Earlier this week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made remarks about a need to broaden the definition of terrorism. Erdogan, who has been in power for nearly a decade and a half, wanted to make those sympathetic to the perpetrators of "terrorist" crimes culpable for that violence as well.
"It’s not only the person who pulls the trigger, but those who made that possible who should also be defined as terrorists," the Turkish leader said at a dinner on Monday, according to Hurriyet Daily News.
He was speaking the day after a car bombing in the capital, Ankara — the third terrorist attack in roughly half a year — killed 37 people and injured dozens more. Though no group has claimed responsibility, the Turkish government pinned the assault on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, a Kurdish separatist outfit that's waged a decades-old insurgency against the Turkish state. It's considered a terrorist organization by both Ankara and Washington.
In recent months, as Turkish security forces have battled Kurdish guerrillas in the country's restive southeast, the government has moved to clamp down on academics, journalists and opposition politicians it claims are abetting or supporting terrorism.
This includes three academics recently arrested on charges of "terrorist propaganda" for reading out a declaration calling for a halt to Turkey's counterinsurgency operations. Chris Stephenson, a British scholar who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, was himself detained on Tuesday after going to an Istanbul courthouse in support of the trio.
Stephenson was found to be carrying pamphlets for a Kurdish New Year's celebration — documents that, because of references to Kurdish self-determination, were apparently construed to also be "terrorist propaganda" — and was reportedly deported the following day.
There have been myriad other charges and arrests. A soccer player of Kurdish descent was banned by the sport's local authorities for an overly ideological Facebook post. In January, more than a dozen academics were arrested for publicly opposing the anti-PKK operations in Turkey's southeast, a battle that has led to hundreds of deaths in the past year and curfews in numerous towns.
The rhetoric of the country's powerful president reflects the government's hardening line. Erdogan said there was little difference between "a terrorist holding a gun or a bomb and those who use their position and pen to serve the aim."
He also gestured to the opposition Peoples' Democratic Party, or HDP, a leftist, pro-Kurdish party that has some historic links to the PKK but that has championed the faltering peace process between the Turkish state and its Kurdish interlocutors.
Erdogan was scathing in his criticism of the HDP and its supporters in the country's leftist intelligentsia: "Their titles as a [member of parliament], an academic, an author, a journalist do not change the fact that they are actually terrorists. An act of terror is successful because of these supporters, these accomplices."
Erdogan's critics argue that he's drumming up nationalist support for his own political agenda, which largely consists of getting a new constitution pushed through parliament that would give the Turkish president expanded powers.
The Turkish leader frequently gestures to a world of existential threats and foreign conspiracies — he even once suggested the pope was part of an "evil front" for having acknowledged the history of the Armenian genocide. That uncompromising language was on display this week.
"Some circles, at home and abroad, are at a junction. They will either side with us, or with terrorists. There is no middle way,” he warned on Monday.