Thirty-nine innocent partygoers were killed on New Year’s Day during a terrorist attack in Istanbul’s Reina nightclub, only 2 kilometers from my home. Some two-thirds of those killed were foreign, according to local media, among them citizens from Israel, Russia, France, Tunisia, Lebanon, India, Belgium, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. ISIS later claimed responsibility for the attack.
Turkey has suffered 33 major terror attacks since the summer of 2015. American intelligence officials had recently raised their concern about a possible attack in Turkey, issuing a warning on December 22 that extremist groups were “continuing aggressive efforts to conduct attacks throughout Turkey” in areas where American citizens and expatriates lived or visited. That warning came three days after another gunman, this time a 22-year-old off-duty police officer, assassinated Andrey G. Karlov, the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, at an art gallery in the capital, Ankara. The gunman shouted “God is great!” and “Don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria!” during the attack. Less than two week later, the shooting took place at the Reina, one of Istanbul’s largest nightclubs, the Reina, located right under the Bosphorus Bridge, significantly connecting two continents.
Political games aside, the trend of polarization in Turkish society has been going on forever. Turkey’s large political divergences fuel violent debate in the country in the aftermath of each attack. Political players and influential media starts a blame game, which continues until the next terrible attack. While Turkish media called the Russian ambassador who was killed in the previous attacks “a martyr”, after Reina attack, the victims were simply called “the dead”.
The seeds of polarization were spread and have grown since the AKP, the Justice and Development Party, first got their parliamentary majority in 2002. Starting with the idea of moderate Islam, the party later changed its approach, and divided the Turkish society into several different parts. On one hand, a large group seek to distort the Islamic belief and try to manipulate people by doing so. On the other side, those left outside this movement, feel like minority and do not see a future for them in Turkey anymore. No matter religious beliefs, this group will seek to leave their homeland at the first opportunity presented. Considering the diversity of the country, which was uniquely keep for many centuries, it is a tragedy to find that the majority of those seeking to leave or already left are young, dynamic and well-educated people. Surely these people could or would have contributed greatly to their own country’s economy and well-being, should the government’s highly divisive and sectarian policies of the past 15 years not have been pursued. Crossing ethnic and religious minority lines, there are many Turkish citizens who feel and act together, strongly distancing themselves from the government, and feeling distraught about the current situation in the country.
As has been seen in the case of many misfortunate events in the world’s history, Jews have been blamed after this attack, this time on social media, especially Twitter. The Turkish Bar Association has promoted the commencement of criminal investigations and filed official complaints with regard to the messages that praise the terrorist attack on social media. The investigation has been initiated, under the criminal heading of defamation.
In terms of what could have been done this time to prevent this disastrous event, I cannot think of many things. I do not believe in politics; I believe in people. The polarization mentioned is led by fear and hate, and it runs deeply. I am starting to lose hope in humanity as I observe how difficult it is for individuals to accept the other, to discuss and talk about matters in a calm and civilized manner. I wish 2017 to be a new year of more peace instead of war, tolerance instead of intolerance, acceptance instead of rejection and love instead of hate.