Stories of Ankara blast survivors

Stories of Ankara blast survivors

Belgin Akaltan -
Stories of Ankara blast survivors

AA Photo

Last week we could not write about the Oct. 10 terror attack in Ankara because of a total media blackout. This week the ban has been lifted. Next week it may be back on.  

The blasts killed 102 people; they say it was done by two suicide bombers. I am no terror expert, but I believe it was done by only one suicide bomber because this is what my logic tells me. 

Scores of lives were affected on that deadly Saturday morning at Ankara’s main train station and our newspaper office in Istanbul also had its share. Our chief copy editor Stefan Martens was there. Stefan wrote his impressions here, but I spoke to him again. 

He said he went to Ankara in a convoy of seven buses from the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK), the media wing of Basın-İş. He never expected anything bad to happen except for the usual tear gas, etc... 

“We arrived at the train station at 8:00 a.m. It was a festive atmosphere, sunny; people were happy… I was putting up stickers on lampposts against censorship, stickers of ‘,’ which was closed for the sixth time last week.”

A friend of Stefan’s came to help and took some of his stickers, which caused them to finish early, about 10 minutes before the bombs. Otherwise they would have been right at the center of the blasts. 

“I heard two sounds, then I saw black smoke and things were flying everywhere, papers. I didn’t know what it was; we were 150 meters away. Within 20 seconds I called my girlfriend in Istanbul and told her there have been two explosions here. She went online and first saw nothing. Then we saw the police; they started to fire tear gas. There was gas everywhere.” 

Interestingly, while Stefan was talking to his girlfriend for a second time on the phone, people gathered around him and started listening because nobody knew what was going on. The source, many kilometers away in Istanbul, was telling them what happened there.

Stefan’s friend went to the bomb site; when they met up later he told him, “Everywhere there was the smell of ‘mangal’ (barbecue), the smell of burning flesh, burning people. There were brains, blood and hearts physically on the ground.”   

“I never went because it was too late; it was too dangerous to go… Sometimes I wish I’d gone but I would have been just a tourist, unable to do anything.” He later looked at the pictures his friend took. “I saw the stickers I had put up. Some of them were covered with blood…” 

Our other friend in the office was alerted through Facebook. Her sister and her niece were at the rally. Our friend, let’s call her Zeynep, panicked at her Istanbul home. She remembered Stefan was there. She called her sister and niece. She called Stefan; his line was busy. She learned from another mutual friend that they and Stefan were okay. She called her sister again. 

She could hear the panic in her sister’s voice on the phone. She understood they were alive but right in the middle of the chaos. Her niece, who had a diploma equivalency certificate business in Ankara, had arrived from France. The mother had an administrative position at the teachers’ union in the Aegean province of İzmir. They decided to meet in Ankara so the mother could hand over her daughter’s belongings she had brought from İzmir. That bag actually saved their lives. 

The niece was dancing the halay, as seen in the video. She left the dancing group to meet her mother about 20 seconds before the flash. Both of them were uninjured, however, sadly, they found human pieces in the niece’s hair later.  

The niece helped carry the wounded. While they were helping, police fired tear gas and even clubbed people. 

On their way back to Istanbul, the buses met at a stopover and there were people missing from every bus. The traumatized people from the Eğitim-Sen union were not able to watch the TV news coverage at the stopping place. They turned it off. 

The niece arrived in Istanbul in the evening. She was talking without blinking, saying the same thing over and over again, sometimes singing. She later joined the therapy sessions offered by the Turkish Medical Association (TTB). She was joking, “Like in American movies, we sat in a circle; all of us telling pretty much the same thing…” 

Another officemate of ours, she answered the phone when a doctor called them to say they were about to operate on her heavily injured father, a retired teacher from Hatay. He is doing fine now, back at home in Hatay, and I will speak to her and her father when they are able to speak… 

Ege Şenol Çalışkan, our intern from Aydın Doğan Vocational High School’s journalism department, contributed to this piece.