from From the Potomac to the Euphrates and Middle East Program

A Prolonged Period of Uncertainty

Pro-Turkish protestors hold Turkish national flags as they take part in a demonstration in Hamburg (Fabian Bimmer/Reuters).

This article was originally published in the Cipher Brief on Thursday, April 14, 2016.

April 14, 2016

Pro-Turkish protestors hold Turkish national flags as they take part in a demonstration in Hamburg (Fabian Bimmer/Reuters).
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This article originally appeared here on the Cipher Brief on Thursday, April 14, 2016.

In the late 1970s, Turkey experienced a convulsion of political violence between leftist and rightist factions that killed almost five thousand people by the time the military pushed out the government in a September 1980 coup d’état. The respite from violence was relatively brief, however. Since the mid-1980s, the terrorists of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish state have been waging a war against each other that has taken the lives of tens of thousands. The recent violence in Ankara, Istanbul, and the Kurdish southeast is not unprecedented, but the fact that the PKK, an offshoot called the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), and the Islamic State group are all targeting Turkey poses a variety of security challenges and dilemmas for Ankara. The Turkish military, which has laid siege to parts of the southeast; the police; and the National Intelligence Organization, do not seem to have an answer to the bloodshed except more bloodshed. Although episodic PKK violence has marked the Justice and Development Party (AKP) era, the general stability of the last thirteen-and-a-half years seems to have given way to a more uncertain and bloody future for Turks.

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President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who in 2014 abandoned a more inclusive approach to Turkish politics in favor of an increasingly strident nationalist tone, has used the violence to his political advantage. After the AKP lost its parliamentary majority last June, the ruling party used the violence of the PKK and the Islamic State to undermine coalition government talks, tie the legal Kurdish-based Peoples’ Democratic Party to the PKK, and outmaneuver the nationalists of the Nationalist Movement Party to regain the political advantage. In November, new elections to break the coalition-building deadlock produced an AKP majority once again. The four attacks in Istanbul and Ankara over the course of six weeks in early 2016 have only strengthened Erdogan’s hand, who has employed an expansive definition of terrorism to confront not only the PKK, the TAK, and supporters of the Islamic State, but also journalists and academics who are critical of the government.

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