Wednesday, January 13, 2016

13-Jan-16: Turkey, terror, tourism

Istanbul yesterday [Image Source]
A bomb exploded yesterday in one of Istanbul's most visited locations, Sultanahmet Square, near the obelisk of Theodosius, an ancient Egyptian object placed there by the Roman emperor Theodosius and an eye-catching monument. We have warm memories of the place and its people from when one of our children spent several months in the city studying at one of its universities.

No group has yet claimed credit for the killing of 10 people, most of them German tourists, and the wounding of 15. The injured include visitors from Norway, Germany, South Korea and Peru (and one Peruvian is said to be among the dead).

The brazenness of the outrage is underscored by the fact that it happened in the largest city of a country deeply dependent on tourism and at a gorgeous spot where "tens of thousands of tourists come every day to visit Istanbul’s biggest concentration of monuments". The Sultanahmet precinct is home to the seventeenth century Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia, a Christian basilica that became a mosque and today a popular museum.

Tourism plays a large rule in Turkey's fortunes. In 2011, the latest data we could find, the country hosted some 31.5 million foreign tourists, making it the world's sixth most popular tourist destination. But 2015 was not a good year: Russia's serious economic downturn along with the tensions that arose when Turkish forces blasted a Russian military jet out of the sky in November significantly curbed tourism from there. Then there's the growth in violence emanating from ISIS and the Kurdish PKK, and the ongoing tensions with Israel (and drastic curtailment of Israeli tourism to Turkey - though it is rising again) in the wake of the highly public offence taken by Turkey after several of its 'activists' died in the 2011 Gaza Flotilla. The overall decline in tourism revenues this past year is estimated in the billions of dollars.

Turkey's government, dealing with the kinds of issues that authorities here in Israel have had to grapple with for many years, responded yesterday with clear and immediate statements of blame while almost instantly suppressing media coverage. Here's how VOA reported the ban:
The Turkish government has imposed what it called a "limited" media ban on news coverage following Tuesday's suicide bombing in Istanbul. The ban was ordered by Turkey's Radio and Television Supreme Council and signed by Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus. The government says the ban is "temporary." "Preventing the public order from being very seriously undermined" was the reason written on the media blackout order. Turkish journalists operate under some of the most restrictive media conditions in the world, media watchdog groups say. There has been a spike in prosecutions of journalists in Turkey, many charged with anti-terrorism offenses and under laws against insulting the president... The opposition Republican People's Party leader, Kemal Kılıcdaroglu, chastised the Turkish ban in comments to members of his party. "A suicide bomb explodes in a place like Istanbul, at the heart of tourism in Sultanahmet, and you have no measures taken," he said. "Then what do you do? You impose a ban on reporting even before ambulances arrive [on the scene]." [VOA, January 12, 2016]
What the Turkish police did during the rest of yesterday is only partially known, given the limits imposed on the country's news reporting industry. SKY News, reporting from outside Turkey this morning (Wednesday), said police had
detained 59 people suspected of being Islamic State militants, following suicide bomb attack in Istanbul. Twenty-two properties were raided across the southeast provinces of Sanliurfa, Adana and Gazientep on Tuesday, although it was not confirmed whether those arrested are linked to the attack... [SKY News, January 13, 2016]
But we will note that one local journalist speaking to an outside media channel said there was no Turkish reporting ban but merely a restriction on
showing the actual moment of the explosion out of respect for those that are dead... Actually there’s been no ban on reporting anything here in Turkey. [SBS, January 13, 2016]
On the other hand
Anadolu news agency reported the ban was far more sweeping and could impact news reports and analysis. Most Turkish media covered Tuesday's bombing despite the government ban, and photos and video were streamed on social media by news outlets...[VOA, January 12, 2016]
As for identifying the culprits, that's still a work in progress. At first, the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, quoted in Turkish sources, said the killings were done "by a suicide bomber of Syrian origin". His prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said the bomber "belonged to IS", i.e. Islamic State. Later in the day, Turkey's deputy prime minister Numan Kurtulmuş told reporters the bomber had arrived "recently" from Syria and "was not on Turkey's watch list of suspected militants. [T]he bomber had been identified from body parts at the scene..." [Source] Doğan News Agency named him as Nabil Fadli, a native of Saudi Arabia.

A research study carried out at Istanbul's Kadir Has University [reported here] polled Turkish public opinion about where "the top threat to Turkey" could be found. Top of the list was, sadly, Israel.

It's an outlook that is reflected in, and perhaps also fostered by, the incendiary statements of certain public officials. For instance, not so long ago, the long-serving mayor of Turkey's capital city Ankara, Melih Gökçek, said of Israel's diplomatic representatives in his country "We will conquer the consulate of the despicable murderers" as hundreds of Turks, hurled rocks at Israel's diplomatic missions in Ankara and in beleaguered Istanbul ["Turkey and Israel: A Rickety Handshake", Burak Bekdil, December 23, 2015].

That particular politician has a well-earned name for making outrageously vile public statements about his feelings for Jews and Israelis. And did we mention the soft spot he has for Adolf Hitler? The editors of The Guardian said of him:
Mayor of Ankara since 1994 and a veteran member of the ruling Justice and Development party (AK), Gökçek is one of the most polarising figures in Turkish politics.
(We gave him some blog attention here in May 2015 and here in July 2014.)

Germany, home to most of yesterday's victims and itself no stranger to the phenomenon of fresh undocumented Syrian arrivals with extreme malevolence on their minds, is not yet sure what it's going to do. As reported this morning by Reuters, its Minister of Justice said today
the security situation in Germany had not changed after a suicide bomber killed at least 10 people, mainly German tourists, in Istanbul on Tuesday. "We know Germany is also a target for terrorists and so a general danger certainly cannot be denied but at the moment there are no concrete indications of attack targets but the authorities are very, very alert..."
Being alert is good. We're certainly in favor.

UPDATE From Reuters today: "Turkish authorities detained three Russian nationals suspected of links with Islamic State following a suicide bomb attack in Istanbul that killed 10 tourists, media reports said on Wednesday."

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