Eyewitness to the Ankara Massacre

08 November 2015

On 11 October a demonstration against state terror ended in the bloodiest massacre in Turkeys’ recent history.

About 10,000 people travelled from across the country to gather in front of the main railway station in Ankara. Two major union federations, the Turkish Medical Association and the Engineers’ and Architects’ Association, had mobilised for the march, along with the pro-Kurdish HDP party and many leftist groups.

People expected this to be a peaceful demonstration with, at most, a few clashes between police and youth at the end. There was a lively atmosphere, as people performed the traditional Kurdish folk dance and sang songs in support of Rojava. People carried placards that read, “How we have missed seeing skies without bloodshed!”

Then, at 10:04, two bombs exploded, at least one detonated by a suicide bomber, injuring more than 500. Flags and body parts were hurled through the air as the smell of burnt flesh and blood spread through the crowd. People panicked, screamed and ran.

In the first few minutes no one knew what had happened. Your brain defaults to a defensive mode as you try to make sense of what you have just seen. Was that the noise of something very heavy collapsing – or had the police opened fire on the crowd? That meat on the floor, was it perhaps just from the kebab stall? Could that really be a heart on the pavement, and next to it a liver?

Even as we ran to find our comrades, the police attacked the crowd with tear gas and blocked the entry of a mere two ambulances. This contributed to the deaths of more than 100 people over the next few hours. Later we saw a video of trade unionists defending themselves against police with planks of wood.

After regrouping, we shared the only good news of the day: all our comrades were safe, no one was missing or injured. In shock and with many in tears, we set off to the HDP office downtown. People were standing in front of the hospital as we passed, asking people to donate blood. Throughout the night, people went to the hospitals to help, even if only with warm blankets or chocolate.

In the office, there was a deathly silence. Every phone call began with “I’m alive”. And as the body count rose, the government made mindless press releases, while politicians of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) gave television interviews.

They cynically insinuated that the perpetrators were terrorists from the illegal Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), leftists, or perhaps ISIS. The PKK’s supposed motive was to arouse sympathy for the HDP ahead of elections on 1 November.

HDP chairman Selahattin Demirtaş, however, was probably closer to the truth in blaming the government, arguing that the attacks took place with at least the acquiescence of state forces, possibly with their collaboration. This would fit with a “strategy of tension” by the state and the AKP, designed to frighten the Kurds and the left from political activity and persuade others to vote for a “strong man”, i.e. Erdogan, in the elections.

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