Where is Ankara’s ‘Je suis’ moment?

Liz Cookman – THE GUARDIAN UK – 16 Marh 2016 – The Turkish capital has suffered three huge terrorist bombings in five months, but received only a fraction of the sympathy and attention given to Paris

On Sunday evening, a bomb exploded near a bus stop at a busy transport hub in central Ankara. At least 37 people died and many more were injured. Innocent people who were just trying to go about their day-to-day business had their lives blown apart. It’s the third high-fatality attack on the Turkish capital since October, meaning that in five months this welcoming – if often a little boring – city has seen more blood spilled by terror than many places do in a lifetime. Yet where was our “Je suis” moment?

After the Paris attack last November, some Turkish schools had mourning ceremonies that lasted a full day. Buildings sported the tricolor flag, people lit candles in solidarity with the victims and hung pictures in condemnation of the senseless violence. This was despite the fact that, when a similar number of people were killed at a peace rally in Ankara the month before, the ripples were hardly felt by the rest of Europe. No BBC reporters broke down in tears. No Facebook app was launched to convert profile pictures into Turkish flags.

While the circumstances of the various attacks in the two cities were very different – Ankara has been subjected to three suicide bomb attacks while Paris’s attacks in January and November last year were largely carried out by gunmen – it’s hard to say that this alone could cause such widely different shows of support. If Sunday’s bomb had instead been in Piccadilly Circus, the closest London equivalent to Kizilay in Ankara, the world would be talking of nothing else. So why not for Ankara?

“Is it because you just don’t realise that Ankara is no different from any of these cities?” James Taylor wrote in a Facebook post that went viral. “Is it because you think that Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country, like Syria, like Iraq?”

Britain has a love-hate relationship with Turkey. In tourist polls of the most popular destinations, sights and people, it often appears as both one of the most and one of the least liked places. It continues to teeter on the line between east and west, making it hard to understand – a Muslim country with increasingly conservative values that also has its sights set on the EU. Yet geographically, Turkey is Europe’s neighbour and politically Turkey has long been an ally, of sorts, to the west. It is not the only place to have seen its tragedies paid little attention by the rest of the world, but it feels like the most “western” example.

Perhaps the lack of sympathy for the city comes from pure ignorance

“Contrary to what many people think, Turkey is not the Middle East. Ankara is not a war zone, it is a normal modern bustling city, just like any other European capital,” said Taylor. The fact that violence in Turkey has been on the rise since the ceasefire between state forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) came to an abrupt end is undeniable. So is the country’s proximity to Syria. Yet despite the heavy presence of armed police, there are no tanks on the streets of Ankara or barrel bombs being dropped. Perhaps the lack of sympathy for the city comes from pure ignorance. When I first moved to Ankara, 18 months ago, I was asked by friends and acquaintances if “they have chairs in Ankara, or does everyone sit on cushions on the floor?” and if I would be “allowed to walk down the street on your own as a woman?” Most frustrating, and common of all, was “Are you sure Ankara is the capital, because I’m pretty certain it’s Istanbul?”

More people have been killed in the three attacks on Ankara than were in the multiple attacks on Paris. Many of the people killed were Muslims. They may not have been from one of Europe’s sexiest cities, but their killing at the hands of terrorists still deserves our solidarity. As Taylor asks, “You were Charlie, you were Paris. Will you be Ankara?”