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Anger and Sorrow in Turkey as Mourners Pay Respects to Bomb Victims

Crowds gathered in Turkey’s capital Ankara on Sunday to mourn the victims of a bombing at a peace rally that killed at least 95 people and injured nearly 300 others.
Photo de John Beck/VICE News

Anger mingled with sorrow in Turkey's capital Ankara on Sunday as crowds gathered to mourn the victims of a bombing the previous day that left almost 100 people dead.

Thousands met in the central Sihhiye square to pay their respects to those who lost their lives when twin blasts ripped through a rally held the previous morning to protest ongoing violence between security forces and the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). It was the worst terror attack in Turkish history.


The prime minister's office said late on Saturday that 95 people were killed and 294 injured, including 48 critically. The Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), which organized Saturday's gathering along with various leftist groups, put the death toll as high as 128.

The mood was somber in the square on Sunday, with some attendees silently flashing peace signs while others embraced and sobbed in each other's arms. "We always honor our fallen if we lose someone like this," one attendee told VICE News. "We don't always believe in life after death but we know to honor our dead."

Related: Anger Grows at Turkish Government After Worst Terror Attack in Country's History

But there was defiance and anger too. Many indirectly or directly blamed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for the attack, and the crowd broke into shouts of "Thief, murderer Erdogan." They held their fists aloft chanting "murderer state will be brought to justice."

Some minor clashes took place when police blocked mourners, including an HDP delegation, from laying carnations at the nearby site of the attack. The HDP said in a statement that some of its members were wounded in the confrontation.

Mourners in Ankara hold up peace symbols. (Photo by John Beck/VICE News)

The government has angrily denied responsibility for the bombings. Ankara's AKP mayor Melih Gokcek even suggested that the attack was carried out by the PKK or one of its subgroups in an effort to boost HDP support ahead of snap elections scheduled to be held on November 1.


Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu suggested on Sunday that the bombing could have been carried out either by the Islamic State (IS) or Kurdish rebels, though he offered no evidence or explanation. No group has claimed responsibility.

Speaking at the Sunday gathering, HDP co-chair, Selahattin Demirtas expressed his sorrow at the loss of life and offered his condolences to the victims. "They all came to Ankara with hope for peace, but we couldn't protect them," he said addressing the crowd from the roof of a bus. "We are sorry for that, and we are sending them back home in coffins. But we will stand tall, we will continue singing our songs of freedom and dancing our halays [a type of folk dance]."

He also spoke about Erdogan directly, saying the president "has been threatening us with all his media power.

"He can't scare us," Demirtas said of Erdogan. "We are all one heart. no matter our identities or our beliefs. This state, this land, this country is ours. we won't let anyone take a hold of our freedom. We are many and we would shake the windows of the [presidential] palace if we stomp together."

Mourners hold up flags on Sunday in Ankara. (Photo by John Beck/VICE News)

Demirtas went on to say that the HDP would seek revenge not through violence, but at the ballot box, referring to the upcoming polls.

Speaking afterwards, Musa Cam a parliamentary deputy with the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), described the attack as "clearly fascism."

"We should fight arm in arm for brotherhood and life…," he said. "The AKP will be brought to justice and he [Erdogan] will go to the jail straight from the palace."


Related: Dozens Dead After Twin Bomb Blasts Hit Pro-Kurdish Rally in Turkey

The attack hit just after 10:00am local time close to the central train station. Witnesses described two nearly simultaneous blasts as a group of young men and women danced and sang songs. Two of the HDP's parliamentary candidates, Abdullah Erol and Kubra Meltem Mollaoglu, were killed in the attack.

Many assembled on Sunday in Sihhiye square had seen it happen. "There was going to be a rally for peace," said one attendee, who gave her name as Ferdany. "We came here for that but they killed a hundred and we are here to condemn him [Erdogan]."

Mehmet, another mourner, said he had come to voice his discontent with Erdogan. "It will be bad for Turkey if we can't get rid of this man, and we want a bright future for this country. He's a murderer of those in Syria and killer in own country," he said, referring to Ankara's backing of armed groups in its war-ravaged southern neighbor.

Forensic investigators at the scene of the bombing on Saturday in Ankara. (Photo by John Beck/VICE News)

Saturday's attack appeared similar to an IS-linked suicide bombing that killed 30 pro-Kurdish activists in the border town of Suruc in July, but opposition figures have also connected it with a blast at an HDP election rally in June.

The AKP launched a twin-pronged "war on terror" in July, which was billed as focusing on both IS and the PKK. But the campaign has targeted the Kurdish militants almost exclusively, and the Turkish military has launched a series of airstrikes on the group's camps in the country's southeast and in northern Iraq, killing hundreds. The PKK retaliated with a wave of bloody attacks on security forces that threatened a return to a three decade fight for autonomy that killed more than 40,000 people.

Hours after Saturday's bombing, the PKK ordered its fighters to halt operations in Turkey unless they faced attack, and pledged to avoid acts that could hinder a "fair and just election." But the Turkish military said Sunday that its aircraft had continued to hit PKK targets in both Turkey and Iraq.

Follow John Beck on Twitter: @JM_Beck