Turkey mourns its dead: 'When will they leave us alone?'

#TurkeyPolitics

Turkey has been hit numerous times in the past two years by militant groups, including the PKK and Islamic State

Istanbul residents protest at the scene of Saturday's blasts (Reuters)
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Last update: 
Monday 12 December 2016 11:47 UTC

ISTANBUL, Turkey - On Sunday morning, Murat Ozsoy was sitting gloomily in an Istanbul cafe, sipping on a glass of tea while waiting for his friends to arrive. He had two scarves draped around his shoulders, barely needed on this sunny and mild morning. 

Yet they were certainly warranted given the psychological chill that has again gripped Istanbul's and Turkey's residents after yet another brutal attack, which was claimed on Sunday by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), an alleged splinter group from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

One of the scarves was that of his beloved Besiktas football club. The other was a red and white scarf with Turkiye (the Turkish name and spelling for Turkey) written on it. 

"I am sick and tired of this sh*t. When will we get peace? When will they leave us alone?" Ozsoy, 22, a student and avid supporter of Besiktas, told Middle East Eye. 

'When will we get peace? When will they leave us alone?'

- Ozsoy, football supporter

Two massive bombs exploded on Saturday night just outside the Besiktas football team's home ground after a league game had ended and thousands of fans had already left the vicinity of the stadium. 

The latest death toll as a result of the attacks stood at 38. Most victims were crowd-control police stationed outside the stadium to prevent clashes between rival sets of fans. 

Of the 38 dead, seven were civilians, according to the latest information. More than 160 people have been injured in the blasts. 

READ: Turkish politics has never been about democracy

Ozsoy was not at yesterday's game. His limited finances mean he can only afford to attend a few games each season. But like much of the country, he is in a state of shock. 

The significance of the timing, scale and location of the attack, right next to one of the most picturesque and newly built stadiums on the shores of the Bosphorus and close to several high-end international hotel chains, was not lost on Istanbul’s residents.

"They want to strike at the essence of this city. They want to strike at what makes Istanbul great. They want to drag us down into their own dark world," said Ozsoy.  



Police arrive at the site of an explosion in central Istanbul (Reuters)

For the past two years Turkey, and Istanbul in particular, have been targeted numerous times – more than a dozen attacks since 2015 - by various groups, including the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and Islamic State (IS), as the government in Ankara has waged a counter-offensive against them.

Prior to Saturday's attack, the most recent major attack on Istanbul was on 28 June, when its main airport was attacked by IS group-affiliated members, leaving 45 dead and more than 200 injured. 

In between these terror attacks there was also a coup attempt on 15 July.  

Later on Sunday, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announced a day of mourning and told reporters he had no doubt that the PKK had carried out the attack. 

"We have no doubt that it most probably was the work of the separatist PKK. All organisations [terrorist organisations] are vile. These gangs will all be dealt with with the same severity," Yildirim was reported as saying. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a statement released after Saturday’s attack also said it no longer mattered who the perpetrators were, and that it was the barbarity of such attacks that needed to be the point of focus. 

Ozsoy shares that sentiment. 

"People are dying. What difference does it make if it is the PKK or ISIL [another acronym for IS]. I want all this to end whatever it takes. Whether it is through making peace or war, we just need to do whatever we can to end this," said Ozsoy. 

'Now everyone is angry, worried and looking for revenge. But in a few days everyone will be distracted by something else'

- Zeynep Gokturk, resident

Zeynep Gokturk, 52, was doing her routine Sunday shopping and told MEE that to change her routine would be to admit defeat, but her concern was that as usual politicians would start a blame game and the people would forget about this in a few days. 

"Do I feel happy about going out shopping a few hours after so many young people were so senselessly killed? Of course not. I hope God damns whoever did this, but we have to look for long-term solutions," said Gokturk. "Now everyone is angry, worried and looking for revenge. But in a few days everyone will be distracted by something else."

She said that while she wholeheartedly condemned the attack and its perpetrators, she needed to question the government's actions and its response.

"Where is the security? We should be expecting such things when we are fighting a bunch of groups at the same time," she said. "Why is the first thing that gets done a reporting ban. Are they trying to hide things from people?"

A reporting ban was announced shortly after Saturday's attack. It has become customary after major incidents. 

The ban means media can broadcast only official statements and is also not allowed to show any graphic images. 



People carry coffins of police officers killed in the blasts (Reuters)

Officials have said these bans are simply meant to prevent panic and also to stop the spread of false information, especially via social media.

Gokturk said the country should come together to grieve but should not allow politicians and officials to sideline these issues after some time has passed.  

Anger at Europe  

Ozsoy said he is no fan of Erdogan and hates him for his divisive and confrontational approach domestically, but could understand him when he lashed out at Europe's hypocrisy. 

"Not one European leader is calling it a terrorist attack. Why? Just because it's the PKK doesn't make it terrorist?" he asked. "They are playing the usual game of expressing sadness and solidarity with the Turkish people but they refuse to call it a terrorist attack. What do they call this then?" 

Most of the early messages by EU leaders, mostly on social media, expressed solidarity and condemned the attack without explicitly calling it a terrorist attack.

READ: Turkey's ties with the West at rock bottom

"They would have reacted very differently if this were an attack in Paris or Brussels," said Ozsoy. 

Throughout Sunday, Turkish authorities issued messages saying they will not let such barbaric and cowardly attacks go unpunished.

Messages of solidarity have also been pouring in from around the world. 

Taking heart from such messages, Istanbul's now terror-weary residents will defiantly go about their business as usual on Monday but, as Ozsoy puts it that "doesn’t mean that they will have forgotten the victims".  

"I will have a beer with my friends this evening in Besiktas. It is not a sign of disrespect but in honour of those who died. Istanbul to us means living in peace together as Turks, Kurds, secular, religious and everything else," he said. "Life will go on tomorrow but we will never forget these atrocities and those trying to damage our peace."