A car bomb that ripped through a police bus in central Istanbul on Tuesday, killing 11 people and wounding 36, was the latest in a string of deadly attacks throughout Turkey over the past year.
The attack was the fourth since January in the cosmopolitan city of 14 million, which until this year has been largely isolated from the turmoil of civil wars in neighboring Syria and Iraq.
The attacks are eroding a sense of normality among many Turks, and security concerns are already hurting tourism and investor confidence.
“Everyone feels a bit tense,” said Tobias Wilms, a 25-year-old German who has been working in Istanbul for the past six months. “You see it and feel it in the buses, the streetcars and the underground.”
But Mr. Wilms, whose workplace is near the site of Tuesday’s bombing, spoke of an “emotional tolerance” to the terrorist attacks. “People at work didn’t even talk about it,” he told Handelsblatt Global Edition. “It’s as if they want to ignore these incidents – to keep their peace of mind.”
“Everyone feels a bit tense. You see it and feel it in the buses, the streetcars and the underground.”
The bomb, in a parked car, was detonated as police buses passed through the historic city center Beyazit, a popular tourist area where the Grand Bazaar is located. The attacked killed seven police officers who were members of a riot police unit and four civilians. Three of 36 wounded are in critical condition, Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin told reporters.
So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the terror attack. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan suspects it was carried out by the banned Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK.
He told reporters that Turkey will “tirelessly and fearlessly” continue its “fight against these terrorists until the end.”
Bombings by Kurdish groups in the past have targeted the police and the military but one at a public square in March in Ankara appeared intended to kill civilians. The bombing, the second in the Turkish capital within the course of a month, killed 37 people.
The attacks threaten to further polarize opinion in Turkey and undermine the country’s political and economic stability.
The Kurdish conflict is far from being peacefully resolved. A civil war is raging in the traditional settlement areas of the Kurds in southeast Anatolia. Turkish armed forces claim to have killed at least 1,000 PKK fighters in the cities of Sirnak and Nusaybin since mid-March.
Politically, the battle lines between Ankara and the outlawed, separatist PKK have further hardened. Last month, the government stripped 53 Kurdish lawmakers of their parliamentary immunity, which would mean they could be prosecuted for allegations ranging from supporting terrorism to insulting the president. Several of those affected are members of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, who support the PKK. The move drew sharp criticism from the European Union.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said that she was “appalled” by the most recent attack in Turkey and sadden that innocent people had to pay with their lives for the hatred and delusion of the terrorists. “When it comes to fighting terrorism, Germany stands by Turkey,” she said.
That statement comes a day after the chancellor was forced to criticize Mr. Erdogan for lashing out at German parliamentarians, particularly those with Turkish roots, for passing a resolution on June 2 declaring the 1915 massacre of a million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire a genocide.
In a speech to university students, the Turkish president said the blood of the lawmakers with a Turkish background was “impure” and demanded blood tests. He called the politicians mouthpieces of the PKK, referring to them “the long arm of the separatist terrorists placed in Germany.”
Ms. Merkel is struggling to maintain a difficult working relationship with the Turkish leader whom she needs to help stem the flow of refugees and migrants seeking a new life in Europe.
Mr. Erdogan is relentless in his fight against the PKK and critics accuse him of intentionally heating up the Kurdish conflict to position himself as an irreplaceable strong man to Turkish voters.
His hardline strategy against the Kurds appears to be paying off. His Islamic conservative Justice and Development Party, the AKP, was able to win back the absolute majority in parliamentary elections last September, thanks largely to support from the nationalist camp.
But the authoritarian president will have to come up with a strategy to plug the widening financial hole in the country’s tourism industry, as travelers avoid the country for safety reasons.
After the attack on Tuesday, the German Foreign Office warned Germans traveling to or already in Turkey to avoid tourist attractions and large public areas. The U.S. government issued a similar warning, which does little to promote travel in the region.
The Turkish tourist sector, which last year contributed about 6 percent to the country’s gross domestic product, is experiencing a tough season so far this year. In April, the number of tourists dropped 28 percent compared to the year before. In the same period, the number of German tourists to Turkey plunged 35 percent.