Kurds in Turkey have found themselves increasingly singled out for violence, as the death toll from Saturday's twin bombings in Ankara is expected to top 100 victims in the country's worst ever terrorist attack.
The bombing targeted labour union members and supporters of opposition parties, including the Kurdish-rooted People’s Democratic Party or HDP, who had gathered to take part in a peace rally.
Two suicide bombers believed to have been carrying five kilos of TNT blew themselves up 30 seconds apart shortly after 10am Saturday.
It is the third major attack on Kurdish civil society groups and political parties since June, when the HDP won entry to parliament at the expense of the ruling AK Party’s decade-old majority.
Among the dead was 70- year-old Meryam Bulut or "Mother Meryam", a longstanding member of the Saturday Mothers group that has met at an Istanbul square for two decades to call for justice for relatives who went missing in police custody during a series of vicious state crackdowns during the 1980s and 1990s. Another victim was Kubra Meltem Mollaoglu, who was due to stand as a HDP candidate for Istanbul in parliamentary elections on November 1st.
“I was at the head of the march, one kilometre from the explosion. We were preparing to march to the central square but heard a loud blast,” said
, honorary president of the HDP. “Police attacked people with tear gas,” he said. Kurkcu placed responsibility squarely at the door of President
Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Despite Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu's comments that Islamic State jihadists are most likely responsible for the bombing and a string of other deadly blasts, government security operations have subjected Kurdish-populated towns to military sieges, and a campaign against militants of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in southeast Turkey and northern Iraq has killed more than 2,400 fighters.
The HDP co-chairman, Selahattin Demirtas, criticised the AK Party caretaker government for failing to make a single arrest following the bombing of a HDP rally in June and an attack on pro-Kurdish activists in Suruc in July that killed 33 people.
“You won’t arrest the perpetrator of the Ankara bombing either,” he said after Saturday’s attack, and also questioned the absence of a security presence despite the rally taking place in the heart of Turkey’s capital.
Major AK Party rallies, in contrast, involve meticulous security operations. HDP offices and supporters have been repeatedly attacked by ultranationalist youths since its emergence as a political force early this year.
In the aftermath of the bombings life in many parts of the country went on as normal. In Istanbul, commuters travelling on a city ferry asked about the mounting death toll before calmly returning to reading their newspapers.
Riot police were deployed in Ankara and Istanbul but with orders to confront supporters of those who had died, while video footage has emerged of demonstrators fighting police who were preventing ambulances from reaching the injured shortly after Saturday’s blasts.
Analysts say the reason for the relatively subdued response to the country’s deadliest terrorist attack is in part because Turkish society is generally conservative and respectful of authority.
“That’s been the case not just with regard to Kurdish issues, but, for example, when 301 miners died in Soma [in May 2014] Tayyip Erdogan blamed it on fate and destiny, and then managed to receive 43 per cent [support] of the population at elections,” said Fadi Hakura, a Turkey expert at Chatham House.
Erdogan has remained uncharacteristically quiet following Saturday’s bombings. An offer of dialogue from Turkey’s prime minister was sent to all parliamentary parties except for the HDP, the ostensible target of the Ankara attack.
The HDP leadership is to decide this week whether to cancel planned election rallies given the worsening violence against its supporters.
Some, including the government, place responsibility for the Ankara bombings with a small cell of Turkish nationalists tied to Islamic State extremists known as Dokumacilar or "weavers'" that have infiltrated Islamic tea houses in cities in southeast Turkey.
Air strikes on PKK positions have continued this week despite the group, considered a terrorist organisation by the EU and US, declaring a unilateral ceasefire on Saturday.