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Turkey Remains Divided After Deadly Terror Attack Kills Nearly 100


When nearly a hundred people were killed in a double bombing in Turkey last week, it seemed like one of those landmark tragedies, the kind of event that can unify a country at least temporarily. But this attack, possibly the work of ISIS, has left Turks possibly more divided. NPR's Peter Kenyon has been asking many people why they're saying this is not our 9/11.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: There is a sadness in the air since two suicide bombers blew apart a peace rally in Ankara. A kind of grim resignation has rippled out. It's noticeable on the streets of Istanbul as people try to get back to their daily routines with the threat of more violence hanging over them. You can feel the foreboding even in the working-class Kasimpasa neighborhood, the boyhood home of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Fifty-three-year-old Kadir Baltek sips a cup of tea and apologizes for his hoarse voice - he has a cold - as he tries to explain why the Turkish reaction to this horrific bloodshed is, in some ways, quite different from the reaction in other countries to spectacular terror attacks.

KADIR BALTEK: (Through Interpreter) Look. Let's get one thing straight. This is not Turkey's 9/11. It's more like a whole string of violence in Turkey's past that drove Turks further apart instead of bringing them together.

KENYON: Often that violence has had a profound, usually negative impact on the Turkish brand of democracy. Memories here are still strong of 1978 when one hundred or more minority Alevis were slaughtered in the town of Maras by Turkey's ultranationalist Grey Wolves.


KENYON: Online memorials show grim black-and-white photographs of dead bodies, charred buildings and grieving survivors. Two years later, the military toppled the fractious civilian government in a coup d'etat.


KENYON: Baltek says whether the Maras massacre or the Ankara bombing is ultimately judged Turkey's deadliest attack doesn't matter. The point, he says, is that many Turks see these shocking attacks on civilians as precursors to more factional fighting, more ethnic divisions and less control by the people over their own lives.

BALTEK: (Through interpreter) Maras - it was so horrible, and it just drove people further apart. That's what I'm afraid the effect of this new attack will be - to keep Turks from coming together.

KENYON: At least, adds Namuk Kemal Koz, there probably won't be a military coup this time. He settles his 84-year-old frame into a chair and says the reigning in of the military is one thing people should thank this government for.

NAMUK KEMAL KOZ: (Through interpreter) Those days were a catastrophe. The injustices were very great. I'm glad those days are done. The problem now is this government that started so strong is really very weak at governing. They behave more like a club out to benefit themselves.

KENYON: Over in the more upmarket Besiktas neighborhood, Turks filter into an annual photography exhibition. Fifty-nine-year-old retired university teacher Sema Ogunlu says besides the government, the Turkish media, often either slavishly pro-government or relentlessly antagonistic, is also dividing people.

SEMA OGUNLU: (Through interpreter) The things we hear, the propaganda - it's having the effect of driving people into their own camps, only talking to those who agree with them.

KENYON: Ogunlu heads back out into the street pondering a question that's on the mind of many Turks these days. How bad are things going to get this time? Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.