Living with Bomb Threats

On September 20th, a bomb went off in the neighborhood of Kizilay, about a 10-15 minute walk from my home.  I was walking down a street in my neighborhood at the time.  I saw the big cloud of smoke, and thought nothing of it. I didn’t hear anything.  Moments later, a good friend called to inform me of what happened and to check on my whereabouts.

I immediately contacted my former neighbor, who often works in Kizilay.  Sure enough, she had been lucky to escape the bomb, having just left that area.  I also called my new neighbor.  She was actually in Kizilay, not near the bomb location, but was having difficulty getting out of the area.

News reports varied throughout the day and of course, information in English was limited.  My understanding is that a man bought a used car without the proper paperwork.  The dealer had actually bought the car from its prior owner without the paperwork and then resold it.  Apparently the buyer also had a bogus driver’s license. (How these things can happen here in Turkey is beyond me – but I don’t think it’s so rare.)

The new owner then parked the car on a street within blocks of Parliament.  He was stopped by a parking attendant (they don’t use parking meters here) who asked for payment.  The driver told the attendant that he was in a hurry, and gave him his keys instead.  The bomb in the car went off leaving 3 dead and many injured.

A German cousin was visiting me at the time.  She immediately contacted family to let them know we were safe.  Only one American friend contacted me having read it in the news.  The Germans are generally much more focused on international news than Americans are.  Regardless, I sent messages to my friends and family letting them know we were safe.  Sadly, the bomb did interrupt the end of my cousin’s visit a bit – as we forewent our plans for another shopping trip to Kizilay.

I live in a neighborhood surrounded by Embassies.  Germany is directly behind me.  The U.S. and the French Embassies flank it.  In a way, it used to make me feel secure, because most incidents in Turkey are rather small.  One has to have “big balls” to mess with an Embassy.  But as I have  watched the events occurring in Libya recently, I know that my feeling of safety is a bit delusional.

Yesterday I received a call informing me that one of the local Embassies received warning that 6 bombs were to go off in Ankara last night.  I assume there was not much information on it, because the Embassy did not make the information public.  The word slowly spread anyway.

I contacted a few friends and encouraged them to stay away from Kizilay, malls, and big gatherings.  Shortly after receiving the call, I heard an announcement coming from the streets. I couldn’t understand it.  But I did see the vehicle that was delivering the message.  A white van with dark windows.  A speaker on the side-view mirror.  A creepy-looking man hung out the back doors.  And across those doors, painted in big black letters, in English, I read the word, “Danger.”

Now I was truly on edge.

My husband came home directly after work and we proceeded with our normal routine.  At around 8pm, we heard a huge blast, followed by a lot of noise.  Bright white lights were flashing in the streets.  My husband pulled me back from the windows.  We withdrew into the middle of the house, close to the front door in case we needed to exit. I could hear the cries of children coming from the building next to us.

My first thought was that multiple Embassies had been bombed.  I was shaking. My husband finally said that it might be fireworks.  But I was sure it wasn’t. Turks don’t do such grand displays of fireworks as we do in the States.  They are usually small-scale, one here, one there – and for weddings.

After what seemed like an eternity, I heard voices from the kitchen balcony.  I made my way to the door and could see the reflection of fireworks in neighboring windows.

Germany!  It was Germany’s Unity Day.  They set off fireworks at their Embassy.  It never occurred to me since I knew that there Oktoberfest celebration wasn’t scheduled for another 2 weeks.

Photo from the Embassy's Facebook Page

I love fireworks.  In Philadelphia, I spent many hours lying on the banks of the Schuylkill River directly under the July 4th displays.  I even bought a house where I could see them from the third floor window.  But this?!

Not to mention the fact that I can count the times it has rained this summer on one hand.  And I am using the word “rain” generously.  It hasn’t really even drizzled.  While houses may not be made of wood, there are many very dry trees in the neighborhood!

I want to say çok ayıp to both the German Embassy and the Embassy that received the warning.  You scared the pants off of me!  Don’t you communicate with each other?!!   I do, however, always try to see things from all sides.  I realize that the good old U.S.of A. would have a major difficulty in cancelling a fireworks display without more serious information of  bomb threat.  Still . . . I think someone owes me an apology.

I know this can happen anywhere.  But it almost seems too “commonplace” here for me.  On September 20th, I found myself accepting this as “the norm.”  It is not.  Better communication is needed.  I wish that Turkey would stop wasting time with false security at every single mall and start putting your people to work!

11 thoughts on “Living with Bomb Threats

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  1. I understand your nervousness. The PKK is an ever-present threat. I lived through the IRA bombing campaign in London during the 70s and 80s and I was on the Tube travelling to work when the bombs went off in 2005. I try to keep some perspective, though. We’re stil more likely to get run down by some insane Turkish driver.

  2. Poor you! That is so not fair and seriously çok ayıp! I guess people love living on the edge and every time there is even a slight sense of threat rumors spread like room temperature butter. 🙂
    I know it is sooo politically incorrect but….
    Maaan, Ankara is so alive, it is exploding.
    it makes me laugh
    keep laughing people!!!!!

  3. Having had the good fortune most of my life to NOT be living in a war torn country and living in a time where such explosive reactions are being made to express opinions and feelings, my first and only experience was in the year following September 11.

    Living in the vacinity of the Pentagon and with the threat to the city of DC itself was vividly expressed on this date. However, one of the ways the heightened security was expressed was by low flying fighter jets passing over us several times a day and the use of sirens many, many times a day as security rushed around the city.

    The idea was to assure the citizens that something was being done. They should have asked the citizens of DC exactly how this crazyness made us feel.
    I am with you on this Terry, If there is nothing that can be done, then do nothing, but don’t just stand there looking like you can do something.
    Let’s put down the weapons and go for PEACE. We deserve it.

  4. I wish all the crazymakers could be exiled to an island in the middle of the sea so that people who want to live in peaceful people could lead their lives in peace.

  5. There is no need to be afraid, Ankara is one of the safest city – if not the safest – of the Middle East.

    Btw, a seriously injured victim of the explosion passed this morning, thus the bomb has killed 4 people so far.

  6. @ Reyhan, I would agree if I were comparing Ankara to Middle East cities. However, Turkey is not part of the middle east. And the fourth death is rather contradictory to your first statement. When I walk down the street, and there are soldiers with huge guns everywhere, it doesn’t exactly exude safety, especially since 95% of them don’t hold their guns in a safe manner, i.e., with the tip pointed to the ground or the sky. Hunting 101.

  7. When did Turkey stop being a part of the Middle East?

    I don’t like seeing that much police and military when I go out of home, but it is the price we have to pay for living the area of the city where many official buildings are located. I haven’t seen this much police/military in places like i.e. Keçiören, Besevler -in spite of its location – or Yenimahalle.

    Still, the fact that 4 people died – may they rest in peace – as a consequence of the blast doesn’t make the city unsafer than it used to be before the attack.

    1. Technically Turkey is the Near East. It became common to throw it into the term “Middle East” after WWII. Because the Middle East comes with a lot of negative connotation – i.e. war-torn, gun-slinging, child-warfare, etc. – I try to keep Turkey out of that category. I prefer to call it Near East, or Eurasia. I had to convince a lot of people that I was NOT moving to the hot spots of the Middle East.

      To each his own on the opinion of “safety”. I see your point. But I defintely don’t agree. I don’t think that Ankara is unsafe. But the idea of living with regualr bomb threats is not comforting. I have spent a lot of time in major US hubs, living in Philadelphia, and working in NY, DC, and SF. They have alot of crime, terrorism and whatnot. But not the threat of bombs. And two of those cities are chock-full of Embassies and official buildings. It’s not the official buildings that are being targeted here.

  8. I lived all my life in the capital of a country in which sadly enough we are still living under the threat of terrorism – one of the biggest attacks taking place very close to my apartment – and I still don’t consider it to be one of the top life-threatening elements neither there nor in Ankara, where it has seldom happened.

    From what you wrote in the post, I get your point about bombs and being scared – it is something that can scare anybody, honestly, but still no reason to be feel unsafe :).

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