Less than a week before bombs ripped through the capital of Belgium, killing dozens, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan specifically warned of the threat faced by Europe’s cities.
Erdogan was speaking in the aftermath of the deadly March 13 terror attack in the Turkish capital, Ankara, which left at least 37 dead. A Kurdish militant group asserted responsibility for the assault, prompting a new round of Turkish airstrikes on Kurdish separatists’ strongholds in northern Iraq.
The Turkish leader has long resented the West’s ambivalence toward Kurdish nationalists; in the fight against the extremists of the Islamic State, the United States and some of its allies have aided and worked with a number of Kurdish factions in the region.
On Friday, at an event marking a famous World War I battle, Erdogan condemned Europe and the United States for supposedly tolerating Kurdish terrorism against the Turkish state and suggested that the West was “nursing a viper in its bosom” for indirectly supporting these groups. He also made this eerily prescient declaration:
“There is no reason for the bomb which exploded in Ankara not to explode in Brussels, where an opportunity to show off in the heart of the city to supporters of the terror organization is presented, or in any city in Europe. Despite this clear reality, European countries are paying no attention, as if they are dancing in a minefield. You can never know when you are stepping on a mine. But it is clear that this is an inevitable end.”
Of course, he’s not exactly right. The attacks in Brussels are once more being pinned on Islamist extremists, specifically, members of the Islamic State — a group that has in the past targeted Kurds and their leftist sympathizers in Turkey. There is no organizational correlation whatsoever between the bloody tragedies of Brussels and Ankara.
There is more of a connection, though, with a bombing this weekend in Istanbul on a busy, tourist-clad thoroughfare in the heart of the city. Turkish authorities linked the attack, which killed four tourists, to the Islamic State.
“Turkey has recently been facing one of the biggest and bloodiest terrorist waves in its history,” Erdogan said over the weekend.
But his opponents have long complained that he grandstands far more over the threat posed by Kurdish violence than that of radical Islamist groups. These groups have flourished as Erdogan’s ruling party has struggled to formulate a coherent policy for dealing with the Syrian war and the resulting exodus of refugees now sheltering in Turkey.
What is indisputably true, though, is that Turkey has suffered immensely from terrorism over the past year – and has perhaps not received the sort of global sympathy that attacks farther west tend to generate.
In the wake of the Brussels attack, Erdogan noted the vulnerability and suffering endured across the continent and once more took a swipe at Kurdish separatists.
“The heinous attacks in Brussels have reiterated that terror cannot be a method of struggle for freedom, and once again underlined the need for common struggle against all types of terror,” he said in a written statement.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Ishaan Tharoor