Terror and the ordinary person

Terror and the ordinary person

Terror and the ordinary person

It was nine years ago, on Nov. 20, 2003, when a truck bomb exploded at the entrance of the British Consulate in Istanbul, killing 18 people, including the consul-general.

This is a non-political column, so please read it as such.

Many thoughts rushed to mind when I saw this photograph of the commemoration for the victims of the bomb attack on the British Consulate in Istanbul. It has been nine years.

One cannot believe that one of the most beautiful spots in the city - a wonderful garden around a historic building, an unexpected tranquility that surrounds you once you pass the busy entrance - would be rocked one day in a bloody attack.

It was a bright November morning nine years ago, but there was gloom in the air because it was only five days after a bloody dual terror attack had struck two synagogues in our city, killing 27 people and injuring 300. Turkish society and the city of Istanbul, most certainly the police force and the city’s police chief, had not recovered from the previous attacks when this second wave hit us.

When I say “us” it is being very unfair to those who have lost their lives, who have lost their loved ones or who have been injured. Here, I’m only talking about the psychology of a metropolis, about the millions who were only silent and distant witnesses. Maybe emotionally and intellectually moved, but what is that compared to the agony of dozens?

When I heard the first blast from the other side of the city, and I was quite far, I instantly knew it was something disastrous. I was writing my master’s thesis at home on the Asian side. It must have been at least 20 kilometers away from Levent, where the bombed HSBC building was, as the crow flies. Then I turned on the TV and was glued to it for the next 6 or 7 hours while texting, phoning and emailing loved ones to be sure they were safe and to let them know I was safe.

Actually, before anything else came the second blast. That was scary. Without even knowing what the first one was, came the second. That must be the point anyway, if there is any point in any of these incidents.

It was a school day and my son was at school on the opposite end of the city, my husband was abroad. You first start thinking about your closest ones – that’s human nature. After your closest ones, then you start enlarging the circle, thinking about other family members and friends, then others. I think people were sent home early that day, most offices were closed mid-day. Then names started passing on the T.V. screens, names of the injured and at which hospitals they were being treated. The top British diplomat in the city was dead. The actor Kerem Yılmazer was dead.

It has been nine years. I had not met the British consul-general Roger Short in person but up to this day, his story strikes me as one of the saddest. He lost his life in the city he loved very much, sharing the fate of the Istanbul people.

I was doubly moved when I read years later that his wife, Victoria Short, chose to continue living in Istanbul after her loss.

According to a 2010 interview by Işıl Cinmen in Tempo magazine, when Victoria Short tries to remember what happened on Nov. 20, 2003, she has difficulty capturing everything. “I heard and saw the explosion. I was at the Balık Pazarı (Fish Market). I remember objects flying in the air. I remember the wreckage of the consulate and I remember the time I saw Roger for the last time… It was an hour before the bombing. It was an ordinary day. But HSBC had been bombed and the news was pouring out. When I experienced that scene at Balık Pazarı, I felt his death. Everything looked as if it was completely flat. I thought to myself, ‘Nothing must have remained.’ One voice inside me was whispering, ‘Maybe he was at another department.’ But deep inside, I felt he had died.”

I have nothing but admiration for this couple.

These are the thoughts that rushed to mind when I saw the picture commemorating the ninth anniversary of the deaths of Roger Short, two policemen and 15 other people. One of the dead was a young girl who was waiting in line for a U.K. visa, together with her British fiancé, who survived with injuries…