It’s a sobering start to 2017 for many in Istanbul. Dozens dead and many more wounded after a man in a Santa suit opened fire on revellers at the Reina nightclub. For a city so used to attacks this one seems to have struck a deeper chord, perhaps because it was at the heart of a residential area called Ortakoy, rather than a big tourist mecca.
With its narrow winding streets and wooden houses, Ortakoy is normally a pleasant place to sip Turkish coffee and watch ships float by on the aqua blue waters of the Bosphorous. It’s home to an abundance of cafes and trinket shops, but just one street back from the strait you get a feel for real life in Istanbul. Fruit and veg shops spill out onto the pavement at the foot of Ortakoy’s steep hills. Vendors shout to their friends across the road. Stray cats and dogs wander freely, loved and fed by the entire neighbourhood.
A year ago Ortakoy saw a new class of people move in, foreign journalists. A conveniently short walk from the offices of the recently launched Turkish international English language news channel, TRT World, it was an attractive place to live. Not any more.
A friend of mine recently commented that they were ‘safe in Ortakoy’ as nothing would happen there. Those words have come back to haunt them. The shooting was a 100 metres away from their home. Others were still clinking glasses and wishing for a more positive year ahead on their balconies as the screams began to sound below.
‘Crap, crap, crap,’ was all one managed to post on social media. Another, who moments before had posed for a New Year photo in the shadow of Reina, simply said ‘enough’. The wide grins of celebration instantly wiped clean from their faces.
‘I can’t take anymore,’ one of my closest friends told me. She’s spent the last few months planning a summer wedding in Istanbul. Weekends spent viewing potential venues, dress shopping and cake tasting. Now she’s having second thoughts. ‘Who would come?’ she asked.
Even those who spent the New Year away from Istanbul are not looking forward to the prospect of returning. The shine of a new job in one of the worlds most fascinating cities wore off long ago, but many stayed, grasping onto some sense that 2017 would bring quieter times. This attack in the wee hours of the New Year has made that seem impossible. That even goes for the hardy who thought they could take anything.
The drill of ‘marking yourself safe’ on social media has become too normal. That is the reality of living in Istanbul now. Every few weeks there’s another reason to leave and another blow to the whole country. 2016 saw Turkey battle on many fronts, politically, economically and socially. As a result it’s becoming more insular and less welcoming, especially for those who live a life so frowned upon by the conservatives who seem to be the vocal majority.