The Chaos that Binds: Istanbul



Yesterday, at 10:20 a.m. on the 12th of January 2016, a suicide bomber blew himself up in the heart of the historic Istanbul district of Sultanahmet. The explosion shook me as I lay in bed. Home from work due to illness, the strong January wind had blown restless for days and, at first, I figured it to be thunder – yet the sky was blue and it felt different than anything I knew. My mind momentarily contemplated the source, and then fell back to sleep. About 30 minutes later I was awoken by a Whatsapp message – and there it was – the source – a suicide bomb, just a stone’s throw away, across the mighty Bosphorus in the most heavily populated tourist district of Istanbul. Luckily, it was morning, mid-week and off tourist season, so only 10 souls lost their lives – a minuscule number compared to Ankara, Paris, or any average day in the war-torn countries of the Middle East. But it is always different when it is your city, your home. Hits a bit harder. Burns a bit deeper.

But we’d been expecting this, waiting for this – never knowing when it was going to happen, or where. In a sick way, I was relieved. It happened, and everyone was accounted for – it wasn’t the metro, or bridge, or a music venue or peace rally where I knew I would have friends. It was in a touristy square, in the morning, on a work day and at a time when not many people were out.

And then the international media got ahold of it, and all of the sudden Istanbul was literally being destroyed. I listened in awe as the foreign journalists talked about the death of Istanbul as if ten dead had sealed the fate of this great city, and I cringed. I cringed because, in a way, if the western media declares it so, it is. And all I wanted to do was go to my beautiful Aya Sofya and the Grand Bazaar and support all of these business owners who were fearing their livelihoods had just blown up as well. I wanted to go walk the streets of this historic, beautiful district. I knew it would be quiet, silent, as I always long for it to be – but not, I suppose how it’s meant to be. Sometimes, as I walk through these old, rickety streets, I close my eyes and pretend all the people are gone, all the noise has ceased  – and it’s just me and it’s maybe 200 years ago and I imagine how it might have been. But you know, it’s Istanbul, and it was never meant to be a quiet city – it never was. It’s been a bustling center of commerce and trade for hundreds of years. Quiet Istanbul is not Istanbul. It just wouldn’t be right.

I’m angry at a lot lately. Mainly, I’m angry at all the injustice in the world and how it all seems to be so preventable, yet we, as humans, continue to chase our tails around in circles like a wild pack of dogs, blaming, batting, hating, lying… believing all the lies, never questioning, just believing all the bullshit we’re fed. People are told the world is falling apart, and we believe it because that’s what we see in the media and so we throw matches at the fire and sit back and watch the world burn. People tell you Istanbul is next, Turkey is in chaos – “WHAT ARE YOU STILL DOING THERE?”

Many people ask why I am still in this country. I suppose most expats here have been asked that quite a bit lately. I wouldn’t be lying, probably nobody would if any of us said we haven’t asked that question to ourselves a million times, sometimes daily. But, Turkey is not new to the party of instability and a bit of chaos. In fact, I think it is probably most at home there. It seems to know how to maneuver through it… and survive. I am also no newbie to the chaos of this country. I participated in Gezi, I watched the street I live on, burn. I looked on in admiration as people of all walks of life took to the streets to stand up for freedom and the justice they deserve. I looked on with tears streaming down my face as old women were gassed and young children were killed on the street. I held hands in solidarity with my boyfriend from abroad as we heard news of the Suruç attacks that killed peace-seeking students and contemplated the sickness that our own government had had a hand in such atrocities. I wept for Ankara, with the same gut-wrenching fear. I’ve watched on as the east has (yet again) fallen apart. Election highs and devastating lows. I’ve experienced so much love, and so much hate for this country, and out of all of this, it has become my home. I feel as if all the ‘chaos’ has bound me to it in a way that is difficult to explain. Perhaps if you are a foreigner living here, you may understand. Turkey gets in your blood.

So, is Istanbul any less safe than it was a day ago? or a year ago? or 20? I’m not sure. I suppose only time will tell us that. If you listen to the media, it is only the beginning of a long line of tragedies to come. But firstly, fuck the media – and secondly, where IS safe? Who can say that where they sit, they are so much safer? We die by the millions each year from car accidents, accidental gun deaths, purposeful gun deaths, disease, blow dryers in the bathtub, cigarettes, doing sports, doing the things we love, in the places we love, with the people we love. People ask if I am afraid to live here. Not any more than I am to walk into a school in American suburbia, in fear that I will be taken out by some enraged gunman. I refuse to live in fear, no matter where I live. It’s what our politicians want, and the media perpetuates, and I won’t do it. Life is too short already. So, no, I’m not ready to leave Istanbul, or Turkey just yet. And the first chance I get, I’ll make my short trek over to Sultanahmet and walk the busy streets and breathe in the smoky air and sip tea and smile graciously at the shop owners trying to lure me in to purchase their overpriced souvenirs. And I’ll love the chaos of this  because that’s Istanbul, it IS chaos, and it’s what makes it so great.