The deadly Islamic State (IS) suicide bombing in Suruc that killed 32 and wounded over 100 others was a much delayed wake-up call for Turkey.
All the more tragic was that the gathering by the young student activists in the Kurdish town was aimed at taking part in a rebuilding mission over the border in the war-scarred town of Kobane.
Directly or indirectly, Turkey was a key factor in the Syrian civil war long before the events of the past week. The vast majority of militants and weapons, from groups supported by the US, Turkey and the neighboring countries to IS have come through Turkey?s long porous border.
Many in the west including US, have long complained that Turkey could do more to stem the flow of fighters and weapons but Turkey has preferred a policy of no peace, no war with IS. Ankara has long disputed the US led coalition?s strategy in Syria which is focused on IS and not the regime of Bashar al-Assad which Turkey deems as the real the seeds of IS.
More importantly, Turkish eyes have been firmly rooted on the deadly struggle of Syrian Kurds against IS with the Syrian Kurds enjoying greater autonomy and a strategic role as part of the campaign against IS.
Turkey refused to intervene on the side of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) when Kobane was on the brink of been overrun by IS viewing the PKK affiliated YPG forces as no different to IS.
Sooner or later, the keeping on the fence policy would backfire on Turkey and this is symbolized by the brutal bombing in Suruc.
Suruc was significant not just due to the unfortunate deaths of so many students, it was a red-line for Turks and Kurds alike across Turkey. Mass protests across Turkey placed even greater pressure on the government.
But such is the nature of Turkey?s precarious post-election political climate that even a message of unity could not be agreed. Suruc was used by various sides for political gains.
IS targeting of Suruc was not coincidental and was designed to send a number of messages. As a largely Kurdish town, IS sent a warning to the Kurds that their struggle is not limited to Syria, it aimed to shift the focus of the IS-Kurdish conflict further north after a string of IS defeats in recent weeks in Syria.
The fact that the IS bomber was a young ethnic Kurd was orchestrated to demonstrate that the IS ideology spans beyond the ethnic lines that Kurds have successfully used to spurn IS attacks.
Almost immediately after the attack, PKK linked rebels killed two policeman in Celanpinar for allegedly collaborating with IS militants.
The peace process in Turkey was already developing large cracks, with Turkish policy on Syrian Kurds serving as a major dent. IS is attempting to reignite the PKK armed struggle on a larger scale.
As town of Suruc has barely recovered from the tragedy, the message that resonates with the locals is who will be their protector? The PKK or Ankara? Just as importantly, would Ankara react differently if the attack was on an ethnic Turkish town?
Many Kurds across the border view the policies of Ankara against the YPG, not specific to Syrian Kurds but against Kurds on both sides.
Turkish sentiment in recent months has turned against IS with dozens of arrests as a part of an increased crackdown. However, as the border skirmishes between Turkish soldiers and IS militants near Kilis showed just days after the Suruc attack, Turkey has been thrusted into a new dawn against IS.
It later launched air strikes against IS border positions, the first of its kind by Turkey. Of greater significance in Turkey?s changing approach is the decision to allow the US-led coalition to us the Incirlik military base after months of resistance.
This is viewed by many in the Washington administration as a ?game changer? bringing US forces from a distance of 2000km to about 400km from IS de-facto capital of Raqqa, allowing faster and more frequent raids.
As part of the concord with Washington to use Turkish air bases, sources in Turkey also report agreement on a 90km buffer zone between Syria?s Mare and Jarablus that will be 40-50 km deep. This allows Ankara to contain IS but keep firm eyes on PYD and ensure their expansion remains in check.
In addition Turkey is planning to build concrete walls along its border with increased surveillance operations.
Whatever the next few months brings for Turkey in its new battle with IS or its old one with PKK, now that the door is ajar there is no turning back.
First Published: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc