A car bomb ripped through a central district of Istanbul Tuesday morning, killing seven police officers and four civilians, and wounding 36 more. The attack is the latest in a series of deadly attacks to hit Turkey in the last 12 months, and is the third terrorist bombing to hit Istanbul since January.
The bomb, which targeted a police bus, was detonated at a busy intersection during rush hour in the historic district near Istanbul University, Vezneciler metro center, and several major tourist attractions, according to the Guardian. Photographs of the bomb site show the police bus twisted, charred, and flipped over by the blast, and the leafy street littered with debris and broken glass from nearby shop windows.
— Ulrich J van Vuuren (@UlrichJvV) June 7, 2016
This is the seventh major terrorist attack to hit Turkey in the last year. Including today’s attack, at least 226 people have been killed in bombings in the cities of Istanbul and Ankara, making it the bloodiest year in recent history.
The first attack in July 2015 — which was the first major terrorist bombing in Turkey in years — killed 34 young peace activists in the predominantly Kurdish town of Suruc, and reignited a decades-long, bloody struggle between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). That attack and some of the subsequent bombings have been attributed to ISIS, while others have been claimed by a militant offshoot of the PKK.
— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) June 7, 2016
Attacks on major tourism destinations — like the one on Tuesday — have taken a toll on the country’s economy. Last month, the Ministry of Tourism announced that the number of visitors in April was 28 percent lower than the same month in 2015. Turkey is experiencing the greatest decline in tourism since 1999, when a massive earthquake near Istanbul killed tens of thousands.
Before last July, Turkey was enjoying a fragile peace and a period of stability — which was crucial for both the country and the interests of its NATO allies in the Middle East. Now, buffeted by terrorist attacks, political turmoil, mounting numbers of Syrian refugees and the encroaching battle against ISIS, Turkey is increasingly known as a place of unrest.
In addition to the bombings, deaths are mounting in the frequent clashes between the PKK and Turkish police and military in the southeast, including hundreds of civilians according to human rights groups. Many towns in the predominantly Kurdish southeast are subjected to extended curfews and military operations, leaving many without access to medical treatment, and cut off from water, electricity, and food at times.
Speaking after the attack on Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to continue the country’s fight against terrorism. Often for Erdogan, however, fighting terrorism corresponds with an increase in authoritarianism and a decrease in civil freedoms — particularly for the nation’s Kurdish minority.
After the March 13th terrorist attack in Ankara, Erdogan called for an expansion of Turkey’s already broad terrorism definition to include legislators, academics, journalists, and activists. In May, the Turkish parliament approved a constitutional amendment stripping lawmakers of immunity from prosecution, which will likely lead to the ousting of Kurdish deputies. Erdogan has also insisted that he will not tighten the law, which is required as a stipulation in a key migrant deal with the European Union.
While Erdogan’s ruling party says the broad terrorism laws are essential in the fight against both Kurdish militants and ISIS, rights groups say Turkey is using the latitude to silence dissent and criticism.