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Kurdish Activists Grieve, Protest At The White House

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 12/10/2015 Daniel Marans
ATHENA IMAGE © Daniel Marans/The Huffington Post ATHENA IMAGE

WASHINGTON -- Dozens of Kurdish activists gathered at the White House on Sunday night to mourn the deaths of more than 100 people killed in two bombings at a peace rally in Ankara, Turkey, on Saturday, and to protest Turkish government policies that they say allowed the attack to occur. They are appealing to the United States to be more critical of the government of Turkey, a NATO ally of the U.S.

The rally in Ankara had been organized by Kurdish Turks and other leftists to call for an end to the conflict between the Turkish government and Kurdish militant groups, which has escalated in recent months. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack thus far.

Sunday's assembly was a somber affair on the edge of Lafayette Square closest to the White House, hastily organized by the Washington offices of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), Turkey's mainstream Kurdish party. A banner for the HDP stood in front of memorial candles and peace placards arrayed on the ground. To one side, a smaller banner said "Turkey is supporting ISIS," arguing that the Turkish government has been too accommodating to the Islamic State and that it's used the militant group to help carry out its "genocidal campaign" against the Kurds. While most of the attendees were Kurdish Turks living in the U.S., some left-leaning Americans and Turks joined the demonstration in solidarity with the victims of the attack or shared opposition to the current Turkish government.

Like the HDP's co-chair in Turkey, Salahattin Demirtas, the rally's organizers believe the Turkish government could have prevented the attack. They accused Turkey of allowing the bombing to occur in order to punish the HDP and other left-wing political opponents.

"We believe that without any internal help from the government or state, that kind of massacre is not possible to happen," said Omer Pacal, a Washington-based HDP activist.

Ruken Isik, a doctoral candidate in gender and women's studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said the Turkish government had received advance intelligence warnings about attackers that fit the profile of Saturday's bombings -- but had failed to act on them.

"A couple weeks ago, they had this intelligence about two suicide bombings in Turkey," she said. "They could have prevented this, but they did not do anything."

Now, Isik said, Kurdish activists were angry that the government had not responded to the attacks by de-escalating its conflict with Kurdish militants, as the protesters killed on Saturday had wanted. She said that Turkish authorities dealt cruelly even with the protesters who had survived the attack.

"We are not just horrified by the bombings. We are also horrified by the response of [Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu] and this government," Isik said.

Other people at Sunday's White House rally said they were simply there to show solidarity with the dead activists.

"We just wanted to tell everyone that we are with those people who died in Turkey," said Sevgi Arslan, a banker.

Arslan, a Kurdish Turk living in northern Virginia, was there with her sisters, Ozge and Ozlem.

At a press conference Sunday, Davutoglu vehemently denied that the Turkish government had neglected to prevent Saturday's attack for political reasons, noting that the government had recently apprehended suspected suicide bombers in Istanbul and Ankara.

He specifically criticized Demirtas for alleging that the government had been complicit in the attacks. 

"It is not suitable for a chairman of a party that is represented in the parliament to hold a state responsible by drawing conclusions regarding the attackers while there is no certain data on the incident and, at the same time, by ignoring the numerous martyred soldiers and guards killed" by the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Davutoglu said.

Activists at the White House were skeptical, however, noting that Saturday's bombings are the latest in a pattern of attacks against Kurds that the Turkish government has failed to prevent or respond to adequately. A bombing at an HDP election rally in June killed two people, and a suicide bombing attributed to the Islamic State killed 33 predominantly Kurdish peace activists in the border town of Suruc in July.

Pacal and Isik said that Saturday's attack was an opportunity for the Obama administration to show its disapproval of the Turkish government's policies toward its Kurdish citizens and its inaction against the Islamic State. They took issue with Obama's decision to call Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to offer his condolences, rather than an opposition or Kurdish figure.

"Instead of Obama [calling] Erdogan, he should have called the people, and they should take a very clear stance" against Erdogan's tolerance of the Islamic State, Pacal said.

Critics have accused the current Turkish government of reigniting a conflict with the PKK and other armed Kurdish groups in order to undermine the HDP after its strong showing in the June election, which cost the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) its majority.

Turkey has also allegedly allowed Islamic State militants to cross into Syria and sell oil on the black market in Turkey. Documents reportedly seized from an Islamic State leader in a July raid by U.S. special forces showed that the Islamic State had been actively coordinating with Turkish officials.

Turkey, which has been a leading backer of rebel groups fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, has denied supporting the Islamic State

Turkey joined the U.S.-led airstrikes against the Islamic State in August, after months of refusing to do so despite its official participation in the United States' anti-Islamic State coalition.

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