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Blood Disorder: Turkey's Never-Ending Civil Strife

15/01/2016 19:33 GMT | Updated 15/01/2017 10:12 GMT
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A street in Turkey was once again spattered with blood and chunks of human remains this week when another suicide bomber detonated himself, this time in the heart of ancient Istanbul.

A sense of inevitability smothered the city. It was the fourth bombing blamed on Islamic State in Turkey since June. By the time it was the evening rush hour, the mood had almost drifted into indifference, compounded by an immediate state-imposed media blackout. Turks, like the rest of the world, are suffering from terror fatigue.

But something awful had just happened. Eleven people were blown up and 15 more were injured: mostly tourists, mostly Germans near a fountain gifted to the sultan by the kaiser more than a century ago.

I moved to Istanbul in 2007 during a period of relative optimism after decades of economic boom-and-bust and political instability. Still, on a regular basis, somewhere in this country someone has either vaporised themselves in a crowd, planted a bomb, rammed their explosive-laden car into a building or gunned someone down. Leftists, Islamists, Kurds, and nationalists are all at it.

Violent death on the streets in Turkey is not "the new normal," as some feared this Tuesday. It's the same old, same old. (I grew up in the UK during the height of the IRA's mainland bombing campaign, so it's been the same old for most of my life).

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was quick to condemn the bomber, who is suspected to have been Saudi. He took 44 seconds to say what leaders are supposed to say. But then he took another 10 minutes to denounce academics who had signed a petition for peace in the mainly Kurdish southeast, calling them "traitors".

"Pick a side. You are either on the side of the Turkish government, or you're on the side of the terrorists," he said, echoing George W Bush's 2001 pronouncement after a group of Saudis had obliterated two skyscrapers full of people in New York and smashed into the Pentagon. Istanbul prosecutors have launched a criminal inquiry against the 1,128 academics who signed the petition. In northwest Turkey, detentions of faculty staff at Kocaeli University began on Friday morning on charges of making propaganda for a terrorist organisation.

That's the new new normal: the constant face-palm absurdity of Turkish political discourse. After two years of bitterly contested elections, some thought the re-election of the AK Party, founded by Erdoğan, in November to a fourth term promised stability. But there is little sign of relief from the polarisation.

Last week, prosecutors opened a case against the presenter of a popular talk show who showed tepid agreement with a caller who wanted to raise awareness of the plight of people living amidst escalating violence in the southeast. Beyazıt Öztürk, a familiar face on Turkish television and the host of the politically neutral entertainment programme, was called a traitor by pro-government social media because of his remarks, for which he later apologised. The state's investigation will decide whether he and his channel have disseminated terrorist propaganda for the Kurdish guerrilla group, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The caller had lamented the weeks-long, round-the-clock curfews that have killed an estimated 170 civilians caught in the crossfire of Kurdish insurgents and Turkish security forces fighting a conflict that had been mostly dormant since before I arrived.

Before you get caught up deciding who the goodies and baddies are, the PKK detonated a truck bomb in Çınar in the southeast on Thursday that killed six people, including three infants.

The list of sorry incidents is almost too long to enumerate here. Making sense of violence and the ensuing witch hunts is exhausting and futile. And measuring the damage this is having on the economy and society is almost impossible. Turks deserve better. They deserve a normal new normal.