Istanbul— “Be calm now…something happened in Istanbul tonight…” said my husband, Mustafa, while approaching me with an iPad in his hand, hesitantly announcing news of the latest horrific terrorist attack on June 28. The reluctance in his voice rightly signaled worry about my reaction, as I started wailing for the dead and for Turkey’s fate. We immediately tuned to local news channels to learn the details.
As the night unfolded and the number of victims grew, we stood in front of the screen bewildered and in awe. The final numbers show a distressing number of casualties: 45 dead and more than 230 wounded. Although no one claimed responsibility, the “softness” of the target, the style of the plan’s execution, and the suicide vests used—by three bombers, two of whom were identified as Russian nationals—all pointed to ISIS. The attackers’ insidious plan unfortunately worked, but only partly, thanks to courageous police officer Yüksel D., who shot at one of the three suicide bombers before he blew himself up, thus preventing a much larger number of victims. Also heroic was customs officer Umut Sakaroğlu, who tried to stop the second terrorist and died in the explosion he set off.
The next morning, flights at Ataturk airport—swiftly cleaned up after the carnage—continued as normally as possible. The government pushed hard to present to the outside world an image of Turkey unharmed, even as officials announced a day of mourning while messages of solidarity poured in.
Yet the growing frequency of terrorist attacks has understandably alarmed Turks. Recent developments have been difficult enough, quite apart from those attacks: decaying democracy; the rise of authoritarianism; lack of press freedom; corrosion of the judicial system in terms of judicial independence, the separation of powers, and the rule of law; increasing violence against women; proliferation of conspiracy theories.… On good days and bad, I’ve always loved this country, but sadly, today’s Turkey is not the same place I moved to five years ago.
My story, of course, began much earlier. As Bosniaks—that is, South Slavic Muslims inhabiting the Balkans—my family and I left Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, for Sarajevo in 1999, when NATO started its aerial intervention against Yugoslav forces. The war in Kosovo was not ours to fight, and we did not want to die as collateral damage in that Serbo-Albanian conflict. Bosnia and Herzegovina has always been our emotive homeland, so we sought refuge there. In the late 19th century, my Muslim ancestors from the Sandzak region were often forced to migrate, following the withdrawing Ottoman army, due to attacks by Serb and Montenegrin—that is, Christian—forces.