Turkey finds itself in the midst of a perfect storm: Nahlah Ayed

Once a speck of relative calm in a sea of regional turmoil, Turkey is now struggling to protect from and brace for the increasingly violent consequences of living next door to a major war zone.

Multitude of challenges includes the reach of ISIS and internal political turmoil

Turkey mourns deadly attack at Istanbul airport

The National

5 years ago
Turkish government believes ISIS responsible for triple suicide attack that killed 43 and wounded hundreds more 2:28

Every time Fevzi Aksakal says his granddaughter's name, he starts to cry.

She, 22-year-old Deniz, happens to be studying to be a doctor. And because she happened to be at the Istanbul airport Tuesday picking up a relative when suicide bombers struck, she is now a patient fighting for her life in an intensive care unit.

Her distraught grandfather is keeping up a vigil outside the Bakirkoy Hospital, where he shelters from the rain and braces for bad news.

It is exactly how Turkey is reacting to finding itself in the midst of a perfect storm.

Once a speck of relative calm in a sea of regional turmoil, Turkey is now struggling to protect from and brace for the increasingly violent consequences of living next door to a major war zone.

Fevzi Aksakal’s granddaughter, Deniz, was picking up a relative from Istanbul’s Ataturk airport on Tuesday when suicide bombers attacked. She is now fighting for her life in an intensive care unit. (Nahlah Ayed/CBC)

Turkey, the region's tourism darling, now despairs as its people and the world watch in disturbing clarity the horror of innocent civilians, Turkish and foreign, cut down by guns and suicide bombs on Turkish soil.

"I have a pain in my heart," says Aksakal, wiping away tears. "Our enemies will not win. Our government will fight them and win."

Never in recent memory, however, has the country faced such a multitude of challenges.

For all the concern about the Syrian war's and ISIS' reach into Europe, (outside of Syria and Iraq) it is Turkey that is increasingly bearing the brunt of that reach.

State of siege in Istanbul

The National

5 years ago
The death toll in the suicide attack on Istanbul's airport has risen to 44, and security forces are on the move, Nahlah Ayed reports 2:45

Innocent Turks were the targets

There was no better reminder of that than the horror of Tuesday's attack, believed to have been carried out by ISIS: Turkey, and innocent Turkish people going about their lives, were clearly the target. The backdrop accentuates the trouble that puts Turkey in.

There are lots of people tryıng to break Turkey up but we will not give them the chance.- Fevzi Aksakal

Many of its other challenges also emanate directly from the Syrian war: there is the brunt of the refugee crisis; the economic fallout, and the inflow of fighters making their way to Syria and Iraq. And Syria's is a war that shows no signs of abating.

But there are also many home-grown challenges, like the political tug of war within Turkey, driven by division over an increasingly controlling president, and the longstanding battle with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) that has led to significant loss of life, too.

Add to all that now the casual violence of ISIS — and what it does to the nation's psyche, as well as its bottom line, and you have a perfect storm, and something approaching conflict, says Bulent Kenes, an independent columnist for Yeni Hayat newspaper.

A woman mourns as family, colleagues and friends of the victims of Tuesday's attacks gather for a memorial ceremony at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul on Thursday. (Associated Press)

'A kind of condition of war'

There are no "sufficient words to define the current dire conditions in Turkey. Turkey lives in a kind of condition of war," he says.

Until recently, in light of Ankara's hostility towards Syria's Assad regime, ISIS (also known as ISIL) enjoyed relatively free movement of fighters and resources through Turkey. The government had been roundly criticized at home and abroad for allowing that.

"[They] gave support to ISIL and tolerated ISIL in Turkey. You couldn't find any single ISIL militant detained and arrested until last month," says Kenes.

That attitude has shifted — and Turkey has been more willing to interrupt the ISIS flow, while also allowing the U.S. to use one of its military bases to attack the group directly.

Local observers and regional experts seem to agree it is that shift in attitude which might have prompted ISIS to turn on its transit station — and on Tuesday, the very airport that has made it possible to bring in recruits from around the world.

The severity and brazen nature of the attack will probably force Turkey to be drawn even further into Syria's conflict and in fighting ISIS directly. On Thursday it conducted several raids and rounded up more than 20 suspects.

More suicide bombs are likely

All this in turn, will presumably bring on more guns and suicide bombs.

The tourism industry has already been crippled by a scale of bombings that is more familiar in Beirut. Lives have been interrupted, and taken away — 43 people this time.

Turkey is starting to slip into a realm more familiar in most of its neighbours. But Aksakal, Deniz's grandfather, like the country's president, has faith Turkey will weather this storm.

A relative of Gulsen Bahadir, a victim of Tuesday's attack on Ataturk airport, mourns at her flag-draped coffin during her funeral ceremony in Istanbul. (Osman Orsal/Reuters)

"There are lots of people tryıng to break Turkey up but we will not give them the chance," says Aksakal.

The war against any semblance of peace here has so far been fought in intermittent violent bursts. But it's about to scale up.

That the attacks have been growing more frequent made Tuesday's a more, not less, painful episode of an unfolding, national tragedy.


Nahlah Ayed

Host of CBC Ideas

Nahlah Ayed is the host of the nightly CBC Radio program Ideas. A veteran of foreign reportage, she's spent nearly a decade covering major world events from London, and another decade covering upheaval across the Middle East. Ayed was previously a parliamentary reporter for The Canadian Press.