The recent suicide bombing in Istanbul was a blow to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, threatening an eight-year run of rising stability and economic growth. Erdogan faces an election next summer in which the Kurdish minority vote will be critical to his AK party, and it looks like Kurdish rebels dispatched the bomber. The main Kurdish party, the PKK, disclaimed any responsibility, but the suspicion is that PKK freelancers may have planted the bomb to strengthen the hand of their imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan, in peace talks with the government. Erdogan needs those talks to bear fruit before the vote. So he faces a delicate situation: any concession to the PKK risks cementing its role as the dominant political force in the Kurdish areas, where the AK has growing support, yet incentives and security guarantees will be necessary to bring PKK leaders out of their mountain hideouts and to the peace table. And all bets are off if senior PKK leaders have lost control of rogue freelancers. But it’s more likely that the PKK is playing a double game, using splinter groups such as the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, a group that mounted deadly attacks on tourist resorts in 2005–06, to remind Ankara that they still have the means to sow terror in the heart of Istanbul. Erdogan could go down in history as the leader who brought peace and economic stability to Turkey, unless the Falcons—and whomever they’re working for—get out of hand.
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