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Kurds deny responsibility for Ankara bombing, but fear blowback

Syrian Kurds say they have 'nothing' to do with Turkey but worry accusations made hours after attack will have serious repercussions
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a day after a car bombing left 28 people dead (AFP)

ERBIL, Iraq - Syrian Kurds have hit back after Turkish officials blamed them for a car bombing in Ankara, denying they were involved in the attack that killed at least 28 people on Wednesday.

“This is a lie. The Turkish state wants to blacken the name of the Syrian Kurds and the YPG,” Sherzad Yazidi, a spokesperson for the Syrian Kurdish administration, told Middle East Eye.

“The YPG is a democratic force working according to law, ethics, democracy and human rights. The YPG has nothing to do with Turkey, and they only fight in Rojava and Syria,” Yazidi said, referring to the name Syrian Kurds have given to parts of northern Syria where they have wrested control since the war began. 

The Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Thursday that the deadly Ankara attack that killed at least 28 was carried by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in cooperation with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

"It has been determined with certainty that this attack was carried out by members of the separatist terror organisation PKK, together with a member of the YPG who infiltrated from Syria," Davutoglu said.

Ankara has been angered with Western support for the YPG, and the political party affiliated with the YPG, the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

Until now, the US has ignored YPG's links to the PKK because it needs the group to fight the Islamic State militant group in Syria. Turkey, meanwhile, has indicated that it suspects some fighters who previously fought in Syria with the YPG, now fight with the PKK in Turkey.

Turkish fears

After more than three years of negotiations betwen the government and the PKK broke down last summer, Turkey has been battling an urban insurgency which the group has launched in the Kurdish majority southeast of Turkey.

Last week, Turkey ended a two month-long anti-PKK military campaign in Cizre, which according to Kurdish activists has cost the lives of dozens of civilians.

With support from both Russia and the US to fight militant groups like Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and IS in Syria, Ankara apparently fears that the Syrian Kurds will be able to link the two enclaves of Kobane and Efrin into one contiguous territory bordering Turkey.

The Syrian Kurds are moving to capture the last remaining non-Kurdish-controlled territories between Azaz and Jarabulus, which could create a united federal Kurdish region in Syria. Turkey recently proposed that the Turkish army could take 10km of territory within Syria to stop the Kurds from crushing rebels in northern Aleppo.

“I hope the terrorist attack carried out by PYD [Democratic Union Party] in Ankara will be an eye opener for those who claim that PYD in not a terrorist organisation,” the Turkish ambassador to Washington, Serdar Kilic, wrote on Twitter.

Kurds say they fear that the Turkish government will try to use the Ankara incident to break the relations between the West and the YPG, one of the most effective fighting forces against IS. Previously, Turkey successfully managed to exclude the PYD from peace talks in Geneva, which are scheduled to continue on 25 February.

“The Turkish Prime Minister already and all too quickly made the statement that the culprit was Saleh Najjar, born in 1992 in Amude. He reiterated that the attack was conducted by YPG,” said Aydin Selcen, a former Turkish consul, previously based in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

“The Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Feridun H Sinirlioglu, personally invited all ambassadors of P-5 countries, Germany, and the EU representative as well as the rotating president, the Dutch ambassador to share with them this info proving that PYD did this attack,” he added.

Kurdish distrust

Many Syrian Kurds say they do not trust Ankara’s motives for blaming the YPG so quickly after the bombing in Ankara. 

“No one in Amude believes this,” said Rody Naso, a manager for the Kurdish independent radio station Arta FM. “Arta FM contacted the municipality and nobody is registered under the name of the perpetrator,” he said.

Abdulsalem Mohamed, a teacher and activist in the Kurdish-dominated city of Qamishli in Syria, agrees.

“No one is convinced by the story of the Turkish government,” he said. “It often takes days to investigate an explosion, but for Turkey it only took a few hours?

“They want to find something to attack the Kurds, and to say to the United States, you are supporting terrorists,” he added. “The situation is clear and no one is convinced, Turkey did this themselves.”

Djene Rhys Bajalan, a lecturer at the American University of Iraq, in Sulaymaniyah, said it’s impossible to say who carried out the attack, but he told Middle East Eye that Kurds most likely would blame Turkey.

False flag operation?

Some people in Turkey told MEE that they think that events are manipulated behind the scenes by a secret “deep state” that carries out false flag operations to serve the government. 

“Kurds know the history of the deep state and this kind of false flag operation would be nothing new in Turkey,” Bajalan added. “You know what people will be saying at the moment: This is a very convenient attack and will give Turkey the excuse to cross the border.”

Analysts underline the fact that the YPG has never used a car bomb attack until now and that it would be difficult to see how this terror incident will help their strategy.

“It is certainly not the type of tactic we have seen from the YPG before and there appears no good reason why such a tactic would be adopted now, given how damaging it is for Kurdish goals,” said Michael Stephens, a Middle East research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies.

“Turkey may well feel this is a precedent for a small, limited 10km intervention into the Azaz-Kilis corridor,” he added. “However, I do not expect Turkey to consider more drastic steps. An escalation beyond that would not be feasible, perhaps some retaliation in the form of increased shelling by Turkish army.”

The Turkish diplomat Aydin Selcen said he thinks more violence can be expected, with the coming of spring, and thawing of snow.

“This [the bombing] follows heavy handed military operations inside residential areas in the south east of Turkey, where a renewed rural guerilla campaign was expected [by the PKK],” he told Middle East Eye.

“In short, more violence must be expected unfortunately in both big cities and [the] southeast. A military foray inside Syria will depend on [a] presidential dispute in Turkey and [a] US greenlight,” he said.

Meanwhile, a PKK attack targeting a military convoy killed six soldiers in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir on Thursday.

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