Our last hoo-rah before moving back home was a weekend stay in Istanbul. Yes, my mother-in-law was dutifully worried about us traveling so far east, but I was quite confident it would not be an issue. Istanbul isn't near the Syrian border. It's a crossroads of civilization. They love tourists there. Those things were all true--but perhaps my assumption of safety wasn't. Today I woke to the news of a terrorist bombing there. In face, it happened right next to this gazebo-like structure, in a piazza that also contains a large obelisk covered in hieroglyphics.
My first reaction to the news was just sadness and anger. The Turkish people were very welcoming of us as tourists. They happily granted us access to their Mosques and greeted us with a smile at each stop. I can't imagine knowing someone is trying to erase the welcoming environment they've all worked so hard to create. There is a pride even to those who are poor in Istanbul. In Italy it was common to see people begging for money. Some in prayer, some with a disability, but often they offered nothing but a nod of thanks to anyone who gave them spare change. In Istanbul they always offered you a service in exchange for any change you could spare. Some sold small packets of tissues or other toiletries you might have failed to pack. Some offered a lightweight coat for those who failed to anticipate the cool nights. Others proffered a spirograph set for your children or perhaps your own custom made spirograph art in exchange for any help. But they never asked for a hangout of cash in exchange for nothing.
After sadness came confusion. Intellectually this attach makes little sense to me. It was designed to scare tourists but not to cause much damage. Yes, 10 people gave their life, but an attack at the Spice Market or Grand Bazar could have easily resulted in hundreds or thousands of casualties. (Image an indoor flea market with poor lighting, poor ventilation and people packed elbow to elbow for several city blocks.) Similarly an attack on a great landmark like the Hagia Sophia or the Blue Mosque would create a lasting sense of loss to the proud culture. Yet this terrorist chose a piazza frequented by tourists needing a rest, but never actually crowded. A place where the historical and cultural significance of the attractions in minimal compared to the rest of Old Town. In their own way maybe these terrorists had their own sense of morality and wanted to send a message with minimal casualty. Maybe the bomber got cold feet and decided not to walk the last 25 meters to the more crowded area between the great landmarks. Or maybe terrorists just aren't that smart. Either way, my heart goes out to the Turkish. Thank you for standing with us against ISIS. I hope this attack is simply a blip on the radar screen and not the sign of more to come.