Attacks on Turkey Try to Sever a Bridge Between Islam and West (NY TIMES) By CRAIG S. SMITH ISTANBUL, TURKEY 11/21/03)
NEW YORK TIMES
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ISTANBUL, Nov. 20 — Turkey´s worst fears were realized Thursday when
the second major bomb attack in a week confirmed that this land has
become a new battleground in the struggle over terror.
The attacks appeared aimed at disrupting the pro-Western secular axis
many people in the Middle East believe the United States and Britain
are trying to drive through the region with Iraq war. Such an axis
would create a swath of territory friendly to the West from the
Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf.
"Turkey will continue to walk on her path and exert efforts for world
peace, in the country and the region," the country´s foreign
minister, Abdullah Gul, told reporters.
Turkey, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization´s only Muslim member,
has carefully cultivated and jealously guarded a European-style
secular political culture that is crucial to the American program to
send pro-Western values percolating through the tribal and theocratic
grid of the Middle East.
With its foothold on the European continent and the bulk of its
territory in Asia, Turkey has been the site of sweeping ideological
battles before. Once part of the Christian Byzantine Empire, and
later the center of the Muslim Ottoman Empire, the country in its
modern incarnation has tried to finesse its identity by paying lip
service to the Islamic world while defining its future among the
dynamic economies of the West.
Turkey was the first among Muslim nations to recognize Israel and has
developed extensive ties with it since then. It has been a model NATO
member and has tried hard in recent years to win the favor of the
European Union, which Turkey wants to join.
All of this has made the country suspect among Muslim countries,
particularly in the Arab world.
Meanwhile, decades of economic malaise have haunted a generation of
frustrated, underemployed youth and turned many toward conservative
An often brutal effort to force the assimilation of the country´s
restive Kurdish minority into the larger Turkish population also fed
passions among Kurdish youth and spawned a generation of closet
separatists with a hardened fringe of fighters.
The religion-inspired wars of the 1990´s drew some young Turks north
into Bosnia or across Iran to Chechnya and Afghanistan. In those
places, terrorism experts say, the young men were vulnerable to the
ideological zeal and global designs then coalescing into Al Qaeda.
The war in Iraq may have tipped the balance toward actual
terrorism. "Before, the threat was more or less theoretical," said
Rifat Bali, a writer in Istanbul.
The Turkish government has been a reluctant player in America´s Iraqi
adventure, which most of the country´s 66 million people opposed.
Many politicians made strong statements against the prospect of an
invasion, and Turkey refused to allow American soldiers to enter Iraq
Turkey later offered troops to help stabilize the country, then
rescinded that offer in the face of stiff opposition at home and in
The main concern of Turks opposed to the war was that it would re-
ignite a Kurdish separatist movement near the border with Iraq.
Government officials say that, in fact, violence has increased in
that part of the country. This week, the government said it had
recently arrested Kurdish rebels in possession of explosives and
plans of Turkish police stations. On Tuesday, unarmed Kurds briefly
took hostages at Istanbul´s main courthouse before being overcome by
Despite the waffling, though, Turkey appears committed to the
American program, something that makes it a prime target for
terrorists wishing to punish Muslim states that lean too closely
toward the West.
In fact, this week´s bombings could threaten the stability of the
government, only a year into its mandate.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan´s governing Justice and
Development Party, which grew out of a conservative Islamic political
party, may prove vulnerable to the violence. Many people already
question the party´s commitment to fighting radical Islam and wonder
whether having an Islamist-rooted party at the helm of a pro-Western
government has drawn the radicals´ ire.
Turkish troops appeared briefly Thursday on highways and alongside
the police, an ominous sign to some. The military has seized power
three times from 1960 to 1980 and forced out the Islamist-oriented
government of Necmettin Erbakan, Mr. Erdogan´s onetime mentor, in
The attacks could also force a Turkish response inimical to European
demands to curb the military´s influence and end what the European
Union considers brutal tactics against Kurds and other government
The Turkish government, in turn, has criticized the Europeans for
declining cooperation in fighting terrorism and for criticizing
Turkey´s often brutal tactics against threats.
Turkey complains, for example, that the Kurdistan Freedom and
Democracy Congress is able to operate freely in Europe even though
its predecessor, the Kurdistan Workers´ Party, is on the terrorist
On Monday, a Turkish government spokesman, Cemil Cicek, called the
European Union´s public commiseration over Saturday´s
bombings "crocodile tears," and told reporters that "we know that
terrorists are living freely in some of the countries that have
conveyed condolences to us." He said Turkey´s extradition demands
were regularly turned down without reason.
A day after the synagogue bombings, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of
Germany said, however, that Turkey´s membership in the European Union
would enhance European security by showing "that the Islamic faith
and the democratic values of the European Enlightenment need not
contradict each other but can coexist."
Cigden Naz of the European Union Institute at Mamara University in
Istanbul said, "If there are more attacks, this could increase the
urgency of the Turkey´s request for membership." (Copyright 2003 The
New York Times Company 11/21/03)
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