Once A Tourist Hub, Turkey Is Now Spelled With Terrorism, Violence

Photo: AFP

Is Turkey turning into another Iraq or Syria?

This is the question everybody in Turkey seems to be asking these days. With a number of bombing attacks and a coup attempt, 2016 was particularly a painful year for Turks. But only 1 hour and a half into 2017, another shooting incident shocked the nation and raised the specter of a more violent year for the country.

Turkey, once a hub for tourists from Russia, Europe and most recently the Middle East, is now turned into a country where major bombing attacks are now a new normal. Only in the past 25 days, two bombing attacks, one shooting spree and the assassination of the Russian ambassador pushed the nation to the edge. The frequent bombing attacks, exposing country’s fault lines, are usually handiwork of ISIS militants and a Kurdish insurgent group, TAK.

Back in 2015, when former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was speaking in New York, he acknowledged that ISIS militants and Syrian government agents are roaming freely in Turkey. He was justifying a newly amended security bill that brought draconian measures to curb street protests. More than a year passed since the last security bill was passed in the Parliament, Turkey has seen a significant uptick in the number of bombing attacks across the country.

In Baghdad, for example, residents are relatively safe if they are in the Green Zone. Bazaars or religious mass during holy days are places to avoid as they are major targets for suicide bombers. In Turkey, the attacks are so diverse that it is almost impossible to think anyone could be immune to these incidents. In a country where an ambassador is gunned down, peace activists are blown up in the capital, police forces are attacked in Istanbul and New Year’s Eve revelers are shot down in iconic nightclubs; no one feels safe.

The military coup attempt, in addition to a series of bombing attacks targeting tourists in Istanbul, had an adverse impact on tourism. According to official figures, the number of tourists visiting Turkey decreased by half compared to 2015. Revenues from tourism were key to fill the budget deficit.

The attack on Reina nightclub in Istanbul, where a lone ISIS gunman killed 39 people, is particularly alarming. Similar attacks scare off investors from a country that is desperately

Graphic: AFP

trying to lure foreign direct investment. Crackdown on businesses whose owners are not politically loyal is another factor that affects confidence in foreign investment.

Two things that underpinned the current ruling party was the political and economic stability it offered to the people more than a decade. With worsening security conditions, the economic stability seems to be melting away. Failure to stem a series of bombing attacks that now occur at least twice a month is poised to roil the government. With crippled security structure following a 2-year incessant purge of the police intelligence, the authorities are now scurrying to find competent counter-terrorism officials.

On Monday, Turkish parliament extended the state of emergency rule for additional 3 months, which allows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to rule the country by decrees. The emergency rule allows the government to detain people on a whim and keep them under custody for another 30 days without any charges. But 6 months of the emergency rule was not effective to prevent attacks similar to Reina nightclub and it remains a question how the extended mandate could help Ankara halt the rising tide of violence.