Turkish Government Criticized After Kurdish Community Center Attack

Jul 22, 2015
Originally published on July 23, 2015 2:08 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now to Turkey, where an attack has touched off accusations that the government is too lenient on extremists. This is the sound of what happened during a meeting of young activists Monday at a Kurdish community center near the Syrian border.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in foreign language).

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

SIEGEL: That video is from a Turkish media site. At least 32 people were killed in the explosion, and many believe it could have been carried off by the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS. Turkey is a key ally for the U.S. in the fight against that group. And we go now to NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul where there've been protests, and, Peter, first, let's get up to date. There's been more violence since the bombing. What's the latest?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, Kurdish militants are now claiming responsibility for more deaths since the shooting of two Turkish policemen down near the Syrian border. Reportedly, this was in revenge for Turkey's failure to stop the Monday suicide bombing. It's a very confused and tense situation here. You have Kurds up in arms against the government; Turkish citizens demonstrating against their government's failure to control the border. You've got a ruling party in Ankara that lost in the last election a lot of seats and now faces a coalition and a weaker grip on power. So all in all, it feels like a real moment of reckoning in some ways.

SIEGEL: This unrest seems to have been set off by Monday's attack. Why is it thought that ISIS is behind this?

KENYON: Well, the initial conclusion is that there's a 20-year-old Turkish university student - or there was - who is now seen to be the bomber. His family says he disappeared last year and apparently traveled to Syria. The suggestion is that he's an ISIS supporter. The evidence has not really been revealed, and this investigation is still going on. This is a preliminary conclusion. Earlier, authorities were pointing to three female ISIS supporters, so we'll see how that develops. But it certainly points to the fact that it's a huge border, very difficult to police, and the critics who say Turkey has not been doing everything it could will now have more ammunition.

SIEGEL: This is such a complicated story to relate to, Peter. There are Kurds in Turkey, also in Iraq, also in Syria, just near the border with Turkey. It's the Kurdish Syrian fighters who've been carrying so much of the burden in fighting ISIS.

KENYON: There's no question about that. They have been the most effective single fighting force in that part of the conflict against ISIS.

SIEGEL: What's the attitude of ISIS toward Turkey's government?

KENYON: It had been fairly neutral and that had given a lot of pause to a lot of people in the West and elsewhere. But the latest issue of the ISIS magazine about Turkey is out and it has very harsh words to say about President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government. It accuses them of being too cozy with the Kurds, among other things. So in all, it seems this explosion has just shattered the explanation Turkey's been trying to give its own citizens that it was on top of the border situation and also on top of the Kurdish situation and trying to manage a peace process with the Kurds. It's incredibly convoluted, and at the moment, things look very uncertain.

SIEGEL: Well, what's the government been doing to try to get control of things?

KENYON: It's been a kind of a hodgepodge of damage control and management. They - a court tried to order Twitter and other sites to remove pictures of the bombings. There have been protests in Istanbul and elsewhere and those people have been cracked down on. So Ankara's doing whatever it can to maintain order and prevent things from getting out of hand. But obviously, it's trying to walk an impossible line here, and with each day that goes on and each new episode of violence, things get more and more problematic.

SIEGEL: Peter, thank you.

KENYON: You're welcome, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.