Post-July 15 coup. Apart from lively ‘marches for democracy’ ending very late every night over the past two and a half weeks, Istanbul remains subdued. Superficially one has the impression that regular life returns after each terror incident. Below the surface however there is anger, embarrassment, concern and great weariness, especially after the failed military coup of 15th July.
Not long ago, up to two million people would pass through Istiklal (the main street of Istanbul) daily, but those days are gone. Tourists have all but disappeared. The first restaurants and shops are closed; hotels are at present satisfied with anything above 20% occupancy rate. Cruise ships no longer block views of seaside apartments, because they are not calling the port of Istanbul anymore. The occasional musician does his best to raise the spirits, but he is not always successful. My friends of the bakery, the grocery, the neighbourhood shops, of the little family restaurant and of the flower corner in Odakule continue greeting me and enquiring after the health of my family. Casually talking about soccer or holidays is however no longer part of the routine.
Turkey has been hit hard by various terror organisations such as ISIS and PKK. Istanbul alone accounted for 38 terror attacks since the beginning of 2015; some very amateurish as the attack on the US Consulate or on the police station at Dolmabahçe, others deadly efficient as the attack on Atatürk Airport, which touched us deeply as Atatürk, being the 3rd busiest airport of Europe, receives 60 mln passengers per year: 170.000 per day. Everyone working at the Consulate comes there, some of us weekly
Attacks like these hurt the victims, but also families and friends, in a way they impact the whole nation. Everyone needs time to recover from terror, as terror is a brutal attack on the senses. And recovery takes time; three months, maybe even more. Without this necessary period of healing, one’s emotions start to erode, or worse, get blocked all together. At present people in Turkey do not have enough time to process their emotions before they are struck by yet another attack. So they store their emotions, give everything a rationalised place and carry on. Some people laugh, people might even dance, but their hearts are not really into it. However, ‘hayat devam ediyor’: we move on, we have to, as life moves on as well.
Looking around me, Istanbul is emotionally much more flat then when I arrived three years ago. For a city that normally excels in emotions, this is reason for concern. Psychiatrists compare people with elastic cords; they break if they are extended too far and too long. An easy analogy perhaps, but it feels correct. The past one and a half months stretched the elastic even further than before, with terror attacks close to the Grand Bazaar and on Ataturk Airport, followed by a failed, but deadly (350+) military coup and the subsequent state of emergency.
The Dutch Embassy and Consulate had meetings with the business community to explore their take on the events, and to find out together what can and has to be done. Our civil society support program is confronted with shrinking permissive margins in society to operate. Planning events has become more challenging; should we add a disclaimer “unless there is a military coup, a terror attack, an earthquake, something else?”
Will the situation change for the better? Yes, by definition, as it always does in life. We should not forget that we are in Istanbul, in Turkey. Istanbul has been through a lot throughout the ages, and will retrieve its balance, as it has done many times before. Then the words, ‘hayat devam ediyor’ do not sound like a heavy burden, but a promise of a better time ahead that all of us, Turks and foreigners alike, need and very much welcome.
August 3 2016