Monday, November 1, 2010

I Saw a Suicide Bombing in Istanbul Yesterday

Police work quickly to clear Taksim Square

Yesterday, I witnessed a bombing in Taksim Square in Istanbul.   I was seated on the third floor terrace of Simit Saray restaurant, enjoying traditional Turkish tea and simit with a friend, when a very loud boom and explosion silenced everyone in the usually bustling Taksim Square. We were about 100 meters from where the bomb went off.

The fiery explosion was about the size of a airport shuttle bus. It occurred right in front of where the Istanbul police park their dolmuşes (transport buses) to get out and assemble for duty along Istiklal Avenue.  There was a small car parked there and several police dolmuşes.  The bomb blast seemed aimed at the car.  When the explosion happened, it didn't appear as if anyone in the car reacted.  Maybe they were stunned or hurt.  There was a few short bursts of gunfire, maybe 10 shots.  I could not tell which police officer was shooting or at whom.  I merely heard the gunfire. It wasn't very much.

My friend and I crouched down but we felt relatively safe behind our balcony wall. We could see the situation unfold. "I don't think it's an Al Queda bombing," he said.  "Al Queda usually doesn't attack the police. If it were them, there could be a second bomb.  Al Queda usually bombs in twos. It could possibly be the PKK (Kurdish separatists) or a leftist group." Hearing him analyze potential bad guys, for some reason, made me feel safer. My Turkish friend had already lived through an Al Queda bombing in 2003 that claimed the lives of three of his colleagues.

The mother in me ached for those police officers as I watched them respond. I had nothing but friendly feelings toward these fine young men who graciously protect the many colorful protest marches that parade down Istiklal Avenue every Sunday.

All of my female friends with sons in the military flashed through my mind.  I remember feeling gratitude that my friends who had sons in service were not hearing the voices of the police officers react.  It could haunt them.

The police had a completely undefined, chaotic situation.  You could hear the terror they felt in their voices as the tried to clear the Square as quickly as possible. Taksim Square is an incredibly insecure area with streets jutting into it from several directions and a huge open plaza where another bomb could potentially have been planted. Taxis continued to barrel into the Square and the Police seemed to bang on their cars in a "haven't you heard?" sort of way.

Some people helpfully ran away, while others poked along in ways that seemed completely unconscious of what just happened. People seemed oblivious of the policeman's responsibility to get each one of  them the heck away from danger. Not only did the officers have to worry about another explosion potentially taking place, you could hear in their directives to people what I thought was anguish and anger over their fallen comrades. I could feel their vulnerability and their humanity.  Thank you, Istanbul police officers, for suffering on our behalf. You were heroic.

I counted four wounded: 1) a businessman in a suit with a red tie who had been propped up against a light post, unable to put weight on his legs.  He was later lifted and carried over to a bus kiosk. 2) A police officer with an injured left hand who kept working to clear the Square  3)one person laying down who looked seriously hurt and another one(?) whom I couldn't see.  I could only see his police officer comrade race on his behalf to the ambulance seeking immediate help for him.

 I did not know it was a suicide bomber until I read the news reports.  I didn't see any dead body laying around, but this bomber presumably was on the far side of the car from where I was seated.  I was surprised to read so many people were injured and I speculated when I read the numbers that there may have been police officers who had been between the dolmuşes where I wouldn't have been able to see them.  I have no idea how the higher civilian count happened.  I didn't see that many people injured.

In case there was a second bomb, we decided to exit Simit Saray and go down Istiklal Street to a safer place. The staff lifted up the metal roll-down door so we could leave.  Istiklal Street had been cleared of people for approximately 400 meters back.  We ran as quickly as possible to get behind police lines.

We stopped to have tea and listen to news reports at a restaurant off of Istiklal and then decided to go to the Kurdish restaurant of my friend's friend. "What could be safer than a Kurdish restaurant?", we joked.  I couldn't help admiring Turkish people's lack of hate toward their Kurdish neighbors both when I was up on the balcony and when we went to the restaurant.  Turks and Kurds live side by side in Turkey, the Kurds have a terrorist group aimed specifically at creating terror in Turkish people, and yet the Turkish people don't hate them. I admire that.

"I don't feel terror," I said to my friend. He said, "neither did I the day the first incident happened.  It's the next day when you start thinking about it that the terror starts.  The feeling lasts about a month." The other bombing my friend had lived through was much worse than this one and he had been directly involved in helping get people to safety. 

No group has claimed responsibility yet for this decidedly pathetic act. There was no logic to it and it didn't seem destined to have any lasting impact.  And for what purpose? None, that I could see. Indeed, if anything, this attack made the Turkish people "look good" because their hearts are large enough not to hate.  Whomever the perpetrators are can only look less admirable as people in comparison.

When I came back through Taksim later that night to go home, it was if nothing had happened.  People got off and on the funicular and climbed up the Metro steps into the Square.  Life moved on.  Thank you, God, for letting mine move on. Don't think I don't appreciate it.

Click on my title to read the New York Times account of the bombing and here to see CNN International amateur video of the event. The viewpoint in the video is the opposite side of the square from where I was sitting.


Alison said...

I follow you on Twitter, so when I saw this news story last night, I immediately thought of you and hoped you were okay. It's such a shame that people feel the need to take this route. It serves no ultimate purpose. Such a waste!

Sher said...

So relieved to hear that you're OK. I had an undeniably strong feeling you were there and close to the situation yesterday. That's what made me write to see if you were OK.

Great post--you did an excellent job of recounting what you experienced. I just can't imagine going through something like that.

Take it easy and stay safe,

MiGrant said...

Wow! Glad you're OK. Thanks for the front-line reporting!

Michael Carøe Andersen said...

Good to hear you are OK.

I heard about it yesterday and thought that Istanbul is so big that chances of you being close was tiny - I guess I was wrong.

Nice writeup and stay safe!


Connie said...

Oh my gosh! I'm so glad to hear that you're safe! What a scary experience! Stay safe!

*lynne* said...

I've not been paying attention to the news at all, no thanks to the rancid political atmosphere that's hijacked all news here in the US, for another 2 days anyway :p Thank you for your 1st-person reporting, I'm very glad you weren't hurt in the incident, and thank you for the calm and unhateful way you told your tale. I wish we had journalists and news moguls that chose this way to reporting! :)

Sharon said...

You have reported a terrifying situation with amazing clarity and calm. I had followed a bit of your blog prior and are glad to hear you were not hurt and hope you can get back safely and soon here to beautiful Praha with no more dangers awaiting you, to get the zivnost completed and be able to follow your dreams you had started here. said...

Hi Karen,

Rather like Michael in his earlier comment, knowing how large Istanbul is, I had likewise presumed you would have been a long way from where this bomb was set off.I endorse the comments of others on the excellent nature of your first hand & very balanced reporting.

The BBC is reporting this evening that none of the injured have life threatening injuries which is very good news. However, what remains a mystery is the fact that, if no one died, where is the'suicide bomber'? Is s/he among the injured?

The PKK have denied involvement so it also remains a mystery as to who was responsible. I fear that it is either Al Queda, (attack the police who, with the army, uphold the secular state) or a radical left wing group, (attack the police because they uphold the government which they believe to be pro-islamist). This, in a nutshell, sums up the dichotomy which is present day Turkey!

Jennifer E said...

Karen -
I just read your post “I Saw a Suicide Bombing in Istanbul Yesterday” regarding your account of the recent suicide bombing in Taksim Square that wounded 32 people. I know you said that you didn’t experience terror that day, but I was wondering if you have felt any since then. I know I would. I am wondering if this fiery explosion was targeted at the police in particular, since there were so many wounded police officers. Many news reports say that the bombing was due in part to the make-up celebration of Republic Day (since the original celebration was rained out). I am just glad the attack was early in the day before the Square filled with hundreds and thousands of people.

Here is a link to a video I thought you might find interesting - This video synthesizes views on the suicide bombing and a brief overview of PKK from euronews, Al Jazeera, The Wall Street Journal and The Hurriyet Daily News.

I am glad that you are okay!

Karen said...

Thank you, friends, for your wonderful concern for my well-being. I appreciate your caring so much - more than you know.

Jennifer, to answer your question, no I didn't experience any terror later either. I pray that the injured recover soon.

I also appreciate you sharing a link from What a wonderful format to have news synthesized from many different sources.

Anonymous said...

Im sorry but Turks don't hate kurds? Thats why they have massacred kurds and kurds are secondary citizents in Turkey? Maybe read a little history and read about the current political situation in Turkey before you write nonsens. What about the fact that kurs are banned from having kurdish names, speaking kurdish, can be imprisoned without trial etc etc. Do you know how many hundreds of thousands kurds the turkish goverment have killed, raped and tortured?

Adina said...

Excellent writing! Thank you for sharing your experience.

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