th elections towards conflict escalation, polarization and violence.
AMY GOODMAN: And why was it called for this weekend? Talk about the significance of HDP, its progress in gaining seats in the Parliament.
ASLI Ü. BÂLI: So the broader context for what’s happened is that on June 7th there were parliamentary elections, and the AKP expected to win an outright majority, as it has done in every election that it’s competed in since 2002. It was denied that outright majority. And the reason for this was particularly interesting.
So, for the last decade or so, we’ve had three parties in Parliament—an ultranationalist party, a secular republican party and the AKP. And they have had a sort of stable vote share divided amongst them, with the AKP having the lion’s share of seats in Parliament. This is largely because there’s an electoral threshold in the country, which means that parties that poll up to 9 percent, or at least under 10 percent, get that share of the vote but fail to secure any seats in Parliament. They’re excluded from Parliament unless they gain 10 percent of the electoral share nationwide. And this is a tactic that historically had been used to deny both Islamist parties and Kurdish parties seats in Parliament. The tactic failed spectacularly with respect to Islamist parties since the rise of the AKP, and even before that, in that they were able to exceed that threshold easily. So, we’ve had pro-Islamist parties in Parliament since the mid-1990s. Unfortunately, however, Kurdish parties, particularly because their constituencies were often concentrated in particular provinces, were unable nationwide to exceed that threshold and have not been able to be seated in Parliament other than as independent candidates.
On June 7th, something very different happened, and the HDP polled at 13 percent and was able to not only be seated in Parliament, but retain the entire bloc of its constituency, which meant—what ordinarily happens is, if a party is not able to get past the threshold, its seat share is then distributed to the next most popular party, which inevitably has been the AKP, which then gains all of those seats. So, not only did the HDP gain its own seats, it deprived the AKP of the Kurdish seats that it expected to have. And this led the AKP, which had already shown signs of abandoning the so-called peace process that they had initiated with the Kurdish community three years earlier—they had already shown signs of abandoning that peace process when they began to isolate Abdullah Öcalan, one of the leaders of the Kurdish movement in Turkey, who they had been negotiating with until that point. They started isolating him in the spring, and they had shown signs of disinterest in this.
And all of this is connected to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s presidential ambitions. What I mean by that is, he is currently president, but he wants to alter the constitutional system of Turkey to turn it into a "presidentialist" system, as he puts it, by which he means an extraordinary reallocation of powers to the executive, and specifically to the office of the president itself, to alter the Turkish constitutional order from one in which you have both a parliament and a president, and the president is relatively weak in powers, at least from his perspective, to one where much of the parliamentary power goes to the president. This would require a constitutional amendment. And in order to secure a constitutional amendment, the AKP needs more than the vote share that it gets, more than the seats that it has in Parliament. It had hoped to form a coalition with the Kurds by introducing this peace process and having basically, you know, a tit-for-tat exchange, essentially, with the Kurds whereby the coalition around the peace process would also support these other ambitions of the AKP. And it became clear earlier this year that that was not going to happen, that the Kurdish community was not going to support this ambition, and the AKP began turning its back on that peace process, well before the election.
But once the election delivered the stunning result, that the HDP had been seated and had gotten 13 percent of the electoral turnout, and that the AKP was unable to secure a majority in Parliament for the first time, the direction turned extraordinarily sharply toward escalation, polarization, divisiveness, driven by the president and targeting specifically the HDP internally, in addition to the PKK, as part of a military campaign.
AMY GOODMAN: How does this fit into the larger picture with Syria?
ASLI Ü. BÂLI: So, as, again, Hisyar Özsoy was mentioning, the Turkish government has long supported Sunni extremist groups in Syria against President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and has openly called for Assad to be ousted, has demanded that he has to go, has insisted that that’s a precondition for any other kind of negotiation on Syria, and opened its border, created an incredibly porous border with Syria, enabling fighters to escape to Turkey, enabling Gulf businessmen to come and engage in finance activities and arming of groups in Syria. In the southeast of Turkey, there was a tremendous amount of back and forth across the border, enabling Syrian opposition groups, many of them Islamist groups, to have a basically secure base in Turkey from which to operate and then cross into Syria. In addition, the Turkish government, by many accounts, has been directly supporting some of these Islamist fighters—and again, you heard Hisyar Özsoy make that claim.
And that has been the broader picture of the Turkish campaign—until, again, this summer, after the elections. The Turkish government had taken the position that the United States could not use NATO bases in Turkey to engage in aerial bombardment of the Islamic State until July of this year. In July, following a bombing, which again targeted Kurdish activists and which again was suspected to be the act of the Islamic State, the Turkish government decided to say, claim publicly, that it was going to join the anti-Islamic State coalition run by the United States, open its air bases to U.S. planes and join the air campaign. What ensued is, yes, the United States has been able to use those bases, but in terms of the air campaign that the Turks have opened—
AMY GOODMAN: This is Incirlik?
ASLI Ü. BÂLI: Yeah, this is in, yeah, Incirlik and the Adana area. In terms of the air campaign that the Turkish government itself has undertaken, it’s been entirely against the PKK. There have been a basically tiny proportion of attacks on the Islamic State by Turkey and a huge lion’s share—
AMY GOODMAN: So they get money from the United States to attack ISIS, but they use it to attack their own enemies, the government’s own enemies.
ASLI Ü. BÂLI: They join a coalition with the United States allegedly against the Islamic State, and then they use that cover of the coalition to go after PKK. So, basically, they’ve radically escalated the militarization of their own conflict with the PKK, and this is in the broader context of U.S. policy on Syria, which has enabled the Turkish government to go forward with this campaign.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to more comments made by the HDP leader, Selahattin Demirtas. He addressed the Turkish prime minister directly in his comments following Saturday’s horrific attacks in Ankara that may have killed as many as 128 people.
SELAHATTIN DEMIRTAS: [translated] As prime minister, without shame, you said you arrested the perpetrator of the Suruç bombing. You stated this an hour ago. You said, "We arrested Abdurrahman Alagöz and gave him to the hands of our judiciary system." In fact, Abdurrahman Alagöz, the suicide bomber, blew up into pieces. Whom did you arrest? To which judiciary system did you transfer him? Is it possible that any good can come from someone who lies like this when addressing the nation? Has there been even one massacre in which you found the criminals responsible? Did you find who did the Roboski massacre? Did you find who murdered the kids in Gezi protests? Did you find out who bombed our Diyarbakir rally? Is the Suruç massacre resolved? This massacre will not be brought to justice either, because there are no dark hands behind it. They are conveying the message: "We can kill you and blow you up into pieces in broad daylight in the middle of Ankara." This is not just an attack on us. They want to give this message: "We can kill anyone who stands up against us, AKP, and cover it up."
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the HDP leader. Let’s go to Hisyar Özsoy, who’s joining us from Turkey, member of the Turkish Parliament who has gone now to several funerals after this horrific terrorist attack on Saturday, where the government estimates, I think they’re saying, 97 people were killed, others are saying 128 people were killed. If you could respond to what the leader of the HDP just said, and, as we wrap up, what you think needs to happen right now?
HISYAR ÖZSOY: I mean, our chair, Selahattin Demirtas, is rightfully saying that the government never investigated the previous attacks. In Diyarbakir, our meeting on June 5th, where many people were killed, they only found the person who did it, but they never went deeper into the situation. I mean, who are the people who organized this event? It’s not a simple event. I mean, you are doing a bombing attack in the unofficial capital of the Kurds, Diyarbakir, a very symbolic place. And then the Suruç incident happened, and we don’t know really what is happening—I mean, behind what we see. A young man did it, but then, I mean, who organized this whole event? In Ankara, again, I mean, the government never investigates these kinds of attacks, and we are not really optimistic in this regard. And most probably, without some sort of help from Turkish intelligence or some state authorities, it’s not really that easy to organize such a massive event and kill more than 130 people. And if that is the case, if there is no, I mean, state involvement or intelligence involvement in this whole situation, then it seems that, I mean, the Turkish state is definitely not functioning. They are not able to protect their own citizens in the capital city. And the attack happened about like, say, three kilometers away from the Turkish Parliament.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Hisyar, what are people saying at the funerals? What are they demanding now?
HISYAR ÖZSOY: They are trying very hard, incredibly hard, not to somehow transform this whole situation into revenge. So they are angry. There is incredible sorrow and anger, but they are trying to prevent this from turning into a feeling of revenge. And they are insisting—they are insisting. And the Turkish state wants war. And this event—let me also clarify this: This event happened on the day when PKK declared unilateral ceasefire, right? And this is what the ceasefire was responded, this truce was responded, by this event. And the same night, actually, on the day of the event—nobody talks about this, but the Turkish Air Force, they attacked PKK bases in a place close to my hometown, 70 kilometers away from my hometown, and killed eight to 11 PKK militants, who weren’t fighting, who were just staying in their position, because there is a unilateral ceasefire now, a truce, at least until the elections.
And so, the fight is going on, but we are insisting: We insist on our demand, which is peace. And this is also for the memory of the people who we lost. It was a peace rally. And we are insisting on this politics of peace at a time when the state is most aggressive and most militaristic. And we don’t know, really—I mean, we don’t know whether we can survive or we can—how we can counter this massive violence. We are trying to keep people calm and to concentrate on the elections. In three weeks, we are going to have the elections, and we want to stop Erdogan there. But Erdogan is keeping us busy with all kinds of attacks and bombings and funeral ceremonies. And he chose—he chose to do the elections under the shadow of this war and death, this regime of death. And we will insist on politics of peace. And hopefully, on November 1st, we are going to stop him again. And people are committed. Despite all this chaos and instability and panic and shock, we are trying to concentrate on our election campaigns. There was a three-day mourning period. We didn’t do any campaign or any activity regarding the elections, but tomorrow we will start again. And we will do our best to stop Erdogan in a democratic way by voting on November 1st. And hopefully—
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, but I want to thank you both for being with us. Of course, we’ll continue to follow what’s taking place in Turkey, Hisyar Özsoy, member of the Turkish Parliament, the HDP party, and Asli Bâli, international law professor and incoming director of the Near Eastern Studies Center at UCLA in Los Angeles.