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For Turkey, 2016 Was A Bloody Year. And 2017 Has Begun The Same Way


Turkish authorities are still searching for the gunmen who stormed in Istanbul nightclub early this morning. At least 39 people were killed. Mustafa Akyol is a journalist and author and joins us now from Istanbul. Welcome.

MUSTAFA AKYOL: Thanks so much, Ailsa. It's really a horrible day, of course, for the new year's first day in Istanbul. We are shocked by this attack, and we wonder who was behind this. And the common view is that this is probably an ISIS attack, although the group didn't claim it yet.

CHANG: Well, before we talk about that, I do want to also talk about what a terrible year it has been in Turkey, at least over the past year, with several terrorist attacks. Can you remind us what the past year has been like in the country?

AKYOL: It was a horrible year. I mean, I had defined 2014 and '15 as horrible years for Turkey, but now I would love to have them back, actually. Two thousand sixteen was a disastrous year. We had a bloody coup attempt. It was averted. That was nice, but almost 300 people were killed. Then a very brutal crackdown began after that, and, you know, thousands of people found themselves in jail with, I think, exaggerated charges, in my view - at least some of them.

Then terror attacks, both the PKK, which is a Kurdish separatist group, with a left-wing secular ideology, and the ISIS. They both organized major attacks inside Turkey. The PKK typically hit security forces - police and military - whereas ISIS hit soft targets, like innocent people on the streets. So this last one seems like an ISIS for attack. And it's really, really a very tough year. It was. And now...

CHANG: Let me...

AKYOL: ...Beginning the new year with this - it's really horrible.

CHANG: Let me also ask you - Turkey has been trying to get a cease-fire in Syria and is taking on refugees. Do you see a relationship between that conflict and the violence in Turkey over the past year?

AKYOL: There is a relation because one reason ISIS is targeting Turkey is Turkey's advances against ISIS inside Syria. Turkey actually has made their attack against ISIS inside Syria with Russia. That's, I think, one reason. Plus that he's trying to fight the Kurdish rebels in Syria, which also comes back to Turkey as retaliation by Kurdish militants. So in a sense, the Syrian civil war is deeply affecting Turkey in really bad ways.

CHANG: Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, released a statement saying that this attack was an effort to destroy Turkey's morale. Is it working? What do you think?

AKYOL: To some extent - I mean, people are worried about the future. And what we need at this time is not more conspiracy theories, not a more authoritarian government, but really national unity based on understanding and tolerance and reconciliation. We're not there, though, unfortunately, yet.

CHANG: Thank you. Mustafa Akyol is a Turkish journalist and author of the forthcoming book "The Islamic Jesus." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.