Back into the suck

Hey, how have you been? My travels are over for now and our family medical emergency seems to be heading in a positive direction, so that’s nice. I’m still on limited posting here because I’m editing LobeLog into early January (and because of the holidays, of course), but we shouldn’t have any more totally quiet days like the last two. Anyway, there’s no need to make a big fuss over my retu-

The Russian ambassador to Ankara has been killed in a gun attack at an art gallery in the Turkish capital, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported.

Reports said Andrei Karlov was attending the opening of an exhibit at a contemporary arts centre when he was attacked. Karlov was several minutes into a speech at the exhibit when a man shouted “Allahu Akbar” and fired at least eight shots, according to an AP photographer who was present.

The attacker also smashed some of the photographs, AP reported. A source told RIA Karlov had died at the scene.

Turkey’s NTV reported that the gunman had been killed by police.


Let’s be clear about what this is not, at least not by itself: we’re not seeing a repeat of the start of World War I. Probably. Witnesses to the shooting claim that the gunman shouted “Aleppo” among other things, but witnesses in the middle of a shooting can hear and see all sorts of things that may not actually have happened and so we need to be careful about saying definitively what happened until some kind of investigation is underway. But the most immediate way this attack could escalate would be in terms of Russia blaming Turkey for murdering (or allowing the murder of) its ambassador over the situation in Aleppo, and that’s not likely to happen. Turkey has more or less given up its interest in Aleppo or Syrian civil war in favor of a tight focus on defeating Kurdish ambitions in northern Syria, and it’s also been getting along fairly well with Russia of late, certainly better than at any time since the infamous Turkish shoot down of that Russian aircraft in Syria last November. This isn’t Serbia and Austria-Hungary, and Turkey can plausibly claim to have also been the victim here.

It sounds like a broken record, but any incident of political violence/terrorism in Turkey points immediately to two possible suspects: ISIS and the Kurds. A Kurdish angle to this incident is almost impossible to fathom, as the PKK has fairly decent ties to Moscow and certainly wouldn’t want to risk worsening them. Could they have carried out this attack in an attempt to poison relations between Ankara and Moscow? Maybe, but the likelihood that the attacker would be killed, as he apparently was, would mean that his background could be investigated and his ties to the PKK, if there were any, would probably be uncovered. It seems like too high a risk for the Kurds to take to achieve an aim that might help them a bit but probably wouldn’t be decisive.

So that leaves ISIS, except insofar as we have these reports that the attacker shouted something about Aleppo during the attack and ISIS had no dog in the Aleppo fight. It actually benefited from the Aleppo fight, in that all the emphasis on Aleppo has helped ISIS surge back into relevance by recapturing Palmyra. But it would certainly behoove ISIS to try to position itself as Aleppo’s avenger, because one of the side effects of the rebel defeat there is that some rebel fighters are probably going to go shopping for a new organization for which to fight, and ISIS may suddenly seem like a decent option. A splashy attack like this, on a guy who helped mend fences between Turkey and Russia and thereby helped to doom the Aleppo rebels for whom Turkish support could have been vital, could boost ISIS’s esteem among potential recruits.

The final possibility, and again this is assuming the reports about what the gunman shouted are accurate, is that it was somebody involved with one of the Syrian rebel factions or a “lone wolf” motivated by Aleppo. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, which is still al-Qaeda in Syria despite its insistence to the contrary, would be the obvious suspect but considering how simple this attack seems to have been it wouldn’t be the only one. In that case suspicion will likely fall heavily on the Syrian refugee community in Turkey, and since we know what happens to groups in Turkey when the government’s security apparatus goes to work on them, that could get very ugly indeed.

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