MEDIA WATCH Istanbul bombings: Turkey’s security challenge
THE global expressions of sympathy following the at tack on Atatürk airport reflect not only the horror of the assault but the uncomfortable reminder that terrorism can strike anywhere as people go about their lives. As Turkey declared a national day of mourning, its president Recep Tayyip Erdoðan warned that the bombs could have gone off at any airport in any city around the world: “For terrorist organisations, there is no difference between Istanbul and London, Ankara and Berlin, Izmir and Chicago, or Antalya and Rome,” he said.
After Paris and Brussels, no one can believe that other countries are immune to such troubles, even if some attacks draw more international outrage than others; as noted in Turkey, there was no surge of #jesuisistanbul declarations. Yet however international the threat, the country’s situation is undeniably specific. It would be naive to ignore the immense and particular forces at play in the country, given the conflict with Kurdish militants and the war in neighbouring Syria, as well as other regional disagreements. In a little over a year, 17 attacks have claimed more than 300 lives in Turkey. While some of those have been claimed by TAK, the Kurdish Freedom Falcons, more have been blamed on so-called Islamic State (ISIS) militants, including the suicide bombing that killed 103 at an Ankara peace rally organised by Kurdish and leftist groups in October.
Officials have already said they believe ISIS was responsible for Tuesday’s bombing, though there has been no claim of responsibility. If they are correct, it marks an escalation by the group and may be retaliation for Ankara’s decision to step up the fight against it. The attack targeted one of the world’s most active airports, at the heart of Turkey’s economy. The majority of the 41 or more dead were Turkish, though it will further damage a tourist industry already hit by security concerns.
The authorities have an unimpressive record in investigating and holding to account those responsible for previous attacks. Survivors and the bereaved deserve better this time. Some will also argue that the assault was made possible not just by current security shortcomings, but by the belated nature of Turkey’s attempts to tackle ISIS. It has been widely criticised for allowing fighters and material across its border with Syria for so long. There are complaints that even now, faced as it is with a plethora of challenges, it has not accepted that defeating ISIS should be its priority.
President Erdoðan preferred to look outwards and focus on the responsibilities of others in the wake of the killings, urging western governments and societies to make this a turning point in the fight against terrorism. Precisely what measures he has in mind remains to be seen, but security threats have too often encouraged politicians to posit false choices between safety and liberty, and his record is not reassuring. European governments may feel their leverage is more limited than ever, given Mr Erdoðan’s attempt to mend fences with Russia and in light of the refugee crisis, even if the controversial “one in, one out” deal appears to be foundering. But supporting the Turkish people need not mean condoning their government’s increasing authoritarianism, which has made it harder rather than easier to manage the issues the country faces. — The Guardian