Turkish riot dust settles, but militants may strike again

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

With security forces now in control of the state-owned factories that were the scenes of riots in Izmir, Turkey, last week, tension has eased somewhat. But several questions remain unanswered.

One is whether the leftist militants who originally provoked the trouble will try again to gain control in a showdown with Turkish security forces.

This will be a priority item for the National Security Council, which has been discussing security problems throughout the country. The possibility of proclaiming martial law in Izmir Province exists. Nineteen of Turkey's 67 provinces, including Istanbul and Ankara, have been under martial law for one year now.

Recommended: Five things to understand about Turkey's protests

The second question is if martial law will be enough to check political violence in Izmir. The wave of terror has continued unabated in provinces under martial law, with a death toll of at least half a dozen daily.

Moreover, the recent outburst of violence in the Aegean city of Izmir has gone beyond the limits of ordinary terrorist acts and turned into an uprising against the state authority. This is why it has been described by some observers as a "rehearsal" for a larger-scale revolt by leftist militants.

It now is established that underground Marxist-Leninist revolutionary groups were behind the riots at the state-owned Taris factory complex. The ground for the disturbances was made favorable by two moves:

1. The dismissal by the government of Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel of a few hundred workers and managers believed to be leftists, and their replacement by rightist elements. The leftist labor union strongly opposed the move and called for protest demonstrations and strikes.

2. The second move was the recent stringent economic measures, including devaluation of the lira, which led to a prompt and sharp rise of prices affecting food, clothing, transportation, fuel, and medicine.

Leftist militants did not limit their activities within the Taris labor force , but tried to use the shantytowns near the factories as a springboard. These slums accommodate thousands of families, mostly migrants from villages.

The militants used some of these slums as a battlefield and stronghold in their attacks against the security forces. Equipped with modern weapons and prepared for such action, they held well against the police, who had little experience in such fighting.

The police also were limited by humanitarian considerations and did not want to provoke the inhabitants of the slums into joining the militants. Three policemen were killed during the operation at Gultepe area, the scene of fierce fighting.

Eventually the security forces, bolstered by armored vehicles, broke the militants' resistance and took the slums under control. Large quantities of arms and leftist literature were seized. Following the operation, 2,200 persons , mostly workers, were detained and held in a soccer stadium. About 1,700 of them have been released after questioning. The curfew at Gultepe has been lifted.

The authorities say that the militants have no support from the people in the shantytowns. This is an important question as well. More than half the inhabitants of Turkey's three major cities, including Istanbul and Ankara, live in such shantytowns.

If the militants actually have the support of those people -- mostly workers and small traders -- it could become a serious threat to public order. This is another of the unanswered questions, although officials claim that "the handful of militants do not have the backing of the masses in shantytowns."

This is why no one is sure if the calm that has been restored in the troubled areas in Izmir will last.

It may well be that the militants, in fact, have little popular support, but that they manage temporarily to impose their will on the people just by terrifying them. A clear example was the "Shut Down Your Shop" campaign conducted in Istanbul last week. Most shops closed Feb. 14 for fear of being destroyed by the militants.

But on Feb. 15 a strongly worded warning by the martial law authorities and the arrest of several young militants enabled shopkeepers to resume their work.

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