The Count 2.

Nowruz (aka Newroz, Nevroz) is the first day of Spring in the Iranian calendar.  Lots of other cultures in the region took up the celebration in the many days ago.  Among them were the Kurds, who see Nevroz as the most important holiday of the year.[1]  The holiday has assumed a nationalist form as cultural associations and veiled political parties sponsor events at which “young men wave flags of green, yellow and red, the colors of the Kurdish people.”

            Far away from Kurdistan, both in distance and in culture, is Istanbul’s Istiklal Avenue.  The street is in “Pera” or “Beyoğlu,” across the “Golden Horn” from the main part of the old city.  You pass the cheery chaos of the ferry dock; you walk across the Galata bridge; you wander through little streets that mount the hillside; and you arrive at the Galata tower.  It is the “European” part of the city with cafes, restaurants, art galleries, and many Westerners living in apartments with a bad plumbing and an excellent view of the Bosphorus.  Nearby is Taksim Square.

            Turkey might be described as having played a “bad boy” role in the recent migration crisis.  However, it has other pressing concerns as well.  On the one hand, the government is assaulting its restive Kurdish minority.  In July 2015 a truce broke down and the government turned loose its forces in southern Turkey.  On the other hand, it has belatedly engaged ISIS in neighboring Syria.  Under heavy pressure from the United States, Turkey has finally clamped down in the flow of foreign fighters through Turkey to Syria.  As a result, Turkey has been under attack by suicide bombers in recent months. ISIS has been blamed for bombings in Ankara (October 2015, 103 dead) and Istanbul (10 dead, January 2016).  For their part, Kurds have been blamed for a suicide bombing in Ankara (March 2015, 37 dead).

            On 19 March 2016, a suicide bomber blew himself up on Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul, killing three Israeli tourists[2] and an Iranian,[3] and wounding thirty-six.  Five of the wounded were Palestinians.  (There may have been an interesting conversation in whatever group they belonged to, or perhaps just a studied silence.)  The Israelis were, it seems, a bunch of “foodies” sampling the fare of Istanbul.[4]

This bombing, too, is attributed to ISIS.  The bomber has been identified as Mehmet Ozturk, but little about him has appeared in print.  He was born in 1992 in Gaziantep (which is both a city and a province).  Gaziantep, in turn, is a part of Turkey’s Southeastern Anatolian Region, which runs along much of the border with Syria.  Gaziantep is a very old city (by American standards anyway).  It has a thriving machine carpet-weaving industry and is surrounded by groves of olives, pistachios, and grapes.  It also is home to a number of high schools and universities.  However, it is also on the main route from Turkey to Syria for foreign fighters trying to join ISIS.  According to one report, his parents reported him as missing after he went to Istanbul in 2013.  Pretty quickly after the attack the Interior Ministry identified him as the bomber and confirmed it through DNA.  His father had provided the DNA for the comparison.

ISIS is now targeting tourists in Istanbul; and it has a bomb-maker there.  The hunt is on.

Turkish officials now have banned Nevroz celebrations this year.

[1] Apparently, Kurds don’t believe in Santa.  Them being Muslims and all.

[2] Two of whom held dual Israeli-American citizenship.

[3] Tim Arango and Ceylan Yeginsu, “Istanbul Suicide Bomber  Linked to Islamic State,” NYT, 21 March 2015.

[4] The NYT reports that one was from Dimona (the site of Israel’s “secret” nuclear weapons program); another was from Herzliya (a generally wealthy beach town near Tel Aviv, named for the Zionist leader Theodor Herzl).

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