On Saturday night, a car bomber and suicide bomber attacked police positions outside a football stadium in the heart of Istanbul at the end of a match. The blasts killed at least 44 people, with over 150 injured. This is the fourth mass-casualty attack this year in Istanbul alone, one among countless attacks on security forces and civilians in Turkey’s largest city, and the latest in a series of deadly attacks across the country.
The attack was claimed by Hawks of Kurdistan Freedom (TAK). TAK relaunched its attacks last year after several years of quiet with a mortar attack on Istanbul’s second largest airport, which killed a member of cleaning staff. Since then, the group has carried out two mass-casualty attacks in Ankara, a pipe bomb attack on the Istanbul metro and an attempted assassination by car bomb of the governor of Adana, among others.
The group claims its attacks are in response to Turkish military action in Turkey’s heavily Kurdish south east and killings of Kurdish civilians. Since the resumption of clashes last summer, hundreds of civilians have been killed in fighting in the country’s south east in particular, which Crisis Group has documented with an interactive map, and the toll continues to rise. TAK’s latest attack brings the death toll it has caused to well over 100, with many hundreds more injured. While TAK claims it does not directly target ‘the Turkish people’ but rather the ‘fascism’ of the Turkish state, and claims that it carries out its attacks with ‘great care’, many dozens of civilians are to be counted among its victims.
TAK describes itself as a splinter group of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the Turkish military is currently fighting in the country’s south east. TAK reportedly split from the PKK in the early 2000s, with TAK supposedly seeing the PKK as not being sufficiently willing to use violence. The Turkish government however sees TAK and the PKK as the same organisation, with the PKK using the TAK moniker to distance itself from such attacks. Turkish armed forces are fighting Kurdish armed groups in both Turkey’s south east and now in northern Syria as well. The Turkish government considers all of these groups to be part of the same umbrella organisation, while the groups themselves claim otherwise.
On Monday, the Turkish government announced a day of national mourning. In Turkey, people have been sharing images of those killed in the attack, including fans of the popular team whose match had just finished at the time of the attack. Hundreds later marched to the scene of the attack to pay their respects. The ongoing conflict between the Turkish armed forces and Kurdish militant groups continues to claim lives. This latest attack will likely only decrease the chances of a peaceful resolution, hardening the Turkish government’s stance.
13 December 2016
Photo credit: Indigo Dergisi