Since the first days of the unrest in Syria, Turkey has been deploying troops to its borderline in order to prevent any spillovers, shootings or basic “misunderstanding” at the border zones. As the Syrian conflict escalated into a civil war, the number of Turkish troops has risen to the point that one would think a war is about to break out at any moment. The Turkish government had been promoting the necessity for an intervention against Syria, which would result in a “hopeful” reconstruction period similar to that in Iraq – from which Turkey’s economy has benefited a lot over the last decade.
While Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan was declaring that Assad’s legitimacy is in question due to his Alawite religious beliefs in a Sunni-majority Syria, there were also brief moments of tension occurring at the bordering towns and cities. From the day a Turkish fighter jet was shot down over Syrian airspace, the Turkish government’s intentions for an intervention began to have louder and more visible support from within the country. However, while the number of people who favored a possible war with Syria was on the rise, there came the deadliest terrorist attack against Turkey in the country’s history: the May 11th Reyhanli blasts.
Two successive explosions took place in the center of Reyhanli, a town neighboring Syria, in the Turkish province of Hatay. The people of Reyhanli were furious after the attacks, as they were fed up with the government’s hostile policies regarding the Syrian regime and the power plays in the region. Instead of boosting support for intervention, the blasts had the opposite effect. Anti-war protests quickly turned into anti-government protests and a ban on media coverage of the attacks and the protests in their aftermath was declared by the government.
While the government officials avoided visiting the twice-stricken Reyhanli, anger grew in the region. Artists and intellectuals formed volunteer groups to visit the town and talk to locals, get their opinions, and write online reports. The agenda was focused on the attacks and the protests in their aftermath; since the national media were banned from broadcasting or publishing, the social media took over. It was basically this attempt at censorship that created the hunger for the secret files that were released by RedHack on 22nd of May. As the secret files were leaked, the popularity of the released documents proved that society at large perceived the attacks to be the most salient issue needing discussion by the whole nation.
The leaked documents contained information regarding the pre-attack environment and the blasts, revealed and that state officials had been forewarned. As the media swarmed over this subject as hastily and discreetly as possible, the government was quick to declare that the leaked information was nothing to take seriously, and not even worth publishing in the media. However, the government of Turkey struck a Janus pose: While discounting the value of the leaked information, at the same time it claimed that a soldier was under arrest for leaking secret state intelligence – thus seeming to admit the authenticity of the documents.
After the whistle was blown by the socialist-Marxist hackers RedHack, anti-war protests were held and more and more people showed their discouragement publicly. Discussions in certain circles even went to the point of claiming that RedHack alone prevented a hasty intervention against Syria. While the RedHack informant is still unknown, the anonymous hackers seem to be held in high regard, being referred to as “war-preventers.”
Basically many factors contributed to the erosion of support for an intervention. Yet it is possible to say that the deadliest terrorist attacks Turkey has ever experienced were a trigger that changed everything. Meanwhile government officials did not cancel their plans for entertainment and attended planned wedding celebrations and enjoyed their night; in the following days, government officials avoided visiting the blast-stricken town; the leaked information showed the government’s involvement in the explosions; an innocent soldier, Private Kali, was made the scapegoat of all troubles and has been imprisoned and tortured since then; the Prime Minister himself made a discriminatory statement: “In Reyhanli, 52 Sunni-Muslim citizens were martyred by Syria,” causing further sorrow for the Alawite minority in Turkey…
All in all, currently the one to suffer the most among the victims of Reyhanli is probably Utku Kali, the private who was declared responsible for the leak of intelligence and for the whistleblower documents coming to light. Even with him in prison, RedHack continues to receive intelligence leaks from the Turkish Armed Forces, and Utku continues to suffer inhumane conditions and treatment for no reason. Seeing how the national, centralized media and culture can be prone to censorship and constraint from political authority, one cannot help but wonder if the social media can contribute to the eventual freeing of Utku Kali as it did to the “prevention” of a war with Syria.