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Pro-Kurdish Party Leader on Turkey's Saturday Attack; Turkey on Edge after Ankara Attack; Syrian Journalist on Why She Moved Back to Aleppo; Imagine a World. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired October 12, 2015 - 14:00   ET




FRED PLEITGEN, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight: mourning the dead and searching for the culprit.

Who is behind Turkey's deadliest terrorist attack?

The head of the opposition HDP party points the finger at ISIS but also blames the state.


SELAHATTIN DEMIRTAS, LEADER OF THE PEOPLES' DEMOCRATIC PARTY (HDP) (through translator): We hold the government responsible for it because they

haven't ran as an effective operation, a fight against ISIS.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): And while violence spills into Turkey, it certainly isn't letting up in Syria. Coming up, life in Aleppo's war zone, how

people there survive both physically and mentally.

ZAINA ERHAIM, SYRIAN JOURNALIST: People are still trying to survive, they're still getting in love, they're still getting their children to

schools, although now the schools are in basements, all of the field hospitals are in basements. But people are struggling to live. This is

what I'm trying to highlight.



PLEITGEN: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Fred Pleitgen, sitting in for Christiane all of this week.

Grief, anger and disbelief in Turkey: funerals are taking place for the victims of Saturday's bomb attack, the deadliest in the country's history.

Twin explosions at a rally in the capital, Ankara, killed nearly 100 people and injured scores more.

Across the country, flags are flying at half-staff as three days of mourning are underway.

No one has claimed responsibility but Turkey's prime minister is pointing the finger at ISIS or daish, as the group is known in the Middle East.


RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, PRIME MINISTER OF TURKEY (through translator): These three terrorist organizations are seen as potential suspects for this

attack. But when we look at how the attack happened and the general tendency of the events, daish has become the primary suspect.


PLEITGEN: Many of the victims were from the pro-Kurdish HDP party, which believes its supporters were directly targeted. Party leader Selahattin

Demirtas joined me earlier from Istanbul and blasted Turkey's government.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) PLEITGEN: Selahattin Demirtas, welcome to the program.

DEMIRTAS (through translator): Thank you.

PLEITGEN: Sir, at this point in time, there's a lot of anger in Turkey. There's a lot of sadness in Turkey.

Who do you think is responsible for this horrible attack?

DEMIRTAS (through translator): This is the worst and the most barbaric terrorist attack in our history. So far, we've lost 98 of our friends,

hundreds of wounded, some of whom are extremely -- in extremely bad condition.

No explanation has been made in relation to the identities of the suicide bombers. We've had numerous similar attacks in the last six months. And

it seems that the people who are behind these attacks have been acting, moving freely. They haven't met many difficulties.

And so I'd say it looks like a ISIS-linked attack. But we are of the opinion that there are those who, within the state who support -- those

supported the attacks.

PLEITGEN: So do I understand it correctly, that you are saying that the Turkish government is complicit in this attack, you think that they're

partly responsible for this attack?

DEMIRTAS (through translator): We hold the government responsible for it because they haven't ran as an effective operation -- a fight against ISIS.

They've turned a blind eye to ISIS growing in Syria and their existence, presence is known within Turkey and they haven't carried out arrests.

And Ankara is a city where intelligence work is at its highest. And it seems there was no preventative work, no security arrangements in place.

And that increases the responsibility for -- of the government in an attack such as this one.

PLEITGEN: So just to try and understand this correctly, are you saying that ISIS has infiltrated the Turkish security services, the Turkish

intelligence --


PLEITGEN: -- services?

DEMIRTAS (through translator): Yes. We are saying that ISIS cannot carry out these kinds of attacks, actions without the support of the state in

Turkey. When the bomb attempt, act was carried in Diyarbakir, it was meant to kill hundreds of people.

The person who placed the bomb or who was responsible for the bomb had been caught and arrested shortly before the attack and then he was released by

police officials and after which he carried out the attack.

And those who caught him and released him have subsequently been promoted. These kinds of events increases suspicion on the officials.

And we, therefore, have the opinion that these terrorists carry out their activities with the support of elements within the state and consequently

the government is fully responsible for the occurrence of such terrorist attacks.

PLEITGEN: Sir, in late September, you said that you fear that Turkey could be on the brink of civil strife or even civil war. Now what we have is we

have an escalating campaign against the PKK in southeastern Turkey. You have demonstrations that have been going on after this recent attack. And

you have the attack itself.

How fearful are you for Turkish society?

DEMIRTAS (through translator): I didn't say the society in Turkey will go into civil war. I said there are elements who would like to see that.

There are those who want to start a war based on ethnicities or a sectarian war.

Despite all the negative indications, we are hopeful, we are optimistic. There is an election coming up with call for security to be provided for

the elections to be -- to take place proper -- in proper conditions. And we've taken steps and PKK has declared a cease-fire. And we've created an

environment of hope.

However, the military continues its attacks. There are hundreds of operations that still continue against the PKK, hundreds of airstrikes or

land operations.

We are here to provide an alternative for what is there. And we grieving parties putting their weapons down. We are pro-democracy, democratic

reform. But despite all of our efforts, there is a government which is trying to clench on power by means of weapons.

PLEITGEN: Sir, you've said that Ankara is supposed to be one of the safest places in all of Turkey.

If the security for a rally can't be guaranteed there, how can the security for election campaigns be guaranteed?

Can you -- can your party continue to campaign if your campaign rallies hold security risks and, in effect, can this election go forward if the

security can't be guaranteed?

DEMIRTAS (through translator): It's not just for us; it is true for all parties, there is a serious risk of lack of security. We are taking into

consideration all of these factors. We are of the opinion that it will be wiser not to hold large rallies in open spaces.

We want -- we cannot continue our election campaigns as if nothing happened, as if none of this happened. This is -- it couldn't be right

politically or ethically.

PLEITGEN: Selahattin Demirtas, thank you for joining the program.

DEMIRTAS (through translator): Thank you.


PLEITGEN: Now we did ask several Turkish government officials for interviews. Unfortunately, none of them were available to come on the

program tonight.

However, Fadi Hakura has kindly agreed to come and talk about the issues. He is the head of the Turkey Project at the London-based think tank Chatham


Fadi, first of all, thank you very much for coming on tonight. And those were some pretty strong accusations that Mr. Demirtas made.

What do you make especially of when he says that there are elements in the Turkish security services that are allied with ISIS or --


PLEITGEN: -- infiltrated by ISIS, that the government has a responsibility for this terror attack as well?

What do you make of comments like that?

FADI HAKURA, TURKEY PROJECT, CHATHAM HOUSE: Perhaps there may have been some exaggeration, given that the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party is

a main competitor against the ruling party in the elections.

However, it's fair to say that the Turkish government security forces should take more control, effective control over this Turkish-Syrian

border, that this tragic crime that took place in Ankara should not have happened, given that it's the political and administrative capital of


So in that sense it is highly significant.

PLEITGEN: Are they doing enough to try and control ISIS within Turkey's borders?

Because that's one of the big things that people have been saying, is that ISIS moves too freely within Turkey, infiltrates into Syria from Turkey.

Are they doing enough?

HAKURA: Turkey's European and U.S. allies have said -- have repeatedly, publicly and off the record, do say -- do -- are trying to push Turkey to

take more effective control of the border with Syria, to prevent the flow of -- to prevent the flow of fighters in both directions.

So according to U.S. and European countries, the Turkish could take additional steps to better control its border.

PLEITGEN: One of the things that many observers found a little strange was that you have an attack on a rally with a lot of pro-Kurdish elements


And the next day you have bombing runs on PKK positions -- so Kurdish positions in Iraq.

How does that fit?


PLEITGEN: Mr. Demirtas, for instance, was someone who was saying they're making the victims themselves responsible.

HAKURA: Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has publicly said that he views the PKK or the Kurdistan Workers' Party threat as equal to that of

Islamic State, that he sees the PKK as a threat to Turkey's territorial integrity and security.

And for that reason the Turkish military campaign has focused far more intensively on the PKK rather than on the Islamic State.


Why focus more on the PKK than the Islamic State?

He must know that he's playing with fire with the Islamic State, seeing the instability that they've caused in Iraq and in Syria as well and now as we

see in Turkey, also.

HAKURA: President Erdogan doesn't see it that way.

For example, when we go back --

PLEITGEN: Does he think he can control ISIS within Turkey?

HAKURA: President Erdogan feels that the PKK is the greater threat. At the height of Kobani, for example, in Northern Syria, where the U.S.

military was in coordination with Syrian Kurdish fighters, were trying to push back the Islamic State, there he publicly said that the Islamic State

is an equal threat to Turkey, like the PKK and -- both the PKK and the Islamic State are both equal threats to Turkey.

PLEITGEN: What do you think is his aim in all of this?

Is it to unseat Bashar al-Assad while defeating the PKK for good and getting rid of ISIS?

And is that realistic?

HAKURA: President Erdogan's number one priority is regime change in Damascus. And all --

PLEITGEN: Ahead of even eliminating the PKK?

Because I mean, clearly, he's doing a lot to up the ante there.

HAKURA: He sees both as threats. He has -- both are priorities. One is to regime change in Damascus. The other is to prevent the Syrian Kurdish

national fighters from establishing an autonomous zone in Northern Syria. And these Syrian Kurdish fighters are closely affiliated to the PKK. So he

sees both Bashar al-Assad and the PKK and their under affiliate in Syria as equal threats.

PLEITGEN: The new mode that Russia has in Syria right now, the way that Russia has upped the ante in Syria, how does that affect Erdogan's plans

for Syria?

Because he had the no-fly zone, for instance, what he calls the safety zone there, which some people believe was also aimed at keeping Kurdish

elements, the YPG, out of certain areas of Syria.

HAKURA: I think the Russian military or airstrikes now in Syria has pretty much neutralized any plans that President Erdogan has regarding

establishing a no-fly zone or a safe zone in Northern Syria.

In fact, even more dramatic than that is that the United States has withdrawn the Patriot missile, anti-missile defense system which came under

the NATO umbrella from Turkish territories. So the United States itself is not fully behind President Erdogan's plans to establish a safe zone or a

no-fly zone in Northern Syria.

Fadi Hakura, thank you very much for coming on the program today.

HAKURA: Thank you.


PLEITGEN: And from finding justice to simply creating your own. On the tiny island nation of Vanuatu, the parliament speaker, whilst filling in

for the president, took the opportunity to pardon himself and 13 other MPs of corruption convictions, all of it, he claims, in the name of stability.

And after a break, we go to Syria, where many have also washed their hands of any wrongdoing. And I'll speak to --


PLEITGEN: -- a journalist trying to expose the grim reality in the ravaged city of Aleppo.




PLEITGEN: Welcome back.

With the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe we talk so much about Syrians fleeing their war-torn country. Now imagine how much courage and

determination it must take to go in the other direction. That's exactly what journalist Zaina Erheim did. She moved back to Aleppo from London and

has trained 100 citizen journalists there.

For her efforts, she recently received the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism. She spoke to me about her efforts from

Gaziantep in Turkey.


PLEITGEN: Zaina Erhaim, welcome to the program.

ERHAIM: Thank you.

PLEITGEN: Zaina, at a time when so many people, educated people, important people are leaving your country or leaving Syria, you decided to go from

London back to Aleppo, why did you make that decision?

ERHAIM: Well, I belong to that country, although it's in a horrible situation now. But I belong to it. I belong to the people who raged

against the regime in 2011, demanding their basic rights.

I belong to those pioneer champs, demanding freedom and democracy and civil society without tyranny.

So I felt responsible and I felt obliged to help. And as I'm a journalist and I had the chance to do my master's degree in London, I felt like I can

do it, trying to help citizen journalists who are working in this perfect situation, just free the word out. And they choose.

PLEITGEN: Why is it so important for you to instill those skills in these people and how do you think it helps them to document what's going on?

ERHAIM: What I've been trying to do myself in the last four years is try to speak more about life because what we're only getting is just ISIS

regime bombing and lots of air crosses interfering in our sky.

What is missing from the news is the actual life. That is still going on, not only in Aleppo but in Idlib and all those rebel-held areas that are

being targeted on daily basis.

People are still trying to survive. They're still getting in love. They're still getting their children to schools, although now the schools

are in basements, although the field hospitals are in basements.

But people are still struggling to live. This is what I'm trying to highlight. And through this very basic pictures and stories that I try to

write and encourage citizen journalists to write, like the cemetery which it turns into a playground; although it's an awkward thing.

But you find children playing around tombs and they have a swing and a slide. It's just some kind of -- their personal resistance to go on. This

is what I really hope that it will be getting to the news outlets and to the world.

PLEITGEN: What is life like for people?

Describe for us the shortages there.

How many people are actually still, for instance, in the opposition-held part of Aleppo?

There's so little information that actually comes out of there.

ERHAIM: There's still, I think, hundreds of thousands of civilians who are living in the rebel-held areas, despite the bombing. They're going on with

their lives. They still go to school. They still have shops. But things are different.

For example, one of -- a mother, she's a headmaster of a school, I asked her how she could prevent her children from getting that much scared,

especially in those nights were the bombing is so extensive.


ERHAIM: She told me that she gives them sleeping pills so they won't be scared. And she had to keep awake for if something happened or the bombing

happened very close so she can take then and run away.

Another mother -- her name is Mahmoud (ph) -- she told me that she prevented her kids from going to school because she's afraid that she or

them might be bombed and killed alone.

So the matter for her is not preventing her kids from being killed but more like being killed together. So it's frightening. But they are still

there. They are still trying to live.

PLEITGEN: How do you think that the violence that you witness and that other witness, how do you think that that's changed you and them from a

psychological standpoint?

What sort of impact does it have to be in that kind of environment day in and day out?

ERHAIM: Well, in a way or another, I think we're all becoming insane for staying there, for bearing this kind of life that we're living at.

But in other way it's because death is there every single moment, you actually learn how to appreciate every single moment because that might be

your last one.

So we kind of enjoy those moments of life and we don't postpone because we don't have the luxury of future or tomorrow.

PLEITGEN: But surely you also keep an eye on the bigger international political picture.

How do you feel about the current situation in Syria, with Russia taking on this new role, with, obviously, the Assad regime now apparently making

gains again in parts of Syria, how do you view the situation?

ERHAIM: What I could see from the ground is that neglection (sic) and leaving the regime to gas and kill people in so many different ways created

this ISIS monster and extremism.

And then finally when the international communities responded to the people called to intervene, they started bombing ISIS, al-Nusra and leaving all

those other Shiite, jihadist, militias, foreigners who are fighting on the regime side, like Abutalabez (ph) (INAUDIBLE) and Hezbollah.

So that was a kind of an open recruitment letter for all those who are interested in joining ISIS. And now with the Russian intervention, I think

like they give the justification for every moderate Muslim Syrian to just be extremist and join ISIS.

PLEITGEN: Where does all of this end, though?

Because one of the things many of us have covered, the refugee crisis that's currently going on, and many of the Syrians that we speak to say

they don't believe that Syria exists anymore. They believe that the middle class is leaving. They believe that the country is falling apart.

Where can this end and how can this end?

ERHAIM: Yes, with all these interventions and all these air forces bombing them, mainly the civilians, and with their Russian intervention now, ISIS

is advancing in the areas. So civilians and moderates are stuck. The only choices that they have, especially for families, is either to just be

killed inside Syria or make it to Europe.

Most of the refugees that I know are actually emigrating, not from Syria itself, but from the neighboring countries. So they are not running away

from war but they're running toward life because they can't see the light at the end of the tunnel anymore.

The international community in general, I think, they're pushing Syrians either to join ISIS, be killed or emigrate to E.U.

PLEITGEN: What does that mean for the future of Syria then?

ERHAIM: Well, it's very difficult to say. I don't know.

PLEITGEN: Zaina Erhaim, thank you very much for joining the program.

ERHAIM: Thank you.


PLEITGEN: You're going to see a lot of uncertainty there and a lot of fear for the future as well. And faced with the brutality in places like Syria

and the horrors that we've seen in Turkey, it may seem like the whole world is in a downward spiral.

Not so, says the winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics. Angus Deaton, a Princeton microeconomist has long argued that, despite the major

challenges, the lives of most people are actually improving. After a break, imagine a world where things are getting better for some of sports'

unlikeliest suspects. That's coming up next.





PLEITGEN: And finally tonight, imagine a world confounding all expectations. Across the globe, sports fans were stunned as long-suffering

teams have triumphed, nowhere more so than in football's Euro 2016 qualifiers.

Iceland -- that's right, Iceland claimed their ticket for the first time. And Albania has made it to their first major tournament ever in their

history, sending fans dancing in the street.

The Celtic contingent has also had a surprisingly strong showing. Wales have qualified for their first major tournament since 1958, when a 17-year-

old boy named Pele of Brazil knocked them out of the World Cup.

Northern Ireland have also qualified for the first time in nearly 30 years whilst in a stark reversal of fortunes, world champions Germany had to

literally fight for their lives against Georgia, barely winning 2-1 and thus qualifying themselves.

Surprises are not limited to football alone. Just look at the current Rugby World Cup, where Japan's success against Africa's Springboks turned

the team into instant national heroes back home, with tens of millions tuning in to follow games, maybe planting a seed of fresh support for rugby

in Japan, one that might yet bloom for many years to come.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always see all our interviews online at and follow me on Facebook and Twitter


Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.