On the evening of June 28th 2016 there was an attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport Turkey, one of the main airports in the country. I was in Istanbul during that attack and not only was I there but I was due to fly out from that very airport not 24 hours later. It has been exactly a year has since but the memory remains clear. Things have changed drastically (not for the better) for both Turkish Citizens and US Citizens since last June. Not long after the airport incident Turkey was subject to a questionable coup attempt, and we (the US) managed to elect a Demagogue to our highest office, then there was the restrictions on electronics from flights from Turkey and more and more and more. This of course are all things that happened after learning the results had been announced of Britain’s referendum to leave the EU (ie Brexit) upon arrival in Istanbul. The vast amount of ways in which things have changed since June last year is almost inconceivable.
Things had changed since my last visit, I was well aware. I first visited Istanbul in the summer of 2012, it was the last stop on my first big trip. At the time the sights, the sounds, the bustle, the language, were overwhelming. That first visit started off on a crazy note as well, I cut it close taking the plane from Nuremberg, I didn’t have the information of how/ where I was supposed to meet my friend, I had barely slept, I was tired. The next few days of blistering heat after the cool summer in Germany were not helping my mild culture shock. Both that trip in 2012 and the one in 2016 were to visit my friend. She was born and raised in Istanbul, I met her while she was going to school/ interning in NY, she went back because she couldn’t find someone to sponsor her for a job, so I visited her on the first chance I got.
On that first trip we talked a bit about how things had changed since she left for New York and her return to Istanbul. There were small things but nothing like what was to happen. Then Summer 2013 came around and that started the snowballing change. If you are not familiar with the events in Turkey over the past 4 years start with looking into the Gezi Park Protests in 2013, it just continues from there.
On this year anniversary of this event I thought it would be good time to share an essay I wrote the day following when I was sitting at the airport waiting to leave Istanbul not 24hrs after there was the brutal massacre. This essay is my mostly real time account of the events and initial impact. It’s the emotions of the moment, I was in no danger myself but the affect on those around me was palatable and that is what I hope I can portray in some small way.
I’m sitting in the airport, thickness noticeable through the air. Last night at 9:50pm there was a terrorist attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk airport, the main airport in the city. 3 suicide bombers, 36 dead, 147 injured. As if nothing much happened the airport reopened like usual this morning and I sit here awaiting my first flight on my journey home, not even 24hrs have gone by.
I disembarked the bus in to the international arrivals terminal, just as I did the first time I visited. This time though is different, bullet holes in cracked glass are visible, barricades up surrounding construction teams already repairing the damages, news crews lined up outside the arrivals terminal standing along the ‘maintenance’ barriers blocking the damage of the night before from view. Life goes on as if it was an almost a normal day. The terminal is packed with wary passengers whose flights have been canceled or delayed, trying to figure out what to do. The air is filled with a frenetic, yet calm and eerie energy. Once through security and passport control (which for what just happened hasn’t been increased in any noticeable manner) I was immediately met with other passengers splayed about trying to determine what to do about their flights and others waiting for gate assignments. I am with them, I am them. My flight to Casablanca is going out tonight, quite soon actually but the gate assignment remains a mystery. “Is it delayed?” The Departures board doesn’t seem to know. I guess I’ll grab a beer and wait.
Last night I heard about the events over dinner, my Turkish friend receiving the news from her friends. We went back to her home, where I was staying, and turned on the news to Turkish reports creating unneeded drama, only showing videos of the outside of the terminal and people with luggage, forbidden to show the videos shown in the US media reports. Clinical, Clean, Safe. The coverage was basic at most. We go to twitter, she hears from friends, Facebook asks if we are safe, knowing our locations. We select yes. I am decidedly more so, I get to leave, I generally live with out daily fear. I’m lucky, I’m American, my passport allows me to wander through the world with relative ease. This is not my friend’s reality; this is not the reality of a large faction of people in the world. The reality of not knowing when you are safe or in danger, the reality that your home is in the middle of internal and external turmoil, the reality that anything could, can, and will happen.
When Facebook asked us if we were safe the sentiment of my friend & her friend’s was we are alive, not safe. Those words stuck with me.
I woke up early trying to check if the airport was closed, it wasn’t, so wouldn’t need to follow up with my back up plan of taking an overnight train to Sofia, Bulgaria and then flying to Berlin to get home. I try to check my facebook and twitter, the speed is like molasses, I can’t reload my feed, I cant open up my messages, this is the first time this has been a problem on this trip, I wonder what is up. Over coffee my friend makes a comment about it, the services are purposefully slow. They have been blocked before, so while not great this is better than the past.
The first time I visited Istanbul was 4 years ago, so much has changed in those 4 years. The country has spiraled into heavier religious rule. Safety in Istanbul is no longer guaranteed. If anything the speed in which “normal” life resumed confirms that this is the new normal for Istanbul.
Those words echo through my head as I walk through the terminal “We are alive, not safe. We are alive, not safe. We are alive, not safe.”