By: KILIÇ BUĞRA KANAT*
How many victims of the terrorist attacks in Turkey or other countries would be enough to push the international community to say ‘stop’ the deadly terror groups and fight on the ground against them?
It was a hard to explain that moment last week in Ankara. In a rather low profile photography exhibition the ambassador of the Russian Federation in Ankara was making his remarks about the exhibition when a terrorist shot the ambassador several times. The video that continues to record the scene captured the shooting and the instance that the killer made his own statement before he was also shot to death by security forces. Of course after this assassination, everybody tried to understand why and who organized such a heinous crime during a process of healing of relations between Turkey and Russia and especially in a period of intense negotiations between two countries in order to safely evacuate the residents of the city of Aleppo. Numerous scenarios and theories are provided by different experts and observers in regards to the significance and potential impact of such an assassination to Russian-Turkey relations, the politics in the region and of course the global power dynamics. There were even those who likened the event to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the flow of events that lead to the eruption of World War I. Considering the rapid fall out of bilateral relations following the plane incident some expected a more pessimistic scenario for the future of relations between the two countries. However, in the aftermath of this attack both sides acted very responsibly and formed a committee in order to investigate the crime. The trilateral meeting that was scheduled to take place in Moscow between Turkey, Russia and Iran was not canceled and took place on the day following the attack.
The assassination of Ambassador Karlov did generate a major shock throughout the region. Apart from the expectations in regards to the geopolitical ramifications of such an attack, it is important to understand what are the steps that need to be taken in order to prevent such forms of terrorist acts. For the last year in this column in multiple different instances it was stated that any form of security risk in the region need to be handled multi-nationally due to the increasing trans-nationalization of the criminal networks and terrorist groups. When selectively engaging with terrorist organizations it is hard to defeat them or to control the insecurity that they infuse over the region.
It is important to understand that in addition to the Russian ambassador, the Turkish state was also the target of the terrorist attack that took place last week. It is hard to differentiate this attack from the terrorist attacks and coup attempt that took place within the last six months. The terrorists that belong to different organizations attacked Istanbul Atatürk International Airport, to the police officers in different centers of Istanbul while another group attempted to topple the democratically elected government by bombing Parliament and attempting to assassinate the president. In the last two weeks alone the terrorists organized two vehicle attacks in Istanbul and Kayseri targeting security forces, while according to reports several Turkish soldiers were killed in al-Bab by terrorists. In the midst of this, another group attacked the Russian ambassador. Even though these attacks are organized by different groups, organizations and networks, there is a common denominator in these attacks that aims to destabilize Turkey and stop Turkey’s war against terrorism. There is almost a division of labor that intends to target different audiences for terrorists. By executing Turkish soldiers in the most inhumane way, the terrorists intended to break the will and motivation in Turkish public to support their state to destroy and eliminate all terrorist targets within and outside its borders. By killing the Turkish security forces serving in Istanbul, Diyarbakır and Kayseri they want to send a message to the security forces that they cannot beat the terrorists and they are everywhere. Finally, by targeting the ambassador of a country in Turkey the terrorists intended to send a signal to the world about their impact. Some of these terrorists may seem to be acting more locally nowadays but the intended audience is almost always global. They are not only trying to challenge Turkey’s determination to defeat terrorism but also directly challenging the international security frameworks to defeat terrorism. They are seeing the lack of support and commitment on the part of the international community to defeat them. Terrorists can feel geopolitical fault lines more than we have been taught and are willing to manipulate them against each other. Although now they are targeting Turkey, it is important to realize that most of these networks have more transnational goals and outreach. Their aim to export insecurity is their main agenda. In order to deal with them there needs to be a strong cooperation and coordination among all of the countries regardless if they are impacted by terrorist acts right now or not. In the absence of it there will too much space for terrorist to exploit and operate.
*Kiliç Buğra Kanat is the Research Director at the SETA Foundation in Washington DC. He is also an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Penn State University, Erie. He is also a columnist at Daily Sabah Turkish newspaper.
(Published in Daily Sabah on Saturday, Dec. 24, 2016)