Following the bombing in Ankara 6 days ago and the bombing this morning in Istanbul a far more important and pressing topic is the political and social climate of Turkey.
For those that may not have heard, especially considering the limited media covereage of the Istanbul bombing, here is a brief overview of the two most recent bombings:
The militant Kurdish group TAK (Kurdistan Freedom Hawks), an offshoot of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) took responsibility for the suicide bombing in Ankara last week which claimed 37 lives. The bombing in Istanbul on March 19 has not been claimed by any group but has resulted in the deaths of 5 people and confirmed the anxieties that many - my classmates and friends included - have had since the Ankara bomb. The atmosphere here is understandably tense and there have been warnings against going out at all on Sunday, the last day of the Persian New Year which is celebrated by Kurdish communities.
As I sit here, safely in my apartment typing away, I return to the question that nags me any time I travel anywhere: What am I doing here? My semester in Istanbul is in many ways my most recent attempt to etch out a path for myself - a physical journey that will hopefully illuminate some future direction for me. It is equally a manifestation of my desire to spend time living in and learning from a country that has gripped my heart since I last left it two years ago. In both situations, however, I recognize the utterly selfish nature of my existence in Turkey. No matter how much Turkish I learn, how much Turkish food I can cook, how many neighborhoods I get to know and cities I get to visit, I will remain at the end of the day a tourist. I am a tourist to the mosques, to the food, to the fun and exciting, and I am a tourist to the fear and worry that has bled into the everyday. Come the end of May I will return to the U.S. to continue my studies in a small town in Ohio where there aren't refugees on the streets or threats of terrorist attacks in the commercial and cultural heart of my city.
I write this post not as a warning against coming to Turkey or against travel in general. Turkey is an incredible country that I want as many people as possible to experience if only to put faces and hearts to a nation that is in the middle of domestic and international crises. I write this post to reflect on my own reasons for coming here - an interest in the Kurdish struggle for autonomy - and how I am choosing to spend my time. I don't intend to disparage or discourage anyone who is interested in studying in Turkey because of bazaars or kebabs because these too are important parts of Turkish culture. For a while I loftily placed my own reasons for coming to Turkey above such cliches, but I have come to realize both the pretension and the fault in that line of thinking. All travel I think is inherently a bit selfish - we seek to see the world in order to broaden our world view, to "discover" and enrich ourselves, to become more knowledgable about a place and to seek out fun and joy. Although I take issue with a mindless and insincere experience of a place - something that I think is the result of travelling with prejudice and fixed ideas - I do not take issue with travelling for self-fulfilment and self-betterment. "Thank God!", I can hear you say, "Hannah has given me the green light to travel!"
Okay okay, point taken.
What I want to say is this: I have met so many individuals here in Turkey that have impressed upon me a warmth and kindness that I have never experienced before. I have met these people in the most unexpected ways - peering into an old Ottoman-style home in Antalya or while walking down the street in Uskudar speaking English. These interactions have reminded me, especially in times when violence and hatred runs high, that goodness between people exists. These people are the reason why I care so deeply about Turkey and its future. Do I have that right? Isn't this a sentiment that I should extend to every country and every people? To my first question I admit that I don't know. I can only express with limited words how I feel. To my second I say of course - but my lack of contact with the rest of the world doesn't allow me to visualize and contextualize this love in the way that I am able to for Turkey.
The point of terrorism is demoralizing and debilitating fear and people in Istanbul are definitely scared. I think people in Turkey are definitely scared. I'm definitely scared. But when I came to Istanbul, I wasn't totally unprepared for the prospect - there have been multiple bombings in Turkey over the past year. The perpetrators - ISIL and militant Kurdish groups - as well as the domestic reactions are reflective of Turkey's position in the domestic and international spheres. Turkey is perhaps now more than ever at a crossroads: What kind of government will be leading Turkey in the future? How will the relationship with Turkish Kurds in the South and the PKK develop? What will become of the over 2 million Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey? Will the Turkish position and Turkish action within the coalition against ISIL adapt in response to its growing domestic threat? Turkey is not a perfect nation by any stretch of the imagination and these are questions for which I have no answer. But this is another huge part to why I am here - I want to be able to think critically about these questions and to understand the context within which they exist.
I don't want to end this post with a cliche about remaining brave in the face of terrorism because I am hardly the person most affected by terrorism and I am certainly not the person with the most at stake. It is callous and presumptuous to assume any such tone. I will say this instead: the people who live in Turkey are some of the most giving, warm-hearted, and selfless people I have ever met. I don't want to minimize terrorism's effects on society and politics but it is ultimately the people that I think of when I think of Turkey.