After a string of deadly terrorist attacks in 2016, Turkish citizens were hopeful at the dawn of the new year. Those hopes for a peaceful 2017 were quashed with another attack in the city of Istanbul during New Year’s celebrations, striking more fear into the heart of an already weary nation.
“People leave their houses every day worrying whether they will survive the day or not,” said a 43-year-old former banker from Istanbul who declined to be named.
The fear of terror keeps people inside their homes. They avoid going to public places like shopping malls with large crowds.
“I have not been to a concert for years. Every time I hear a loud noise, even from a motorcycle, I am terrified,” she said.
In the latest atrocity, a single gunman attacked an Istanbul nightclub in the early hours of 2017, killing 39 people and wounding dozens. The ISIS terrorist group claimed responsibility for the assault and stated it was in response to Turkish military operations against ISIS in northern Syria.
Turkey has suffered nearly 20 major terrorist attacks since summer 2015. The attacks have been connected to either ISIS or Kurdish terrorist groups (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks) and have killed over 400 people in total.
However, experts believe the recent nightclub attack marks a new chapter in terrorism in Turkey. It targeted an upscale, highly secure venue in the heart of Istanbul.
Situated along the picturesque Bosphorus Strait, the nightclub Reina serves an affluent clientele, including celebrities, models, and expats. It has hosted many international celebrities, including Sting, Bon Jovi, Uma Thurman, and Daniel Craig.
By attacking the club, ISIS aimed to gain the support of fundamentalists in Turkey who believe only infidels celebrate New Year’s, says Rusen Cakir, a Turkish journalist and expert on the Islamist movement.
“It is an attack on a lifestyle,” wrote Cakir, in an article published on his website.
Social media posts in support of the attack drew angry reactions from Turkish citizens and the government. The head of the Turkish Bar Association, Metin Feyzioglu, said the organization would file complaints against people who supported and praised the attack on social media.
The comments reveal Turkey’s deepening polarization, which benefits ISIS, Cakir stated.
‘Galata Is Dead’
Turkey’s tourism and economy have been hit hard by the terror attacks, and Istanbul now faces a mass exodus of both tourists and expats.
“Galata, where I used to live, was full of Airbnb tourists in the past. … A lot of things have changed after the terror attacks. I don’t see Western tourists in Galata anymore. It is packed with tourists from the Middle East,” said a 40-year-old accountant from Istanbul who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Galata is a historic neighborhood around the medieval Galata Tower, a famous tourist attraction in Istanbul. It used to be an attractive residential area for Western expats.
“In the building where I used to live, it was hard to find a place to rent in the past, but now 60 percent is empty. Galata is dead. Tourism is dead. Nightlife is dead. All restaurants and shops had to close one by one. A friend who used to run a Spanish tapas restaurant had to find a job to survive,” he said.
“I don’t go out at night anymore. When the whole region is in chaos, it is hard to go out and have fun.”
The situation is even worse in the nearby tourist locations of Asmali Mescit, Karakoy, and Begoylu, he says.
Experts do not expect the nightmare to end any time soon.
“This is definitely not a good path. We are entering a new phase. And there is darkness at the end of this phase. Nobody can claim that ‘nothing will happen to us,'” Cakir stated.
“It is happening. And it could even get worse.”