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Turkey Should Welcome International Investigators after Terror Attack

Turkey Istanbul Convention

A terror attack rocked central Istanbul on Sunday, killing at least six and injuring dozens more. Video appears to show a woman dropping a bag along a busy pedestrian shopping street a minute or two before the explosion. There can be no justification for such terror; whoever perpetrated it delegitimizes their cause. It is essential to hold those responsible to account.

The question is how to determine who is responsible.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan often accuses opponents of terrorism with little or no evidence. In 2013, for example, he lobbed the terrorism label at environmental protestors upset by his self-dealing plans to pave over a green space at Gezi Park. Two years later, the Islamic State killed more than 100 in central Ankara. Erdogan tried to point the finger at Kurds, but subsequent information suggested the Islamic State was responsible. The shame there was that the bomber’s mother tried to turn in her son in advance, but Turkish police refused to accept her tip because Erdogan did not consider the Islamic State to be a terror group.

After Erdogan and his one-time ally Fethullah Gülen fell out a decade ago, Gülen acolytes inside the security services began leaking evidence of Erdogan’s corruption, including alleged phone transcripts showing Erdogan and his son Bilal discussing where and how to hide cash. In the aftermath, Erdogan recast Gülen’s followers as members of a nefarious terror group, whom he subsequent accused of masterminding the 2016 abortive coup attempt. In reality, that episode smacked more of a Reichstag fire plot than a legitimate putsch. 

With inflation running more than 85 percent and the Turkish currency in freefall, Erdogan needs desperately to distract. Perhaps he will blame the Gülenists as he did when one of his own militant followers assassinated the Russian ambassador. Or, obsessed with Kurdish self-rule, he may also seek to tar Syrian Kurds as terrorists by linking the bomber to the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. He might also seek to use the bloodshed and the accusation of Kurdish culpability to extort concessions from Sweden. Indeed, on November 14, 2022, his police paraded a Syrian national that they accused of acting on orders from Syrian Kurdish authorities. Who knows? He might even suggest that the suspect (or scapegoat) is a Syrian Kurdish Gulenist with links to both international Jewry and the Kemalists of the Republican Peoples Party.

Erdogan would not be the first to use terrorism for such cynical purposes. Russia’s then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin used an alleged Chechen separatist bombing of a Moscow apartment block to consolidate power. Today, many analysts believe Putin himself was behind the attack.

Erdogan inevitably will point a finger at one suspect or another. Still, if he genuinely wants the support of the international community, he should allow the international community to investigate independently. Simply put, Erdogan and his interior ministry lack the credibility for NATO or the European Union to take them at their word. And, if Erdogan has nothing to hide, then he should not turn down the opportunity to have outside partners confirm his investigation. 

It is essential to condemn the terror in Istanbul. Turks deserve the same security as citizens of any other state. Ordinary civilians should be able to stroll down the street, shop, and visit cafes without fear of violence and murder. Turks and the international community should bring justice to those responsible, wherever they live: in the deserts of Syria, the slums of Istanbul, the mountains of Iraq, or the presidential palace in Ankara.

Author Biography: Dr. Michael Rubin, a 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he specializes in Iran, Turkey, and the broader Middle East. A former Pentagon official, Dr. Rubin has lived in post-revolution Iran, Yemen, and both pre-and postwar Iraq. He also spent time with the Taliban before 9/11. For more than a decade, he taught classes at sea about the Horn of Africa and Middle East conflicts, culture, and terrorism, to deployed US Navy and Marine units. Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005). Dr. Rubin has a PhD and an MA in history from Yale University, where he also obtained a BS in biology.

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).

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