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The Trouble in Turkey
ISIS Suicide Bomber Strikes Heart of Istanbul

Explosions and fighting wracked Turkey on Monday in both the most cosmopolitan part of Istanbul and the country’s south-east. In Istanbul, a suicide bomber detonated a large bomb in the middle of the Sultanahmet district, killing at least 10 people. ISIS has already claimed responsibility. Sultanahmet is pretty much the center of the foreign tourist zone in Turkey: It’s where you’ll find the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi palace, and the Blue Mosque, and it’s packed with hotels and hostels. It’s home to some of the city’s most historic public spaces, stretching far back.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the country, street-to-street fighting continues to rage in important Kurdish areas. As the Financial Times reports:

In three weeks of intense fighting in Diyarbakir, the government has managed to clear militants from only about 60 per cent of the city centre, the province’s governor, Huseyin Aksoy, told the Financial Times. He blamed the slow progress on attempts to avoid civilian casualties, although 45 civilians have been killed, according to the ICG.

These two stories underline a core problem that seems to be plaguing today’s Turkey: The war in Syria and the rise of ethnic and sectarian hostilities in the region is increasingly playing on the deep, and historically often violent, divisions inside Turkey itself, divisions between modernizers and Islamists, Kurds and Turks, and Alevis and Sunnis.

The country’s economic prospects have already been hit hard in recent years by recent turbulence. Sanctions from Russia, the collapse of traditional export markets and trade routes in Syria and Iraq and across other troubled parts of the Arab world, stagnation in the southern Eurozone economy, and the ripple effects of China’s deceleration have all played a role in hurting Turkey. Now, the country, a NATO ally and a critical trading partner for Europe, faces a new level of internal risk. Americans should and must take notice. Unfortunately, Turkish President Erdogan’s political instincts— grandiose and autocratic—are likely to lead him to both overreach and underperform in the face of the challenge.

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  • Andrew Allison

    Could this be a response to the news discussed in “More Bases in More Places”?

  • Kevin

    Erdogan’s Neo-Ottoman foreign policy is coming back to bite Turkey. There was a reason the Kemalists tried to stay away from the Arab world’s perpetual feuds and chaos, instead trying to drag their nation (however improbably) out of the Middle East and into Europe. Erdogan’s pursuit of religious glory has drawn him into the quicksand of Arab politics and now innumerable hordes if Syrian refugees and fanatics will destabilize Turkey.

  • Pete

    It grates me whenever it is mentioned that Turkey is in NATO.

  • gabrielsyme

    He blamed the slow progress on attempts to avoid civilian casualties, although 45 civilians have been killed

    Hilarious! Also hilarious: Turkey is a NATO ally while the PKK is a designated terrorist organisation.

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