Nationalist Mobs Attack Buildings in Ankara, Istanbul

Ethnic tensions boiled over in Turkey on Tuesday as angry demonstrators attacked HDP (People’s Democratic Party) headquarters in Ankara and six other cities. A mob also attacked the headquarters of the mass-market Hurriyet newspaper in Istanbul.

No deaths have been reported, although demonstrators caused significant property damage. Demonstrators targeted the HDP, an inclusive, left-wing party that proclaims to be pro-Kurdish. HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas said “we are facing a campaign of lynching” and estimated that there had been at least 400 attacks on the party during Tuesday and Wednesday.

Ninety-three people were arrested in connection with the attack on Hurriyet. Pro-government demonstrators accused the liberal newspaper of deliberately misquoting President Recep Tayyip Erdoрan.

Intercity bus routes from the eastern city of Dyirbakir were closed after bus windows were smashed by mobs wielding sticks and stones. The Dogan news agency reported that several businesses in the southern tourism hub of Antalya were attacked because their proprietors did not fly Turkish flags.

The burst of nationalist anger came hours after 16 police officers were killed in a bombing in the country’s east. The authorities suspect the killings to be the work of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), an outlawed militant group which fought a separatist war against Ankara from 1984 to 2013. The rebellion resulted in the deaths of at least 40,000 people over three decades.

The HDP has no affiliation to the PKK and does not support Kurdish separatism. The party was the target of demonstrators, however, because of its pro-Kurdish stance and opposition to the influence of Turkish nationalism in the country’s politics.

US State Department spokesman John Kirby addressed concerns that the demonstrations were encouraged by members of the ruling AK party (Party of Justice and Development). “Elected officials must be careful not to appear to encourage violence against media outlets,” he said.

An AK deputy was reported to have participated in the protest against Hurriyet, and HDP lawmaker Pervin Buldan accused President Ergodan of encouraging attacks on the party’s buildings.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu condemned the violence and asked citizens to keep calm: “It is unacceptable to damage media institutions, political party buildings and the property of our civilians.”

A two-year long ceasefire between the PKK collapsed in July after a bombing, believed to have been carried out by Islamic State militants, killed 30 people in a Turkish town near the Syrian border on July 20. The PKK blamed the Turkish government for the attack, and fighting between the two sides has resulted in at least 2,000 deaths over the past month and a half, according to official reports.

The demonstrations in Turkey came while government forces were intensifying military operations against the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party). Turkish ground troops entered northern Iraq for the first time since 2013, and air forces conducted raids on four separate PKK bases. The Anadolu news agency reported that at least 35 PKK militants were killed in the operations.

Journalist Massoud Akko told independent Syrian news source ARA News that Turkish strikes against the PKK are political theater: “The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoрan has intensified the airstrikes on the PKK in order to gain more votes in the upcoming elections. Those strikes have resulted in violent reaction by the PKK. It’s merely a political game.”

The unrest has led to speculation that parliamentary elections scheduled for November 1 will be delayed. June elections failed to produce a majority, with the AK party winning 258 of the 550 seats available.

Unable to form a coalition, President Erdoрan called for snap elections to be held on 1 November. Renewed fighting against the PKK and the angry mood on the streets have poisoned the country’s political atmosphere, however.

Demirtas told a press conference on Wednesday that “It is becoming impossible to hold an election given the security situation in the region.” HDP won 79 seats in the June election, allowing it to enter parliament for the first time in its history.

Continued fighting between government forces and a surge in Turkish nationalism could play into the hands of Erdoрan if elections are held in November.

Joseph Larsen

10 September 2015 21:13