Somebody finally came forward to claim responsibility for Wednesday’s terror attack in Ankara, and it’s not exactly who the Turkish government said it was:
A Kurdish militant group once linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) claimed responsibility on Friday for the bombing in the Turkish capital Ankara that killed 28 people this week, according to a statement on its website.
The Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK) said the bombing was in response to the policies of President Tayyip Erdogan and said it would continue its attacks. It said the bomber was a 26-year old Turkish national born in the eastern city of Van.
The group most recently claimed responsibility for a mortar attack at Istanbul’s second airport in December that left an aircraft cleaner dead.
You might also see the TAK’s name (Teyrênbazê Azadiya Kurdistan) translated as “Kurdistan Freedom Falcons”–I’m not sure Kurmanji Kurdish distinguishes between the two birds. The TAK has been around since the mid 2000s, after probably breaking with the PKK over over what they saw as the latter’s insufficient commitment to using maximum violence in pursuit of an independent Kurdish state. It may be run by a man named Bahoz Erdal, who used to run the PKK’s military arm, the People’s Defense Forces or HDG, and was/is thought to be part of the PKK’s senior leadership (except that he must not be, if the TAK broke from the PKK and he’s running the TAK–but more on that in a second). However, if you ask ISIS, they’ll tell you that Erdal was killed, by them, in Kobane in 2014.
I say that the TAK “probably” broke with the PKK because there are analysts, especially in Turkey, who believe that the TAK is actually still affiliated with the PKK or may even simply be an alias that the PKK uses when it carries out particularly violent attacks. In that case, Erdal could be running the TAK but still be part of the PKK’s leadership–assuming he’s still alive, that is. In December, the TAK claimed responsibility for a mortar attack on Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen International Airport, and in late December it released a statement pledging to ramp up attacks across Turkey and emphasizing that it had no ties to the PKK, which it criticized for being too “humanist” in its use of force. Before December, it had been pretty quiet for a couple of years as far as I can tell. But Turkish security forces have been carrying out a big and bloody operation in the Kurdish city of Cizre over the past few weeks, and Cizre is one of the TAK’s main stomping grounds, so that could explain the motivation behind Wednesday’s attack.
The United States designated the TAK as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist Organization” in 2008, but Ankara does not designate it as a terrorist organization because its official position is that the TAK and the PKK are one and the same. This throws another complication into any analysis of the Ankara attack and its impact on US and Turkish policy in Syria. Turkey has already fingered a Syrian national and supposed YPG fighter named Salih Necar as the bomber, but if Salih Necar, whoever he is, is a Syrian national, then he’s not a “Turkish national born in the eastern city of Van.” So this announcement at least calls Ankara’s initial findings into question. Now, since Turkey sees no difference between the TAK and the PKK, and pretty much no difference between the PKK and the YPG, there’s a transitive thing going on here where Turkey can continue to claim that the YPG was behind the attack. But since the US disagrees that the TAK equals the PKK equals the YPG, this declaration may make it harder for Ankara to convince Washington of the YPG’s culpability. On the other hand, the TAK does have some indirect links to the YPG independent of the PKK, so those two groups could theoretically have collaborated on Wednesday’s attack.
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