It was meant to be a peace rally. Protesters from near and far came to the Turkish capital of Ankara to oppose violence, especially against the Kurds. Around 10 AM on Saturday, 10 October 2015, in front of the main train station, 1 or 2 suicide bombers came in the midst of the crowd, detonated their device, and blew themselves into eternity. They killed anywhere from 97 to 128 people.
It was the worse single terrorist event on Turkish soil. In essence, it was Turkey’s ‘9-11.’
Why Turkey Matters: Few understand how very important Turkey is. Based on the Anatolian peninsula in the far west of the Asian continent, in what is also known as ‘Asia Minor,’ Turkey has a rich, deep history. Its central geography, sandwiched between Africa and Eurasia, ensures a varied ethnic population (the Turks look like everyone). Here was the location of the 7 churches of Asia, found in the Book of Revelation Chapters 2 & 3.
Actual ethnic Turks migrated from Central Asia to Asia Minor a millennium ago and converted to Islam at the same time. Once they reached their new home, they took leadership of the Muslim world from the Arabs and held on to it for a 1,000 years. The last recognised Muslim caliph was the Turkish sultan.
Turkey was also an imperial power: Hittite, Byzantine, Seljuk, and Ottomans were all located here. The Ottomans were a long-lived and expansive empire: dominating North Africa, the Middle East, and SE Europe, they lasted from 1300 to 1922. It was the Ottomans that the ANZAC troops faced on the craggy slopes of Gallipoli in 1915. And it was the Gallipoli campaign that brought to the nation’s attention a brilliant young military leader name Mustafa Kemal, who became the founding father of the modern Turkish republic.
The miraculous making of Modern Turkey: After being defeated by the Allies in World War I, Greece invaded Turkey. Thanks to Kemal, the Greeks were successfully repelled. After that was the first major population transfer of the 20th Century: all ethnic Turks living in Greece had to move to Turkey and all ethnic Greeks living in Turkey had to move to Greece. It was at this point - 1922 - that Turkey became ’99% Muslim.’ Kemal, a recognised military leader, then became a successful revolutionary. Leading the Grand National Assembly, Kemal worked with dizzying speed:
1. He terminated the Ottoman regime;
2. Sent the sultan into exile;
3. Abolished the caliphate, religious law and clothing;
4. Replaced Friday as the day of rest;
5. Changed the Turkish alphabet from Arabic to Roman script;
6. Gave women equal rights, including the right to vote.
In short, Kemal secularised the nation. His goal was to yank the new Republic of Turkey into the‘Ataturk,’ meaning ‘Father of the Turks. The new Turkish Republic bore no resemblance to the Ottoman Empire, anymore than the Federal Republic of Germany resembles the Nazi era.
The challenge for Turkey: Today Turkey is in troubled and transitional times. Its powerful longtime leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now president, has walked a fine line between being western-democratic and making the country more religiously observant. Turkey has 7 neighbours (Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, and Syria) and its relationship with them can be testy.
Turkey’s ‘9-11’ attack stems from its 900 km long border with Syria. Much of that border is next to Syrian territory held by the Islamic State (IS). For a time, Turkey had a ‘hands-off’ approach regarding IS, not getting involved in the latter’s failed siege of the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani, right on the border. Turkey did not want to antagonise IS and really was not keen in helping the Kurds, either, who have been demanding autonomy (or more) from Turkey. Turkey also sides with the Syrian rebels against Bashar al Assad.
The role of the IS: However, lately, Turkey has chosen to attack IS positions and this seems to have invited retaliation. Indeed, IS has been named the prime suspect of the Ankara bombing even though, as of this writing, they have not claimed responsibility. Yet it would work in IS’s favour to attack the peace rally:
1. They are enemies of the Kurds;
2. They want to create a greater wedge between the Kurds and the Turkish government.
This seems to be working. On the eve of run-off parliamentary elections, Turks seem to be blaming the Turkish government, even more than IS, for the tragedy of 10 October. They say the government did not do enough to protect its citizens, a charge the government denies.
As Turkey finds its feet in the aftermath of this tragedy, IS eagerly plans to expand through Africa and Asia all the way to Bangladesh. They want to ‘fulfil (Islamic) prophecy,’ where the northern Syrian city of Dabiq (held by IS) wins a battle against the West (Rome) and then Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city). For IS, they are on tract to fulfilling this prophecy.
Watch Turkey: For years, this blogger has been telling people to ‘Watch Turkey’ - if it stays secular, we can breathe easier. If it goes fundamentalist, then the entire world will feel the tremors. At this tragic time, Turkish leadership needs to be wiser than ever as they fight for peace and stability on several fronts.