This is the first time Turkey is facing a terror attack on New Year’s, a very bloody attack targeting Turkey’s prosperity, peace and stability.
Millions of people rang in the new year in Istanbul, hoping that 2017 would bring them some peace and quiet. Together with their friends and loved ones, they counted down the minutes and seconds. Sure, there was nothing magical about Jan. 1 – the first day of a new year according to a man-made calendar, which we need for practical and economic reasons. Still, people like to think of New Year’s Eve as an opportunity to make a fresh start, come up new plans and grow their hopes.
It was in this spirit that Istanbul residents left 2016 behind them and made their wishes. It was a cold yet peaceful and beautiful night in the city that unites Europe and Asia. Additional security measures had been taken by the authorities, which were careful not to make the public uncomfortable. Having not rung in the new year with their families for years, thousands of police officers were on the streets again.
No, the terror attack that took place in a popular nightclub at 1:30 a.m. on Sunday was not predictable. It took only seven minutes for the assailant to shoot his way through police officers, bouncers and patrons before escaping the venue. At the time today’s paper went to print, 39 people had lost their lives and 65 others were recovering from injuries. As news of dozens of innocent civilians being slaughtered hit the wires, the entire country’s hopes for 2017 were crushed. Thousands of people protested the attack on social media. Within minutes, their joy turned to sorrow.
Since the Suruç attack of July 2015, Turkey has been under attack by Daesh terrorists – which are likely to have perpetrated the New Year’s Eve attack in Istanbul. The similarities between the nightclub shooting and the Bataclan theater massacre in Paris, where 89 people had perished, are uncanny – including the assailant escaping the venue after the rampage.
The latest attack by Daesh, which targeted Kurdish and opposition groups, football games and weddings in the past, on a popular nightclub was widely covered by Western media. Western pundits, who do not consider the terror attacks in Turkey as assaults against civilization, order and stability, had no problem saying that Daesh attacked Western values because the assailant targeted a nightclub. Needless to say, it is shocking that they would dare say such words aloud – mainly because the people of Turkey do not consider Daesh attacks a threat against our lifestyles but as assaults on stability and social order.
When Daesh struck a predominantly Kurdish opposition group outside the train station in Ankara, they were not motivated by their hate against a certain group of people or their lifestyles. The terrorists wanted to target social fault lines and break us.
Another common theme in the media coverage about Sunday’s attack was the public debate on Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations. Everybody knows that Christmas is observed on Dec. 25, whereas New Year’s Eve takes place six days later. In Turkey, many Christmas rituals such as Santa Claus and ornaments have been incorporated into New Year’s Eve celebrations – effectively turning two distinct days into one, which some more pious people do not believe is in line with Islamic traditions. Against the backdrop of this never-ending debate, New Year’s Eve has been observed in Turkey for more than 100 years without any major problems.
As a city, Istanbul has always had a cosmopolitan character and remains a popular destination for tourists from across the region to ring in the new year. Needless to say, it is a grave mistake to link terror attacks, which aim to frighten people and disturb social order, to an irrelevant public debate on lifestyles.
In case it’s not clear already, the terrorists seek to undermine the Turkish state, stability, order and prosperity. Claiming that an intellectual debate leads to terror attacks is not just ignorant – it also helps terrorists get what they want. Finally, Europeans trying to establish whether they consider terror victims have Western values or not does not take us anywhere.
There is only one question in our minds today: How many terror attacks does Turkey have to suffer before the international community can actually start fighting terrorism on the ground and in an effective manner?
*MERYEM İLAYDA ATLAS is editor-in-chief of Lacivert Dergi. She is also a columnist and Op-Ed editor of Daily Sabah Turkish newspaper.
(Published in Daily Sabah on Monday, January 2, 2017)