Information note by our Foreign Affairs Commission:
On the night of 19/20 November, Turkey launched a major air and artillery attack on North and East Syria (Rojava). This was portrayed as a response to the Istanbul bombing six days earlier, which Turkey’s Minister of Interior, Süleyman Soylu, had attributed, the following morning, to the “PKK/YPG terrorist group”. (The Turkish government refuses to distinguish between the PKK and YPG.) In the aftermath of the bombing, a ban on sharing reports of the event other than government statements ensured that challenges to the official view were limited.
Every bombing demands a full investigation into its cause and perpetrators, but even more so when it is being used as a casus belli – though we should also note that international law would not, in any case, justify such a military response to a terrorist attack of this kind. The HDP tabled a proposal in the Turkish Parliament for a full investigation into the bombing, but this proposal was refused by the votes of a majority AKP-MHP coalition that fully supports president Erdoğan. Mazloum Abdi, the Commander in Chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces(SDF), which works closely with the International Coalition Against ISIS and which includes the YPG, has asked for an international investigation.
Such an investigation, if it ever takes place, will be a long way off. Meanwhile, we want to set out why the Turkish government’s narrative has no basis in evidence and contradicts all logic. Those who give it any credence, when it is being used to support an aggressive war, provide support for that aggression.
Our knowledge so far has to rely on the information presented in the pro-government media, so we cannot know how accurate it is or what else is known but has not been made public. However, it is clear that the official narrative given by the Minister of Interior and the police under his control is riddled with inconsistencies, contradictions, and improbabilities, which increase with every new piece of evidence published. Both the PKK and YPG have firmly denied involvement in the attack and expressed condolences for the victims. The Turkish government has been using this bombing as a pretext to legitimate another attack on the Kurds across the border, claiming that it was a case of “self-defence.”
Inconsistencies, Contradictions, and Improbabilities
The basic details of the story keep changing. For example, we were told that AhlamAlbashir, the woman who is accused of planting the bomb, came into Turkey through Afrîn. Later this changed to Idlib. We were told that she had been in Turkey for four months. Neighbours reported that she had lived there for a year. We were told that she had left the bag with the bomb for a while and then returned, but this was contradicted by the CCTV evidence. We were told that she was a trained PKK operative and both that she was going to flee to Greece and that she was going to be ‘eliminated’. But she was captured in Istanbul, and the clothes she was wearing at the time of the bombing were found in the flat with her. Over twenty-five people have been arrested after the attack, but not even one of them is Kurdish. All of them are of Arab descent and many of them, including Albashir, either have previously worked with the Islamic State or Turkey’s proxy forces in Syria such as the Free Syrian Army (FSA), or have family ties with such organizations. All of these undermine the official narrative of Turkish government that instantly blamed the Kurds in Syria, which we view as an effort to cover up and mystify the situation, rather than revealing the truth and finding out who really is behind the attack.
Mazloum Abdi told Al Monitor that the SDF had investigated Albashir’s background and had established that she “comes from a family linked to the Islamic State. Three of her brothers died fighting for the Islamic State. One died in Raqqa, another in Manbij and a third died in Iraq. Another brother is a commander in the Turkish-backed Syrian opposition in Afrin. She was married to three different Islamic State fighters and the family is from Aleppo.”
Ahmad Haj Hasan, who has been accused of organising the bombing, is said to have stated to the police that his brother died fighting in the Free Syrian Army.
Albashir’s phone showed that she had received a couple of phone calls from Mehmet Emin İlhan, a district president of the National Movement Party (MHP), which is in alliance with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and provides the government with vital support. Responding to this discovery, İlhan vacillated between admitting and denying that he had been called to testify to the police. He claims that the phone account which had communicated with the bomber had stolen his identity. There has been no information about subsequent investigations into that phone account to test the truth of this claim. If this is indeed a case of stolen identity, then the real caller needs to be found. It is not difficult at all to identify who the caller is, but there is absolutely no progress in this regard. We suspect there is no other caller.
We have seen how the bombing has been used as an excuse to attack North and East Syria in line with the Turkish Government’s publicly stated objective to control a 30km strip along the entire border. We note that this would not be the first time that the government has misattributed a bombing to the PKK (see, for example, the attack in Ankara in October 2015 or the attack in Diyarbakir in November 2016, which was claimed by ISIS); that there were strong suspicions (including in an European Union security report) of involvement of Turkish intelligence in the ISIS bomb attacks that preceded the November 2015 election; and that Turkey has carried out invasions into Syria in the run-up to all recent key votes, beginning with the attack on Jarablus before the 2017 referendum.
The government of Turkey claims that there are security threats from the SDF and YPG in northern Syria and the Turkish army is using the right to self-defence. The data from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) shows, however, that the reality is exactly the opposite of this official discourse: Turkey has been the major security threat for the Kurds in Syria since they defeated ISIS. Beginning on January 1, 2017, until August 1, 2020, ACLED data “registered 3,319 attacks by the Turkish military or Turkish proxies against the SDF/YPG or civilians in Syria, compared to 22attacks by the SDF/YPG into Turkey. Of those 22 incidents, 10 of them could not be independently verified. In other words, the actual number of cross-border attacks attributed to the YPG/SDF may be no more than 12. Furthermore, these 12 incidents all occurred after Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring on October 9, 2019.”1
Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP)
Foreign Affairs Commission
12 December 2022
For more details, please see an article by Amy Austin Holmes published by the Wilson Center in May 2021: “Threats Perceived and Real: New Data and the Need for a New Approach to the Turkish-SDF Border Conflict.”