A black cloud of mourning has settled over the people of Turkey, who have entered the new year with the sounds of gunfire and screams.
With a view of the Bosphorus Bridge, in the heart of Istanbul, Reina is a prestigious nightclub frequented by the rich and famous. It is located in the cultural capital, with hotels and attractions all around, making it a popular spot for tourist gatherings. As was expected, a large New Year’s Eve party was held in the establishment on December 31, 2016, to welcome January 1. However, what followed was not as expected at all.
At about 01:30 local time (14:30 EST), a gunman believed to have been dressed in a Santa Claus costume opened fire on the crowd inside, causing mass chaos and panic as people tried to get away from the hysteria. Among this confusion, the assailant changed out of his attire, blended into the masses, and escaped into the night. Meanwhile, at least 39 party-goers were left dead inside, and another 70 wounded.
The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has named this to be a terrorist attack, and pledged to fight “until the end” to protect the nation from terrorism. “They are working to destroy our country’s morale and create chaos by deliberately targeting our nation’s peace and targeting civilians with these heinous attacks,” he said. “We will retain our coolheadedness as a nation, standing more closely together, and we will never give ground to such dirty games.”
However, it has been more than a week since the incident: No one has been caught and ISIS has claimed responsibility—the first time that it has done so for an attack of this scale in Turkey. Therefore, some have been left doubtful about the government’s strategies in combating terrorist violence. Asli Aydintasbas, a prominent Turkish writer and a fellow at the European Council of Foreign Relations said “Nothing that the government is doing is helping make Turkey more secure. The crackdown on domestic dissidents is further destabilizing the country, and when it is not destabilizing, it is increasing the dangerous polarization here.”
It is important to note that this type of brutality is not new to Turkey, which has suffered at the hands of numerous terrorist organizations. On December 10, 44 people were killed and 149 wounded in a double bomb incident outside a soccer stadium located near the Reina nightclub. That attack was claimed by Turkey-based Kurdish militant group, the Kurdish Freedom Falcons. Nine days later, the assassination of Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov at a photo exhibition in the capital, Ankara, brought up government opinions that U.S.-based controversial Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen was behind the killing. Gulen has denied such claims, but it is undeniable that violence has left the Turkish people anxious and afraid.