In the Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, there is always chaos: buying and selling, traditional music, shouting and constant movement. This must-see attraction of Istanbul perfectly embodies Turkey in the last decade: a country in a continuous and illusory run-up towards the European Union, which always rejected its attempts to step through the door.
In addition, its economy in the last decade has been growing steadily with the exception of 2009, when the global crisis affected the country.
This consistent growth was supported by tourism, a great source of wealth for Turks. It was always a holiday destination for Russians and, after the Arab spring, a very large number of European tourists redirected their interest towards Turkey and away from the political turmoil of North African countries. Consequently, Turkey became the sixth most visited country in the world, with almost 40 million tourists per year.
But the circumstances have changed since July 2015 and the Turkish economy is going to be afflicted by the tragedies: the tourism fell by 35% on an annual basis in March, and this decline will not be the last.
All of this began with Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s pledge to help Western countries and Russia in the war against the Islamic State and became a military base for the two superpowers. Could this have been another attempt to please the EU? Facts point in that direction since the decision was then followed by the offer to help the EU with the migration crisis. The subsequential escalation in terrorism, however, will not encourage the Community bodies to consider Turkey’s candidacy.
Mr Erdogan’s decision was probably a reaction to the bombing in Suruc in July 2015, which saw 32 dead. The victims were young Kurds going to Kobane, a city hurt by the war with IS. That was the start of a tragic year for Turkey.
A few months after, in October, two explosions took place during a peace march, with over 100 victims.
In November there was the diplomatic incident with Russia when the Turkish army shot down a Russian fighter. This episode triggered a “cold war” between the two countries which is not yet resolved.
In January this year, a second terrorist attack by IS killed 12 German tourists, and this is the event that did the most damage to Turkish tourism. In fact, Germany was the country which provided the most tourists in 2015 – almost six million. This attack also took place near the most visited site in Turkey, the Blue Mosque. It was a clear attack on Turkish tourism to weaken the country’s economy.
Between February and March, the country witnessed three terrorist attacks: the first two in Ankara claimed by the PKK and the third in Istanbul claimed by IS. Although these claimed almost 70 lives, the news was not delivered with great prominence because of the absence of Western victims.
On June two car bombs exploded in Istanbul and near the border with Syria, with 15 dead and many injured.
Finally, the terrorist attack on the Istanbul airport was an additional attempt to damage Turkish tourism. Although not claimed, the attack is thought to have been carried out by IS. These terrorists are thought to be linked to Russia: it is said that there are more than a few Russians in the IS ranks. There were also other theories about this attack – maybe a Russian revenge for the fighter plane downing?
The Terrible Silence
On the streets of Istanbul, the atmosphere has changed. There is fear. There are no tourists. In the last years, you could hear the chaos – a perfect image of the continuous development of this country. Before this year, the Turks were abuzz: there were marches, parades. That country was asking for freedom, whereas this country is only asking for peace. It is said people are afraid the terrible silence could now only be broken by more explosions.
This year was dramatically hard for Turkey: it seems that the country went back many years – from a potential developed country to a permanent war zone.