Gaziantep returns to normal after bombing
Nearly two weeks after the car bomb in Gaziantep, locals share mixed views of the "city of peace" and tolerance.
By Frederike Geerdink for SES Türkiye in Gaziantep -- 06/09/12
The shattered pavement, local shop owners say, was repaired the day after a car bomb exploded on Koruturk Street in central Gaziantep on August 20th, leaving 10 dead and nearly 70 wounded. But not everything could be fixed so quickly. Some windows are still broken and several buildings need more restoration as people come together to overcome the aftermath of the bombing.
Bayran Kanbur (left) and Imran Akar work together in a flower shop near the site of the bomb explosion. [Frederike Geerdink/SES Türkiye]
Officials work at the scene of a car bomb in the southeastern town of Gaziantep. [Reuters]
"The bomb," said Imran Akar, "brought us closer together." Akar, a Kurd from the southeast province of Siirt, works in a flower shop on Koruturk Street with his colleague Bayran Kanbur, a Turk. As they prepared a yellow flower bouquet, the two said that they feel no animosity toward each other because of the bombing.
"Many different groups live in this city. We go to the same mosques, we live in the same neighbourhoods, we greet each other on the street. We are all religious and religion forbids discrimination," Akar told SES Türkiye.
"Of course," added Kanbur, "politicians fight over who is responsible for the bomb and try to gain from it, but we just don't play along with their games." Kanbur said the two colleagues may have different opinions about who carried out the attack and why, but they don't discuss it. "That could lead to arguments and we don't want that."
While Akar and Kanbur refrain from discussing what could tear them apart, in a street located around the corner from the provincial BDP office that was torched after the bombing by a mob of Turkish nationalists, a group of neighbours speak in Kurdish.
Among them is Sabiha, 52, whose brother is in jail. "He was caught with seven explosives in his car," Sabiha said, refusing to give her last name and preferring to talk inside her home.
"The neighbours shouldn't hear me. We are all Kurds here, but some of them are assimilated and I'm not sure if I can trust them," she said. Her brother was sentenced to a long prison sentence six years ago, she said.
"As far as we know, he acted on his own. He has never talked about what he intended to do." The only thing she knows is that what her brother did is "günah," a sin. "Just like the bombing here two weeks ago, Allah doesn’t allow it."
Hasan Yilmaz, 32, a citizen journalist who operates a Tumblr-page, said there are underlying tensions in Gaziantep.
"On the outside," Yilmaz said, "there is no trouble, but underneath the surface there is. Kurds are being discriminated against. They are underpaid, excluded, and cursed. The biggest complaint is that the Kurdish immigrants 'ruined the city.' I know, I am a Turk, I hear it around me all the time."
But Gaziantep is referred to as a tolerant city, or even a "city of peace," because it has never been confronted with terrorist attacks before. But it is not only that, said Orhan Kemal Cengiz, a lawyer and human rights activist.
"In Gaziantep several groups live together. But there is no serious tension between the groups like you see in other cities where the Kurdish population has grown due to immigration, like in Mersin or Izmir. In those cities, you have not only Kurdish immigrants, but also many nationalist Turks, and it can be explosive if these two come together," Cengiz told SES Türkiye.
"The people behind the bomb, whoever they were, want direct confrontations between Kurds and Turks. Luckily that didn't happen in Gaziantep. The city kept its calm," Cengiz added.
In Gaziantep, the nationalist MHP is not among the biggest parties, neither is the other end of the political spectrum, the pro-Kurdish BDP. Many Kurds vote for the AKP, or CHP if they are Alevi.
But to call Gaziantep a "city of peace" because of that is a step too far, Cengiz said. "I don't think there is such a city in all of Turkey. This country had so many conflicts in its history and none of them have been faced. That needs to be done before you can speak of real peace."