Why Ankara Cannot Be Paris

Some have criticised the reaction of the West to recent attacks in Ankara
Some have criticised the reaction of the West to recent attacks in Ankara

Before starting, let me say that it was really hard for me to pen this article. I am truly sharing the sorrow of the friends and families of the people who lost their lives in the terrorist attack in Ankara. Also, I am writing this in English because the Turkish reactions to the unresponsiveness of the Western world against the Ankara massacre were generally shared in English, and I believe that everyone should be able to read the other side of the argument. Lastly, I genuinely understand if any of my dear Turkish brothers and sisters are not emotionally ready to debate the aftermath of this wicked attack and would urge them not to read this opinion piece.

In the wake of the Ankara bombing, Turkish people heavily criticised the Western public on their silence. Many questions were asked: Who is saying, “Je suis Ankara”? Where are the Turkish flags in your profile pictures? What about a little bit of #prayforankara?

Unfortunately, it was true that the West was mostly unresponsive to the tragedy; and the Turkish frustration of “Western hypocrisy” gained ground with the beautiful writing of James Taylor, an English musician living in Ankara. More than 80,000 people shared his touching message ending with a question directed to the world: “You were Charlie, you were Paris. Will you be Ankara?”

They weren’t Ankara, James. They weren’t. However, I believe that linking this silence to insensitivity, hypocrisy, or racism is not a satisfactory answer. Why?

First of all, let me ask one simple question to my Turkish fellows. On the day of the Ankara attack, sixteen people were killed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Ivory Coast. How many of us publicly condemned AQIM or the massacre? How many of us mourned the loss of innocent lives in Ivory Coast? How many of us have even heard of the attack? Let’s pretend not to see the tragedies in Ivory Coast and rest of Africa; then what about our neighbours, Syria and Iraq? Considering the fact that the Syrian Civil War alone has left more than 250,000 people dead, how are we responding to the colossal humanitarian tragedy happening just a few kilometres away (individually, of course, for what our state has done is kind of complicated)? If we have mostly ignored the bombings in the Middle East as if those attacks were parts of their daily lives, how are we expecting the Europeans or Americans to grieve for another Middle Eastern country? (Yes, one of the few “accomplishments” of the Erdoğan administration was to drag Turkey into the quagmire of the Middle East. Therefore, Turkey can be confidently called a Middle Eastern country.)

Secondly, it is unfortunately practically impossible for anyone -who wishes to have a socially active life- to mourn for every bombing in the world. I can hear you say, “But everyone found the time to write and cry and tweet and retweet when it was France.” Correct. Yet, it has not been the norm in Europe or North America to face such terrorist attacks. 9/11, Charlie Hebdo, and latest Paris attacks were abnormal for the Westerners; and even the San Bernardino attack in the United States, which happened shortly after Paris, did not attract that much attention. On the other hand, because of numerous failures in domestic and foreign policy, six major massacres took place in Turkey -three in Ankara alone- in the past nine months. Sadly; death, or should I say untimely death, has become a part of our lives. In fact, both the Supreme Court head İsmail Rüştü Cirit and pro-government columnist Abdülkadir Selvi called for the Turkish people to get used “to live with terrorism”. While we are being told to internalise terror, how can we anticipate direct concern from the Westerners; and since the rest of the world is generally in a poorer condition than Turkey, how is it even possible to mourn for every tragedy? This is painful. We can and we should change this. But this is the case for now.

Thirdly, let me remind you that the people and political scene of France virtually united against terrorism after the attacks. Place de la République and the Bataclan theatre were centres of mourning and memorial for thousands while prominent Muslim organisations in France strongly condemned the attacks. On the other hand, after the first of the three Ankara attacks (October 2015) targeting the “Labour, Peace and Democracy Rally” with a death toll of 102, a substantial amount of people wished the innocent victims “plenty of fire” to burn in hell, rather than condemning the attack. In fact, when thousands of supporters marred the moment of silence with jeers ahead of a Euro 2016 qualifying football match between Turkey and Iceland taking place in the conservative Central Anatolian province of Konya, this aversion turned into a national disgrace. Let’s make another comparison: Subsequent to the latest Paris attacks, all major political parties in France temporarily suspended their campaigns for the upcoming regional elections. However, after the second Ankara attack (February 2016) organised by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) refused to sign a joint parliamentary proclamation condemning the bombing. An HDP Member of Parliament even visited the suicide bomber’s family to offer her condolences. I think that the New York Times successfully summarised our condition in their 2015 headline: “Deadly Ankara Attack Not Enough to Unify a Polarised Turkey”. I want to ask all of us a question: How can the world unite for us while we cannot unite for ourselves?

These are hard times for us. All of us… The death of the innocent is beclouding our souls and following us like a shadow. However, blaming “the other” will not solve our problems and solely mourning is not enough for the political actors. There are things to be done. We must primarily find the terrorist links behind the attack. We must review our foreign policy and develop the currently unstable relations with our neighbours. We must pave the way for democratisation, pluralism, and freedom of expression once again. Above all, we must enter a process of reconciliation with the inclusion of all layers of the society before this fire spreads to our country.

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