This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ANKARA 007363
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KISL PGOV PTER TU
SUBJECT: PM ERDOGAN STIRS CONTROVERSY BY REJECTING "ISLAMIC
1. (SBU) Summary: PM Erdogan has ignited controversy by
rejecting the phrase "Islamic terrorism" to describe the
November 15 and 20 Istanbul bombings. Secular critics of
Erdogan and his AK Party government worried that the
government was soft on terrorism because of its Islamic
roots. There is no evidence to support this insinuation, but
the controversy reflects the continued rift and mutual
suspicion between the AK government and its secular critics.
Erdogan: "Islamic Terrorism" Phrase "Makes My Blood Boil"
2. (U) The controversy started after Erdogan's November 24
address to the nation about the bombings. Erdogan rejected
the term "Islamic terror," stating "we should show special
care not to offend the integrity of beliefs and views that
have nothing to do with these deviations...no act of terror
can be attributed to any divine religion or groups of
beliefs. These two concepts can never go together." Erdogan
was more pointed in remarks to the press the next day, saying
the term "Islamic terrorism...makes my blood boil. When I
hear the expression 'Islamic terrorism,' I cannot put up with
it, I cannot stand it."
3. (U) The day before, in an interview with UK journalist
David Frost, Erdogan said "terrorism has no race, no
religion, no ethnicity." He added that there was no definite
link between the bombings and al-Qaeda, but "it is obvious
this incident has been motivated by religious sentiments."
This last remark went virtually unnoticed in the public
debate, which focused instead on Erdogan's rejection of the
term "Islamic terrorism."
Remarks Ignite Criticism
4. (U) The remarks immediately ignited controversy.
Islamists praised Erdogan's stand, while many secularists
worried that failure to correctly identify the source of the
attacks would hamper efforts to solve them and to prevent
future attacks. Opposition Republican People's Party (CHP)
Deniz Baykal said Erdogan should "stop involving himself with
the adjective to go with terrorism and call it by its name."
Baykal linked the events to Turkish Hizbullah, adding the PM
was "unable to say Hizbullah in terms of terrorism." CHP
Vice Chairman Onur Oymen responded to Erdogan comments by
saying "the government must accept that certain political or
religious believers can commit crimes and must take a
determined attitude against them." Even before Erdogan's
remarks, in the immediate aftermath of the bombings, AK
critics, particularly the CHP, had openly accused the AK
government of lax security. Much of the criticism insinuated
that AK's Islamist roots made it soft on Islamist terrorism.
Government Stresses Opposition to Terrorism
5. (U) While rejecting the phrase "Islamic terrorism,"
Erdogan has made clear his opposition to terrorism, and
commitment to the democratic reform process and Turkey's
Western orientation. Asked by Frost if the bombings would
change Turkey's policy toward the U.S. and the UK, Erdogan
replied "never," adding "the importance of Turkey's
membership in the European Union has become more important
than ever before." In a November 25 London Times interview,
Erdogan reiterated that "it is of prime importance that
Turkey has turned to face the West and fosters the harmonious
co-existence of Islamic culture and democracy." The
attackers, he said, would be "damned forever in this world
and the next."
6. (U) As Erdogan had with Frost, in a November 27 newspaper
interview, Justice Minister and Government spokesman Cicek
remarked that "groups were resorting to violence and terror
in the name of Islam." Cicek went on to call on the Islamic
countries, intellectuals and scholars world to condemn
terrorism, and he appealed to Muslim governments to cooperate
against terrorists. Cicek noted that the attackers had an
organizational structure similar to Turkish Hizbullah and had
met with al-Qaeda militants.
7. (SBU) Comment: There is no evidence to support
insinuations that either Erdogan or the AK government is soft
on terrorism. However, the controversy over "Islamic
terrorism" reflects the continued ideological rift and mutual
suspicion between AK Party supporters and its secular
detractors. Turkey's pious sectors have uniformly condemned
the bombings and are genuinely offended by attempts to link
them with Islam. Many AK supporters, including some media,
refuse to accept that terrorist acts are carried out in the
name of Islam, preferring instead to concoct conspiracy
theories blaming the CIA or Mossad. AK supporters worry that
secularists will seize on the bombings to restrict religion
and roll back human rights reforms. For AK's detractors,
Erdogan's comments furnish more "proof" of AK's supposed
Islamist agenda and fuel worries that AK is linked to
religious radicals. End Comment.