It was dedicated to “peace and democracy”, but the rally turned into a bloodbath. The participants were a motley group; among them leftists, liberals, trade unionists, feminists, and members of the Turkish Medical Association.
It was morning when the tragedy occurred. Some groups were just beginning to gather. Others were singing; holding hands, men and women, in a typical Kurdish folk dance.
Then came the first explosion, and immediately after, the second. One of the many placards sent clattering to the ground in the blast read: “We have missed looking up at the sky without having blood around.”
Ankara is no ordinary city. In addition to being the capital of the Turkish nation-state, and home to thousands of college students, it is a hub for democratic movements and anti-government demonstrations.
The mood in Turkey has soured alarmingly fast since the polls in June. For the first time since 2002, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP failed to win an overwhelming majority. Four parties entered parliament, raising the possibility of a pluralistic democracy.
But despite repeated attempts, a coalition was not formed. Instead the government, and Erdoğan in particular, who wants a presidential system, pushed the country towards another election. Turkey’s economy was shaken, the society strained, media freedoms curtailed, journalists intimidated. Tensions escalated. Turkey surely did not need yet another election so soon.
Saturday’s explosions seem to be part of a series of attacks. The first bomb was in Diyarbakir in June, again at a pro-Kurdish HDP rally. Then came the news from Suruç, where university students whose only aim was to restore playgrounds for children in Kobane were massacred by Islamic State. And now Ankara.
In times of crisis, nations need to be able to unite strongly against terrorism. But Turkey has been deeply polarised for a long time, and the gap between pro-government and anti-government forces is hard to bridge. The country is situated in a most turbulent region, with neighbours such as Syria, Iran, Iraq and Russia, whose jets have been violating Turkish airspace.
Turkey is going through turbulent days. The government has alienated itself from the people in its desire to become more authoritarian. Instead of coexistence and compromise, the language of duality and animosity have become the norm. None of this is helpful.
But there are countless people in Turkey – Kurds, Turks, Jews, Armenians, Alevis, women and men from all walks of life – who are even more determined to defend peace and democracy. The world community must hear their peaceful call. In turn, they need to hear that when innocent hearts beating for peace were brutally stopped, there will be more hearts beating for them and for the peace they so believed in.