Turkey and Israel signed the long-awaited deal to normalize diplomatic relations this week. Ankara and Moscow also took steps to mend ties, which soured after a Russian fighter jet violated Turkish airspace and the Turkish Air Force shot it down. I was oscillating between the two topics, and asking myself which one I should focus on in my column this week when I heard the terrible news Tuesday evening.
There was another terrorist attack in Turkey, and this time it was at Istanbul’s Atatürk International Airport. It was earlier this month when I last penned an article for Daily Sabah on another tragic terror terrorist in Turkey. A car bomb was detonated targeting a police vehicle in Vezneciler, a busy intersection close to historical tourist sites during rush hour. The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), a PKK splinter group, claimed responsibility for the attack in which 12 people were killed.
In less than a month, terror has come to haunt Turkey once again. This time, Istanbul’s Atatürk International Airport, one of Europe’s busiest airports, was chosen. Three bombers blew themselves up outside the airport’s international departures building. Brave police officers shot the attackers in an effort to stop the attack. A larger massacre was prevented, but at least 40 people were killed and more than 200 injured.
The attack at Atatürk International Airport was the ninth deadly terrorist attack in Turkey since last summer. But who was responsible this time? During the night, the most likely suspects were the PKK and DAESH, both of which carried out attacks last year. Like the PKK attack in Vezneciler, DAESH killed more than a dozen tourists in Sultanahmet Square, a popular historical area in Istanbul, in a suicide bombing in January. Such attacks have prompted a sharp decline in tourism, showing that both terrorist organizations have been following the same methods, targeting Turkey’s economic lifelines and aiming to destroy tourism in the country.
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım told journalists at the scene on Tuesday night that DAESH was the prime suspect. He also said: “In this period when we are trying to normalize our relations with our neighbors, such a terror attack is very meaningful.” As we remember, when Yıldırım became prime minister after former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu resigned last month, he signaled a recalibration of Turkey’s foreign policy, saying: “We will increase the number of our friends and decrease the number of our foes.”
We have seen two big steps in accordance with this promise this week. The Turkey-Israel deal, which was on the table for six years, was finally reached to restore ties. In addition to normalized diplomatic relations, the two countries, which both border Syria, will start increasing intelligence sharing, which they reduced when they froze military cooperation in 2011. In the meantime, hours after the announcement of the deal, the Kremlin told reporters that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin expressing his “deep condolences” to the family of the pilot who was killed when the Russian jet violated Turkish airspace and was shot down by Turkish jets. Recently, there were signs that both countries wanted to heal the rifts but did not know how to start. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu went to Sochi Tuesday for a meeting of foreign ministers of the members of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization where he is expected to hold bilateral talks with his Russian counterpart after the Kremlin’s statement on Erdoğan’s letter, while Erdoğan and Putin held their first phone conversation yesterday since November 2015 and agreed to meet in person.
Russia and Israel, both Turkey’s neighbors, have interests in Syria, where one of the bloodiest civil wars of our era has been fought for nearly six years. Restoring relations with them may also help find ways to heal the illness of the most devastated country in the region. Sharing an 800-kilometer border with Syria and taking in more than 2.5 million refugees, Turkey has been widely affected by its neighborhood’s instability and the civil war’s tendency to spill over borders. DAESH found a niche to grow up in in Syria, while the PKK started to seek opportunities to bring the war into Turkey. In the early stages of the crisis, Ankara’s priority was to stop Bashar Assad, who is primarily responsible for turning Syria into a hell, but today, the PKK’s Syrian affiliate, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), is gaining an autonomous region along the Turkish border with the help of the U.S.-led anti-DAESH alliance while the DAESH threat is getting worse no matter how hard the alliance hits DAESH positions.
Emerging threats through the Syrian border accompanied by a deadly terror campaign inside the country is pushing Ankara to change its priorities in Syria and to leave its Syria policy, which was mostly based on humanitarian principles, behind. Security concerns and protecting itself is now replacing humanitarianism as Turkey is paying a heavy price from terrorist attacks that are carried out by the outlawed PKK, which is a listed and active terrorist organization but still overlooked by the U.S. and the EU, and DAESH, which has become an unpredictable danger to everyone in the world thanks to the miscalculated Middle East policies of the West. It looks like the road to hell is really paved with good intentions.
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