Turkey's Trial By Error
Last Thursday's attacks, which killed 30 persons, came days after
bombings at two Istanbul synagogues killed 23 others. More than 500
people were wounded. An al Qaeda-linked Turkish terrorist cell, the
Islamic Great Eastern Raiders' Front, has claimed responsibility
for the deadly attacks. More than 1,000 Turkish volunteers are
believed to have fought and trained in Afghanistan, Bosnia and
Chechnya. Turkey's reluctance to send troops to Iraq did not
prevent carnage on its soil.
Turkey is reeling in the aftermath of what many in Ankara have
called "our September 11." These acts of mayhem come after similar
attacks in Iraq, Morocco, Tunis and Saudi Arabia and are aimed at
destabilizing these Muslim states.
The attacks are likely to change Turkish society, state policies
and politics, as much, if not more, than the September 11 terrorism
changed the United States. Moreover, Turkey will be more concerned
about the security of the Bosphorus Straits, a relatively easy
target for a terrorist maritime attack, possibly involving oil or
liquid natural gas (LNG) tankers or the two bridges spanning the
The fallout from the latest series of terrorist atrocities for
this important Eurasian country, for the Middle East and for the
war on terrorism is just beginning to be felt.
As the ruins of the British Consulate and HSBC Bank in Istanbul
were still smoldering, and the victims of the earlier bombings of
the two synagogues were buried, Turkey braced for more homicide
On the day of the attack, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdallah Gul
told CNN that his country would not be deterred by bloodshed.
"Turkey will certainly not bow to terror," he said. "We hope this
is the beginning of a new era in fighting terrorism globally."
Turkish officials and commentators vowed that the war on terrorism
Turkey's geopolitical position, straddling Europe and the Middle
East; its maritime and pipeline transit routes, connecting Iraq,
the Caspian, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean; its democracy and
religious tolerance all make it a key U.S. ally in the
As a result of the attacks, Turkey is likely to tilt toward the
U.S.-led anti-terrorist coalition. The Turkish government is
certain to improve the capabilities of the country's security
forces to fight Islamist terrorism. That calls for intelligence
sharing and cooperation with the United States, Britain and
Some in the Turkish military and security establishment are
suspicious of the European Union's reluctance to take tough
measures against al Qaeda and its networks. However, attempts to
join the E.U. will continue.
Turkey is not turning into an Iranian-style religious
dictatorship. However, the elites will face a choice between more
democracy and striving toward E.U. membership on the one hand and a
robust pursuit of terrorists, sometimes beyond the E.U.'s stringent
human rights standards, on the other.
The "Muslim democrats" of the ruling AK Party will inevitably be
forced to fight Islamist terror. There are two major wings of the
AKP: the liberals, who seem to dominate the party's decision-making
mechanism, and the conservatives. The latter are led by Bulent
Ar|nc, whose group has until now supported more radical positions
when it came to divisive religious issues like wearing head
scarves, and relaxed guidelines for religious education. AK
religious radicals do not practice violence but are sympathetic to
it. As professor Ahmet K. Han of Istanbul Bilgi University said,
"These radicals are creating intolerable legitimacy for
In the aftermath of the terrorist bombings, the Turkish military,
along with its traditional decision-making elites, security
services and state bureaucracy, the anti-E.U. groups, the hard-line
supporters of Prime Minister Rauf Denktash of Turkish Republic of
Northern Cyprus are all likely to place increased political
pressure on the AKP to change its reformist policies. The pressure
on the ruling party is also likely to be exacerbated by the
economic ripple effect of terrorist attacks.
The recent terrorist attacks will have negative economic
consequences on the brittle Turkish economy, which was barely
recovering after a painful recession. Phillip Rosenblatt, a U.S.
attorney practicing in Istanbul, says that the attacks came at a
time when the economic stresses had just begun easing up. "Turkey
hopes to receive a date from the E.U. at the end of next year to
commence negotiations on full membership. Tourism to Turkey, which
is $15 billion out of a total GDP of $200 billion, is almost
certainly going to be hurt, especially if there are follow-up
attacks on tourist targets along the Mediterranean coast."
The Bush administration should welcome Turkey's firm commitment to
fight terrorism and oppose its state sponsors. It should expand
security and intelligence cooperation with the Turkish military and
security services, initiating joint operations to penetrate al
Qaeda and other radical Islamist terrorist organizations.
Turkish and U.S. security agencies should jointly conduct an audit
of potential terrorist targets, especially on and around the
Bosphorus Straits and the Incirlik Air Base.
Finally, the United States should support Turkish economic, legal
and democratic reforms aimed at joining the E.U., including
declaring a date for Turkish accession to the E.U. by the end of
is a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. His last visit to
Turkey was in June.
First appeared in The Washington Times