On Saturday morning, in the Turkish capital of Ankara, two suicide bombers targeted a Kurdish-Turkish trade union peace march, killing over a hundred civilians and wounding hundreds more.
The motives that drove the killers, who are widely believed to be radical Sunni sectarians, are not hard to divine. Kurdish militias, the People’s Protection Units in particular, have been among the most successful fighters against the Sunni Islamic State.
As is widely known—but rarely acknowledged—many IS-affiliated jihadists cross the Turkish border with Syria with impunity. This enables them to return to Turkey to target ethnic Kurds and their Turkish supporters, such as had gathered at the rally this weekend.
According to The New York Times, immediately after the attack Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu “issued a ban on news coverage of the attack.”
This is but the latest incident of Sunni extremists’ targeting Kurds and Turkish supporters in Turkey. In July, a rally of Kurdish-linked activists was targeted by a suicide bomber who killed 32 people. After the attack, the government in Ankara, led by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, suddenly decided to join the US-led coalition against ISIS. But it quickly became clear that Turkey, rather than adhering to NATO’s playbook and targeting Islamic State redoubts, had entered the war to in order to bomb Kurdish, not Islamic State, positions.
Taken together, these incidents point to two characteristics which can now be said to define US-Turkish relations: double games and double standards.
The double game Turkey is playing with regard to NATO, of which it has been a member since 1952, and ISIS has been clear since the start of the Western-supported uprising against the secular Assad regime in Syria in 2011.
It is no secret to Western intelligence agencies that the most extreme Islamist elements of the anti-Assad forces, ISIS, or Daesh as they are known locally, have been crossing over the Turkish border into Syria in droves with the acquiescence—if not active assistance—of Erdogan’s government for years.
As the widely respected Middle East correspondent Pepe Escobar has wryly noted, even “the desert pebbles” were aware that our ostensible NATO “ally” Turkey has been playing a double game from the outset.
Yet with the entry of Russian forces into the region, Turkey’s double game looks increasingly untenable. There is broad support for the Russian airstrikes not only among the Kurds but among the Shia population in Iraq as well.