Turkey's Politics of Terrorism

Letter from Ankara

A demonstrator stands next to a flag of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) during a march to commemorate the victims of last Saturday's double suicide bombings targeting an Ankara rally of pro-Kurdish activists and civic groups, in Marseille, France, October 17, 2015.  Jean-Paul Pelissier / Reuters

There is a long-standing myth in Turkey about domestic intelligence officers—that the quintessential disguise of a junior field agent is a street vendor selling simit (Turkish bagels) while spying on a college or labor union suspected of subversion. After finding a convenient public spot to hawk bagels near an assigned post, the spy-vendor would then carry out a daily routine of eavesdropping and surveillance. Leftist lampooning of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) or not, since September 11, 2001, there has been an exponential rise in the number of bagel vendors and lottery stands around my old apartment building in Ankara, which abuts the consular gate of the United States Embassy.

Even if MIT operatives are employing a more sophisticated means of reconnaissance and camouflage, the agency’s prestige is at an all-time low. The terrorist attack in Ankara on October 10 was the deadliest in the state’s modern history, which claimed scores of innocent lives and left hundreds wounded. Many Turks are dissatisfied with the MIT’s intelligence gathering—accusing the body of amateurism and incompetence. It is probably unfair to hold the MIT entirely responsible, but to understand how to prevent future attacks, Turkey must have a more sophisticated conversation about how this one happened. 


Around 10 AM on October 10, two suicide bombers targeted a peace rally near the Ankara Central railway station—the usual gathering site for protestors as they march toward the city square of Sıhhiye Meydanı, where demonstrations are held. The victims of the attack included members of trade and labor unions and of political parties, including the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). The crime scene investigators’ initial report confirmed that two sophisticated shrapnel bombs containing ten kilograms of TNT and steel ball bearings were detonated in the square. The explosion was so powerful (and the investigative team so sloppy) that a TV correspondent reported, two days after the attack, that severed body parts could still be seen sagging from tree branches about a

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