Mourners carry the coffin of one of the victims of the bomb attack. Photo: Gokhan Sahin

Suruç massacre: today we mourn, tomorrow we rebuild

  • July 21, 2015

People & Power

The bombing of the Amara Cultural Center was meant to inspire fear and keep people from acting in solidarity with Kobane. We must not let ISIS succeed.

The bomb attack that took place at midday on Monday, July 20, at the Amara Cultural Center in Suruç will go down in history as a tragedy. Suruç is a border-town within 15 kilometers of Kobane, and has been the center for relief operations and the logistical hub of all support activity.

To many, Amara was a place of sanctuary and refuge for refugees fleeing the conflict in Kobane for many months. It acted as the base of coordination for the relief effort at the dozens of refugee camps scattered across the city, and as a center for international solidarity and delegations visiting the area.

Throughout the conflict, which began last September, journalists and activists have come to offer their support, and Amara was their home. I spent many weeks at the cultural center over numerous trips to the border, and it was a place which brought everyone together.

In addition to being a hub for people coming from outside, the center also acted as a refuge for children. Many workshops were arranged for the kids, and in the central room a children’s art exhibition was permanently on display. Cay was continuously drank as people sat in the middle of the room and discussed the political developments across the border in Rojava.

A specific target

The bomb specifically targeted a solidarity group called the Socialist Federation of Youth Associations (SGDF). Its young members had come to lend a hand in the rebuilding effort, and planned to cross into Kobane where they would take part in the building of a children’s playground. The victims of the massacre were predominately from Istanbul, and many were students.

SDLP are the youth wing of the socialist ESP (Party of the Oppressed), the party which formed an alliance with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) before the elections. The HDP’s co-president is Figen Yüksekdağ, a founding member of the ESP. From the traditional Turkish left, the ESP’s alliance with the HDP and the Kurdish movement in general represents the advances made in creating solidarity across pre-existing ethnic divides between Turks and Kurds.

The HDP consciously sought out alliances with the Turkish left, and in this sense, the deliberate targeting of SGDF is a direct attack on the recent convergence of the Kurdish and Turkish left. The slogan with which SGDF led the delegation says it all: “The values of Kobane are the values of the Gezi Resistance.”

The delegation that the SGDF were involved with was an attempt to extend solidarity for the people of Rojava beyond ethnic affiliations. Many of the victims of the massacre came from Alevi backgrounds, whilst another young man came from the traditional nationalist stronghold of Trabzon on the Black Sea.

Amara, moreover, was the base for activists from across the world, a sort of embassy for international allies of Kobane and Rojava more generally. For journalists, Amara was the first introduction to life on the border. Interviews were arranged through the center, and it was also where journalists were arranged to be smuggled into Kobane.

For these reasons, we can see the attack on the SGDF delegation as an attack on the international solidarity which has been built around Kobane’s resistance. The center itself is intrinsically linked to the struggle across the border in Kobane, and the attack is a clear attempt by the Islamic State to dissuade such international solidarity from taking place. We must not allow ourselves to be scared into submission.

Suicide bombers and Turkey’s ties to ISIS

Over the last two months, we have witnessed an increase in ISIS revenge suicide bombings on the Kurds, seemingly in direct response to the recent defeats the Kurdish liberation forces (YPG/YPG) have inflicted upon ISIS in northern Syria.

In Diyarbakir during an election rally for the pro-Kurdish HDP, a Turkish citizen who had previously fought for the Islamic State in Syria detonated a bomb, killing four. A few weeks later, ISIS jihadists entered Kobane from the Turkish border-gate and proceeded to massacre over 200 citizens — their second-biggest massacre in Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights.

In all three of these attacks, Turkey has either been complicit or utterly negligent. As evidence of Turkey’s involvement with ISIS steadily grows, it has become increasingly apparent that the Turkish government is not on the side of its own Kurdish citizens, and would much rather support the Islamic State in order to weaken the Kurdish experiment in democratic autonomy in northern Syria.

This situation points towards an increasing spillover of the Syrian civil war into southern Turkey. While the Syrian Kurds continuously battle the Islamic State (making major gains over the last two months), the fear is that ISIS, with the implicit support of the Turkish government, will continue to carry out suicide attacks against the Kurds inside Turkey. Following the tragedy that took place in Suruç, many Kurds blame the Turkish government and its security forces for not doing enough, and are demanding retribution from the PKK.

Need for international solidarity

Both the massacre in Kobane in late June and this latest bomb attack in Suruç are an attempt by the Islamic State to keep Kobane in a desperate, war-torn, destroyed state. Local authorities have begun to rebuild the city — and the attacks are clearly intended to inspire fear and keep people from acting in solidarity with Kobane.

As international allies of the Rojava revolutionaries, we have a duty to fulfill the aims of the SGDF delegation: to help rebuild the city of Kobane.

The international solidarity towards Kobane has done an extraordinary amount of good for the Kurdish resistance in the canton. It has given fighters and citizens hope. The Amara Cultural Center represented this strong desire for international solidarity. It welcomed international visitors and sought to internationalize the conflict beyond those immediately affected by the war. We must not let ISIS have their way and be cowed into inaction out of fear of further terror.

One survivor of Monday’s attack, Merve Kanak, posted this message on her Facebook page:

They killed the people we sang with on the bus. They killed the people we danced with. They killed the people we talked with, those we were surprised to see there, those we worked together with. They killed the people we had breakfast with in the garden of Amara, the people we smiled with, we ate watermelon with. They killed the people we discussed politics and theories with. They killed the people who had different political ideologies, but who were united by the reality of the revolution. We were all good people. We all came there to realize a dream. We had toys with us, three bags each, do you understand?

Today, our hearts are heavy. Tomorrow, we will rebuild.

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Yvo Fitzherbert

Yvo Fitzherbert is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul. He writes for a number of different publications, with a particular focus on Kurdish politics.

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