Turkey Has Bore The Brunt Of ISIS Attacks
Symbolic days and locations are favorite targets for terrorists, and New Year’s Day was no exception. In an attack eerily reminiscent of Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a gunman shot his way through the Reina nightclub in Istanbul, killing 39 people and injuring 69 more. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack, stating that it was carried out by a “heroic soldier.”
Such an indiscriminate attack marks an all too common end to an unprecedentedly gruesome 2016, and an ominous beginning to 2017. Turkey has been the victim of a disproportionate amount of terrorist attacks, many in response to its involvement in the Syrian civil war extended beyond its natural end by the US and Russia. The Global Terrorism Database (GTD) has yet to release its figures for 2016, but a quick look reveals 22 separate major terrorist incidents in Turkey during that time. Combined deaths from these incidents total 387, with 1,166 more injured.
Not all these attacks were carried out by ISIS, some are the result of the ongoing feud between the Turkish government and the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK). Still, Turkey has been targeted many times by ISIS including the high profile incidents of the bombing at Ataturk Airport in March, the wedding party bombing in August, and the assassination of the Russian ambassador in December. In the single city of Istanbul, six major attacks have happened in the last year alone, a number unheard of for any major city except Baghdad.
Immediately after the bombings at Ataturk Airport in June 2016, support for Turkey flowed in from the international community. Facebook overlays in Turkish colors, and Turkish flags projected onto many other nation’s monuments were but a few of the displays of solidarity in the days following this bombing. Since the attack on the airport in June, however, very little international attention has been paid to the mounting death toll in Turkey.
About a month after the airport bombings, an attempted coup caused a crackdown by the Turkish government and the imprisonment of tens of thousands of suspected sympathizers. Since this coup attempt, Europe/U.S. relations with Turkey have cooled significantly. Criticism for how the Turkish government has handled its domestic security issues and allegations of human rights violations are now far more common than sympathetic expressions for the effects of terror on the Turkish people.
The rising tide of death and terror has taken its toll on Turkey, but not many hands have been extended in sympathy to Turkey from the United States, either politically or socially. Such a lack of support is surprising considering Turkey is a key NATO member and has been essential to the U.S. fight against terrorism in the Middle East. Feeling abandoned, the Turkish people have hardened attitudes towards the U.S. Speaking about the growing anti-American sentiment in Turkey, a pro-government newspaper said:
After more than 250 lost their lives in this attack by an organization that is now considered a terrorist group, the Turkish people rightfully expected faster support, sympathy and empathy from its ally [The U.S.].
The Turkish perception that the United States is harboring the supposed mastermind of the coup attempt in Pennsylvania has grown distrust and suspicion. After this weeks nightclub shooting, rumors circulated on social media that the U.S. had prior knowledge of the attack and warned its citizens away, a sure sign that tension continues to increase in the relations between the U.S. and Turkey.
From the American side, there has been decreasing support for a Turkish government that appears to be purging its country of any citizens or officials under suspicion of dissent. The idea that the Turkish government claims to be a democracy is often met with amusement or skepticism in the U.S. Regardless of the relationship between governments, shouldn’t the American people commiserate with the terrorist victims and their families even though they disagree with the actions of the Turkish government? Whatever cultural gaps exist between the American and Turkish people, shared experience can still forge bonds. Now, more than ever, many Americans can connect with living under a regime which does not embody basic democratic principles and values.