On the 28th of June, in Istanbul Ataturk Airport, the third largest airport in Europe, three terrorists opened fire on civilians in the international departures terminal, international arrivals terminal, and outside the car park before detonating their suicide vests. Graphic videos and images have circulated on news stations and social media, but the response from the world following Turkey’s most recent tragedy has been mute compared to other recent attacks with striking similarities.
In the past year in Turkey, over 280 people have lost their lives and more than 1000 have been wounded as a result of terrorist attacks. Each time, we recuperate quickly. We clean up and continue to operate normally, both literally and metaphorically, in mere hours what normally should have taken days or weeks. My own father, a non-Turk, who travelled through the airport just 2 days after the attack, tells me with an outsider’s perspective, “I really appreciate the Turkish people. In all their sorrow, they act to make people as comfortable as possible. It shows strength and composure, and they will not to give in to terror. It’s like they’re saying ‘whatever knocks us down, we stand back up and quickly overcome anything that happens to our nation.’”
However, though the dust may have settled and people may have gone back to their daily routine, the next time you see a Turk smile, know that a part of their soul has been crushed. And not because the government in power is despised by nearly half the population, nor because this most recent terrorist attack is the 14th in the last 12 months, but because in times where we need global support and crave international solidarity, we don’t receive it.
When I woke up the day after the attack on Istanbul Ataturk Airport, I opened Facebook and, perhaps naively, hoped to be consoled with the kind of outpourings of solidarity and empathy which greeted the Brussels and Paris attacks. But what I found came as no surprise to me. As always, instead of feeling support and love from my friends and acquaintances, I felt bitter. Bitter that once again, only my Turkish friends had shared my grief. I used to feel proud that I have lived all over the world, formed friendships with many different people and experienced many different cultures. I thought the world was my home, and that we were all the same: that we were all human. In the past year, it has become increasingly clear to me that ‘humanity’ is more fragmented that ever, and that many people care only when it’s in their own self interest.
I haven’t spoken out much before this attack because I realised I was reformulating everything I wanted to say until it had lost its significance, in order to be politically correct and not offend anyone. But now I won’t filter myself any more, because now I am offended. I am offended that you don’t care about my country. I am offended that you don’t care that in Turkey, over 280 lives have been lost and countless more will follow. I am offended that you stand by Western countries when they are attacked, but you don’t stand by mine. Neither do you stand with the people of Baghdad who, at the time of writing this, have also been the victims of a terrible attack. And our newsfeeds are silent.
I am and will continue to be offended, but the saddest part is that we Turks have gotten used to it. We’ve gotten used to not being cared about as much as other nations. Doesn’t this sound so wrong? That some lives are worth more than others? And you can blame it on the media all you want, but I’m starting to no longer believe the media is responsible for this. Istanbul Ataturk Airport has been a worldwide trending topic on Facebook and Twitter, which means I’m assuming everyone who accesses social media has had exposure to it. I was glued to CNN international all night as they covered the story. And when I wake up, what do I see? My Turkish friends grieving, and my non-Turkish friends posting pictures of their avocado salads and kale smoothies.
All I can think about is the dozens of times I’ve parked in that car park where the bomb went off, and walked over to the terminal entrance, rolling my suitcase along the cobbled stone floor. I’m thinking of the international terminal entrance, where I’ve passed through hundreds of times. I’m thinking of the colour of the marble tiles past the glass automatic doors, and even the number of steps it takes me to walk to the x-ray machines. I’m thinking of times when I waited in those exact same lines to get past security, all the time thinking “wow, we have better security at this airport than any other European or American airport I’ve been to.”
And then I see bodies strewn across the floor. I think of the marble tiles, cracked and blackened from the explosion. I think of my home. My once safe, beautiful, beloved home. Innocent people gone forever. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Had this happened to a more Western country, there would be no avocado salads and kale smoothies on Facebook. There would be outrage, misery, solidarity, and custom profile pictures with superimposed flags. Everyone who had visited that city would post a photo of themselves in front of a famous landmark with empty words about how much that city had changed their lives and how sad they are for that city, all the while glad they could post that cute picture of themselves because they needed a good #throwback anyway.
Enraged, I post an emotionally heavy status on Facebook. I am aware my sentiments aren’t shared by all my ‘friends’. I am immediately unfriended by 5 people. However, in the coming days, I receive dozens of private messages from those that do care. A friend who chooses to remain anonymous mirrors my sentiments: “In a way, I also feel ignorant sometimes because if there’s so much going on in the world that some of my supposed ‘international, outwards looking, globalised’ friends can turn a blind eye to, it makes me wonder how many more things haven’t been brought to my attention. The world selectively seems to not be with them when those things constantly happen and it’s annoying that Western countries place themselves at the top of the hierarchy, being oh so sanctimonious, causing other things to go unnoticed.”
When I think of everything my country has been through since we marched down the streets full of hope in 2013 - the year millions protested against our corrupt government with the hope that our cries would be heard - tears fill my eyes and I brush them away in frustration. Nothing has changed, and everything has gotten worse. My beautiful memories of Istanbul and my deep love for my country is tainted with fear. I’m upset, angry, afraid, but as time passes and as we clean up the evidence that something terrible has happened, the only emotion that remains is sadness. But it is a different kind of sadness. One that no matter how many years pass will never go away. It comes from the hopeless feeling that your home will never be the same again, and no one else cares.