The year 2016 went down as one of the most dark and disturbing ones in Turkey’s modern history. From the terror on Istiklal street in Istanbul, the attack at Ataturk airport in June – in which 45 innocent lives perished – to the failed military mutiny in July and strained foreign relations, Turkey has faced innumerable challenges over the past year.
New Year’s Eve, which many hoped represented a new dawn, a tabula rasa, a beacon of hope for 2017, also tragically started off equally blood-soaked. The nightclub, Reina, a nocturnal magnet for Istanbul’s glitterati, frequented by well-heeled foreigners and locals alike, straddling the breathtaking shores of the Bosphorus strait, witnessed Isis-inspired butchery.
A gunman mercilessly massacred 39 innocent partygoers – 16 of them foreign nationals from 12 diverse countries. The killer, believed to be of Uzbek or Kyrgyz origin, sprayed 180 bullets during a gruesome seven-minute attack, injured 69 people and escaped.
On Monday, January 2, 2017, Isis officially claimed responsibility for the Reina nightclub attack, dubbing Turkey a “protector of the Christian Cross” and all the victims as “Christians celebrating their apostate holiday”.
The Turkish police are conducting an intensified manhunt – anti-terror squads placed eight suspects behind bars as Turkey raided whereabouts of Isis suspects in Syria with tanks and artillery, attacking 103 targets close to al-Bab and killing 22 fighters as retaliation for the attack. However such hard military retaliation must also be complemented by soft civic engagement and intensified peace talks.
The Turkish intelligence affirms similarities between the Reina attack and the gun attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport in Ramazan 2016, believing the same Isis cell may have carried out both carnages.
In 2016, at least 275 innocent Turkish civilians were killed and thousands were wounded in major bomb attacks orchestrated by Isis or the PKK Kurdistan terrorists throughout Turkey. Turkey has since then decisively spearheaded Operation Euphrates Shield in Northern Syria fully supporting Syrian rebels against Isis and the Kurdish PYD militants.
Since August 2016, approximately 1,600 Isis and PYD terrorists have been killed, captured or injured by the Turkish armed forces. In Astana, Kazakhstan, President Erdogan and Putin entered into a treaty regarding Syria, converging interests with Tehran, greasing the wheels for peace talks between Assad and the rebels excluding Isis and the PYD. Turkey’s jets also regularly bombard Isis in northern Syriaa’`s al-Bab.
Having lost territory, Isis is hell-bent on wreaking instability, especially in Turkey, manipulating the porous border between Turkey and Syria. In December 2016, Isis uploaded a video showing the killing of two Turkish soldiers and urging its supporters to “conquer” Istanbul in an apocalyptic end-of-days symbolism. It asked them to revive the historic grandeur of historic Islamic emperors such as Sultan Mehmet Fatih who conquered Istanbul.
As Isis suffers setbacks on the blood-stained battlefields of Syria and Iraq, especially Manbij and Mosul, it becomes more fluid and flexible in its asymmetrical fifth generation warfare strategy – using propaganda and weapons.
To retain its recruitment drive and relevance, Isis deflects world attention from its territorial setbacks by attacking soft civilian, Western targets such as the terror-laden Tunisian driver in Berlin. This gives Isis immediate cheap publicity and a presence in the media limelight. It then spawns its recruitment base, propagates its deadly apocalyptic anti-modernity agenda and perpetuates its image of shock, horror and awe – which is what it tragically achieves.
Isis and its incarnations will keep attacking schools, madressahs, social media and universities. It will continue to instill fear in the hearts and minds of the most misguided and give rise to new terror cells. The international community and Turkey therefore cannot only bomb, shoot, legislate or kill a divisive viral idea such as militant extremism.
In Turkey and beyond, the soil is now fertile to ripen the seeds for community outreach, social inclusion, grass-root initiatives, counter narratives, neighbourhood cohesion schemes, enlightened education and inter-faith harmony.
The writer is a freelance contributor.