Tuesday night seemed like just another Istanbul summer evening as people hurried home after work to make it to the late evening Ramadan Iftar, leaving the city's famous traffic all but a myth. However, later on in the night people came out to stroll and enjoy the cool air.
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I was on the Asian side of Kadikoy enjoying the atmosphere. It seemed like the old days in Istanbul, as if the country had no problems: Lovers sitting on the shore, families eating ice cream and young people just hanging out.
However, this serene feeling was shattered once the news started to spread about a suicide attack that had just taken place at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. The trip back home to the European side in the minibus was eerie, with everyone sitting quietly. Finally, one person broke the silence and asked the driver to turn on the radio; silence continued as we listened in shock.
Tuesday’s is but another in a long list of attacks that have occurred since last June, when an HDP (the mostly Kurdish leftist party) rally was hit by an ISIS sympathizer just days before the election, killing five and injuring hundreds.
In the following months, ISIS set off more blasts targeting both HDP members and other leftist groups: 33 were killed in Suruc last July, and 109 were killed at an Ankara rally in October.
In the meantime, Ankara also saw two major bombings set off by TAK, an offshoot of the outlawed PKK (the Kurdish Workers’ Party). Since last summer, the Turkish government has once again become entrenched in all-out war with the group in the southeastern regions of the country. The TAK bombings in Ankara in February and March added 66 more civilians and security forces to the list.
Lastly, ISIS struck in Istanbul, killing 13 German tourists in January and a group of four Israeli tourists in March. In fact, one Turkish online newspaper, Diken, has recorded a total of 15 bombings (including Tuesday’s attack) in the last 12 months, leaving 290 civilians dead and over 1,500 wounded.
The year of violence has left Turkish citizens on edge. Tuesday’s bombings only reinforced the feeling that attacks can happen at any time and in any place. It also showed that ISIS, which is currently the main suspect, has become much more sophisticated, increasing fears of when and where it will attack next.
The Kurdish TAK, which could also attack at any moment, only adds to the growing atmosphere of terror.
Further, Tuesday’s attack once again sent out a strong message to tourists to stay away from Turkey, which dampened the glimmer of hope that – following Turkey’s reconciliation with Israel and its apology to Russia for shooting down its military jet last November – quick and much-needed relief could be brought to a sector that is set to lose $15 billion this year alone (fortunately, following Erdogan’s conversation with Putin, the Russian president has lifted sanctions on tourism).
By hitting its airport, ISIS also struck at Turkey’s pride, damaging Istanbul's status as a major international hub due to Turkish Air. In fact, even when tourism dropped in Turkey due to fears of terrorism, many travelers continued to choose Turkish airlines.
However, Turkey’s problems do not start or stop with terror. Once placed within the current political state of instability, a much more volatile picture emerges. In fact, in addition to the 290 civilians killed (including foreigners) in terrorist attacks since June 2015, over 500 members of the security forces have been killed fighting the PKK. And, according to the Turkish government, at least 7,500 PKK insurgents (also Turkish citizens) have been killed as well. The deaths of civilians caught in the crossfire also reaches the hundreds, according to opposition parties.
In other words, Turkey is a state that is being torn apart at the seams and the numbers of dead when considered in total is simply astonishing.
The Turkish government needs to reassess its domestic policy, like it did with Israel and Russia in terms of its foreign policy, and see where it is possible to create an atmosphere of dialogue in order to take on ISIS and TAK. The more it continues to deem human rights activists dangerous, like Reporters Without Borders, Erol Onderoglu, author Ahmet Nesin, and the Head of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, Sebnem Korur Financi, who were arrested earlier this month for spreading “terrorist propaganda,” the more it will continue on a path of instability.
This includes its treatment of opponents as terrorists, such as journalists and academics tried on terror charges, affiliates of the Gulen Movement (now declared a terrorist organization), or the HDP MPs who could face prison terms now that their parliamentary immunity has been lifted.
In fact, it has become clear as day that the United States and Europe are hesitant to move forward building coalitions with Turkey to fight terror as long as there are fears its opponents are being unfairly tried.
Turkey is in a dire situation. If it doesn't get its act together, set its priorities straight and fight the real terrorists, while reigniting peace talks to reach a just solution to the Kurdish question (or at least work to ease the tension), it seems it will be doomed to continue to see more unrest. Within this greater polarization, the ground could become even more fertile for terrorism to wreak more havoc and chaos among its citizens.