World·CBC in Istanbul

Bombings quiet vibrant Istanbul, leaving streets empty

In a city of 20 millıon people, where it's rare to see an empty corner, let alone a street, the normally brimming thoroughfares of Istanbul are still in the aftermath of Tuesday's bombings.

Residents stay safely indoors in aftermath of attack, watching reports of rising body count

Most Istanbul resıdents stayed safely indoors Wednesday after the attack on the city's Ataturk International Airport. (Joti Heir/CBC)

There was a nervous calm in the streets of Istanbul Wednesday morning after three suicide bombers launched one of the most lethal attacks in Turkey's recent history.

A cat ran across the empty platform at the normally bustling Sirkeci train station in the city centre. A single bagel seller sat outside looking vacantly at the empty streets. Istanbul was a different city, more sombre, more grey.

Soon after Turks broke their fast during the holy month of Ramadan on Tuesday night, three suicide bombers launched an assault on the international terminal of the city's main airport, Ataturk International.

At least 41 people are dead and more than 200 injured, with the number of casualties expected to rise. At least 13 of the dead are foreigners or those with dual citizenship, the majority however are Turks. CBC confirmed that one of the injured is a Canadian.

The greatest injury however may be what this attack has done to the psyche of the Turkish people. In a city of 20 million people, it's rare to see an empty corner, let alone a street, and yet in the aftermath Wednesday morning, the normally brimming thoroughfares were still.

Police cars were a frequent sight in Istanbul Wednesday, and officers were deployed on foot throughout the city. (Joti Heir)

Police cars were a frequent sight, and officers have been deployed on foot throughout the city. Residents, however, seemed to have little appetite to do anything other than stay safely indoors, watching news reports of the increasing body count.

Bushra Goksu, a homemaker, hung her laundry on a line from in her balcony as the sound of Turkish newscasters came from within.

"I don't want to live here anymore, I think it's safer if we go back to our village," she told CBC News. "These bombers don't care about the villages. It's a hard life there, but it's better than here now."

Sirkeci Terminal train station in central Istanbul was mostly empty Wednesday morning, as the city hunkered down in the aftermath of airport bombings. (Joti Heir/CBC)

Local tea shops where men gather to play backgammon and chat were empty. Shops were open in the city centre, but shoppers were few and far between.

Emrah Karadag, who works in a shop in Sultanahmet, a tourist hub, said in an interview the streets would normally be full of not just tourists but Turks getting ready for the long holiday weekend that marks the end of Ramadan.

"Just yesterday, it was so busy here, and today there is no one," he said. "We don't understand what is happening. We heard of the attacks in France and Belgium, and now ıt's here. It doesn't seem real."

On an average day in June in Istanbul's city centre, accents from around the world can be heard, and lineups to see the city's ancient sites snake around corners and streets. Wednesday morning, you would count on your hands the number of visitors milling about.

Spoiala Romulus Basis, who was visiting Istanbul with his family from Romania, said they came in by car and would be leaving by car within the day. (Joti Heir/CBC)

Spoiala Romulus Basis, who was visiting the city with his family from Romania, said they came in by car and would be leaving by car within the day.

"This is scary, but it's the world we live in now," he said.

The spattering of tourists in Sultanahmet included retired Brıtish military officer Kim Smith, who arrived ın Istanbul with his wife two days ago.

"I've seen many things, and the worst thing about this all is what it's going to do to the Turkish people," Smith said in an interview.

"This is going to hurt their economy, and it's going to hurt them as a people."

Turks were set to celebrate the Sugar Holiday this weekend, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

The celebrations, however, will likely be few and far between as a sombre tone sets in over the city and country as a whole.

No one has claimed the attack, although Turkish authorities say all signs point to ISIS, the militant Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Turkey announced its intent to normalize relations with Israel earlier in the week, part of the Turkish-Israeli agreement includes rights to Syrian oil. There were already closed-door murmurs in Istanbul that perhaps the attack had been linked to that deal.


Joti Heir is a Canadian journalist reporting on issues in eastern Europe. She has worked with a variety of news outlets in Canada ıncluding CBC Vancouver.