With just three weeks until nationwide elections, a pro-Kurdish political rally in the Turkish capital was attacked Oct. 10. Two suicide bombers were stationed at two ends of the exit to the main train station in Ankara, where a large crowd of supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) were gathered. At least 86 people have been reported dead so far and 186 others injured. The bombs did not detonate simultaneously and the second may have been intended for first responders.
Images of ball bearings from the blast indicate that the explosive devices were similar to those used in the July 20 Suruc bombing, where activists were gathered for a press meeting before crossing into Kobani on the Syrian border. Today's attack also resembles the June Diyarbakir twin bombings in the Kurdish-majority southeast during another Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) rally two days before the June election. All three bombings were conducted against soft targets: political rallies with large crowds that a bomber can easily infiltrate. The most recent bombing was much deadlier than the earlier two.
The choice to attack pro-Kurdish political gatherings is notable in Turkey's already tense political climate. Islamic State militants along the Syrian border have been fighting with Kurdish rebels for some time but attacking Kurdish targets in Turkey has the added benefit of provoking political backlash against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The AKP has alienated Kurdish voters ahead of the Nov. 1 election by resuming attacks against the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and directly associating the pro-Kurdish HDP with terrorism. Throughout the campaign season, AKP supporters have rhetorically and physically attacked HDP offices and rallies. Attacks like the Diyabarkir, Suruc and Ankara bombings will only escalate opposition to the AKP not just within the HDP camp but also among mainstream opposition parties who contend that AKP foreign policy has made Turkey more vulnerable. They specifically cite the current administrations campaign to topple the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad and target Islamic State militants in Syria.
Concern has also been building that the AKP could use the hostile security environment to justify restricting the opposition vote in Kurdish-dominated areas. AKP leadership earlier endorsed a plan to relocate ballot boxes in predominantly Kurdish areas allegedly due to violence and clashes with PKK militants. With strong backing from the opposition, the Supreme Electoral Council of Turkey blocked this move. In order to pre-empt further AKP pressure, the PKK announced shortly after the Ankara bombing that it would suspend all offensive actions ahead of the November election and would only act in self-defense.
Either way, the Ankara attack is another serious blow to AKP credibility with elections less than one month away. This reinforces the probability that the ruling party will fail to secure a parliamentary majority, an outcome that would prolong Turkey's period of political limbo and instability.