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Far From Driving Turkey Into The Hands Of Extremists, The Vile Attack In Istanbul Must Bring Turks Together

04/01/2017 10:54
Umit Bektas / Reuters

The deadly terrorist attack in Istanbul's prominent Reina nightclub in in the early hours of 2017, killing 39 people, brought a savage death toll of those killed in terrorist attacks since June 2015 in Turkey to more than 415. Turks and tourists were celebrating the New Year, with alcohol flowing when the gunman struck. Turkey has been facing numerous security threats. It is in the front line in fighting ISIS as part of an American-led coalition, as well as Kurdish militants groups who have been at war with the Turkish state for years.

Security is now the biggest fear for Turks, which has inevitably impacted on tourism and the economy. This latest attack coming so soon after the Berlin market attack has resonated across Europe and the world, in a way that Turks have complained previous attacks have barely registered.

Many in the UK, and across Europe don't appreciate how Turkey has been experiencing conflict for many years, with the war in Syria further destabilising the state. Turks are rightly feeling they've been acutely affected as the largest recipient of refugees in the world - 3m, the vast majority from neighbouring Syria. Yet European countries, many quibbling about taking even tiny numbers of refugees, seem to ignore the monumental challenges Turkey faces.

As the previous Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, commented at a lecture in the UK a few years ago: 'no country can choose its geography or its neighbours, and we in Turkey are having trouble with ours'.

According to the casualty figures, Turkey became the ISIS top target in the world in 2016. The National Intelligence Agency (MİT) received intelligence on possible New Year's Eve attacks planned by ISIS on Dec. 19 and as a result conducted operations against ISIS, arresting a number is suspects in the past week.

It's becoming clear after recent attacks that ISIS has intentionally chosen to exploit the Turkish-Kurdish fault lines, to target the economy and the vital tourism industry.

Turkey now needs a better focus on the unprecedented level of terror risks than its so far post-coup focus on journalists, which has seen many shoved into jail by the increasingly authoritarian government. Many Turks want this focus on the real threat, but are wary of asking the hard questions. The threat is from those who seek to kill and maim.

Such is the endurance of Turkey's predominantly Muslim secular state, enshrined in its constitution, that the President of Religious Affairs, Prof Dr Mehmet Gormez, issued a statement on the Reina attack, saying:

"... there is no difference that this barbarous action was in a bazaar, a place of entertainment or a place of worship. The target of terrorists are not places but the people, the nation, the country, and humanity overall. Terror can never be accepted no matter by who, or whom it is committed".

Rather than driving Turkey into the arms of extremists, as the gunman presumably wanted, the result of this vile crime should be to bring Turks together - a reminder that the country's great and enduring strength lies in its secular traditions, and, I hope, future.

Baroness Hussein-Ece is a Lib Dem peer in the House of Lords

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