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A Day After Blasts Rock Turkey Parade, Mourning And Mounting Protests


To international news now. Thousands of people gathered in Turkey's capital today. They were mourning the victims of a bombing yesterday that Turkish officials said was the deadliest in the country's modern history. Close to a hundred people were killed and many more were wounded in two separate blasts near Ankara's main train station that went off as activists were gathering for a peace rally. Today, those gathered said they came to honor the victims but also to protest what some saw as the central government's complicity in the attack. We wanted to understand just what the protesters were talking about so we called Soner Cagaptay. He is the director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Welcome, thanks so much for joining us.

SONER CAGAPTAY: Pleasure to be here.

MARTIN: So recognizing that this is a fluid situation, do we know, at this point, who carried out the bombings and why? Has anybody claimed responsibility?

CAGAPTAY: We don't know yet. Nobody has claimed responsibility. Some analysts are pointing out that this could have been carried out by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. Turkey has recently joined the United States to fight against ISIS and opened up its bases to NATO and other militaries' air forces. And I think ISIS is clearly ready to go after Turkey. The question was not if, it was when ISIS would attack. And remind you also that ISIS attacked Turkey in July - a Turkish town on the border with Syria. But we still don't know yet. I think that's still to be proven.

MARTIN: Well, to that end, the Turkish government says it has arrested people associate with the so-called Islamic State in connection with the attack. But why would protesters at the rally today be angry at the government? I mean, of course, security failures - one can understand that, but they seem to be suggesting something else. What are they talking about?

CAGAPTAY: The massacre in Ankara is unfortunate for two reasons. One is that this is as close as it gets to being turkeys 9/11. The bombers killed and injured hundreds of people in the middle of downtown Ankara; twin bombs and all of that. Very unfortunate, and I think that's a big shock for Turkey. But what is even more shocking to me as a historian of Turkey is that the country is not united after the attack. You're now seeing an outpouring of sympathy for the victims, but it's divided. Some people are blaming the government, and supporters of the government are blaming the Kurds or the PKK, which is a Kurdish - outlawed Kurdish party for carrying out the attack. And that's the unfortunate part. It shows that Turkey's so polarized that the country's looking for a scapegoat instead of uniting and saying what can we do to prevent the next attack and how can we help the victims.

MARTIN: For those concerned about stability in the region more broadly at a time when the region is extremely unstable, what does this bombing suggest? Can we draw some conclusions about it or things that we should be thinking about in the days ahead?

CAGAPTAY: Absolutely. Look, I'm considered an optimist when it comes to analyzing Turkey. After all, I wrote a whole book called "The Rise Of Turkey." But these days, I'm really worried. I'm worried because when I look at Turkey, although the historian in me says that Turkey has withstood other shocks in the region before - an economic depression, it went through a triple-digit inflation that lasted for three decades; it fought a full-blown insurgency by the PKK, which was supported by one, at times two of the country's neighbors. Turkey's survived these shocks in the 70's and '90s.

And this time, maybe this is a similar shock with ISIS and the terror attack and the slowing economy, but something is different. The country is divided. It's not united to withstand this shock. And on top of it, it has some really bad neighbors this time. Turkey has four neighbors which are not part of the European system - Russia, Iran, Iraq and Syria. For the first time in Turkey's modern history, they're united in an axis against Turkey in Syria where they aim to undermine Turkey's policy of ousting the Assad regime. All these four countries are united in support of that regime so Turkey is involved in that regional war that's going on. So to me, what is unique is that Turkey, which was often considered to be the exception to Middle East politics rather than being the norm, is now being sucked into the Middle East vortex. And I really hope that the Turks stay out of Syria and devise discussion coming forward to block, cut out and isolate the fallout of the Syrian War.

MARTIN: I do have to ask, what is the - is there a concern here for Washington and the West?

CAGAPTAY: I think we should be concerned because Turkey is, although a strong country, it is more often considered to be the exception rather than being the norm. And violence is now becoming part of Turkish politics, as we saw with this attack. And the public is not reacting to it in the way it should.

MARTIN: Soner Cagaptay is the director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. We spoke with him in Washington, D.C. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

CAGAPTAY: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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