Watching the many faces still crowding Istanbul’s iconic Istiklal Avenue after a bomb attack that killed six and injured 81, we found remembrance, solidarity, and resilience.
Tuesday noon at the Taksim Square looked the way it always does.
A big crowd of people walking in every direction despite the fact that it is a weekday. Different faces from different races and nationalities, there for business or leisure, going about their day.
Looking around the square, one thing stands out: a series of bright red Turkish flags flanking both sides of the famous tram track passing through the historic Istiklal Avenue.
But the fact that a bomb attack took place less than two days ago, just a few steps into Istiklal, would evade any outsider watching the square.
“It was a usual Sunday. The avenue was packed. I was inside, leaning on the window and watching people passing by. It happened in a split second,” recalls a 34-year-old shopkeeper who requested to remain anonymous.
Shock, anger, fear, grief. They hung in the air inside the shop and flickered on the faces of the shopkeepers who work right next to the heart of the bomb attack, which killed six people and injured 81.
“I watched the dust settle in shock and immediately pulled down the shutters. Then a group of around five people began banging on one of the standing windows, wounded and terrified, asking to take shelter with us,” he continued.
“We tried to help them to the best of our abilities until the ambulance arrived.”
One of their coworkers had just walked into the shop with his son before the attack happened. Another was smoking outside a mere 10 minutes before the bomb exploded.
“It could have been them, or even me - it could have been any of us,” he said, echoing the experience of other shopkeepers working near the attack.
Regardless, he is one of the many shopkeepers keeping Istiklal alive.
“We’re not afraid. We’re here, and we’re not going anywhere,” said Ebru Kelleli, 48, who works at a hairdresser across the street.
Outside her shop, at the heart of the attack on Istiklal Avenue, is a memorial of pictures and flowers surrounded by a crowd that gathered to commemorate victims of the attack and show solidarity for the people of Türkiye.
“It is challenging to recover, to cope. But we have to be strong. Despite everything, we have opened the shop and we are here,” said 27-year-old Asli Bilen, who witnessed Sunday’s attack while working at a fast food restaurant two buildings away.
“There is a sense of safety because we see the government and the police taking precautions. But looking at the avenue now, I keep reliving the explosion,” she added.
‘Life goes on’
“We are happy to see that people are still here. Life goes on, but we will always remember those we lost,” said 20-year-old Emre Yuceturk, who was there on Tuesday as part of a group of 24 painting students from Türkiye’s Karabuk University on a one-day trip to tour museums.
“We did not come here with fear, but with sadness,” said his classmate Sefa Bozkurt. The class had planned their trip a couple weeks ago but refused to postpone after the attack.
Another among the many faces walking the avenue was 51-year-old Ersin Ekiz and his 15-year-old daughter Berina. They had planned to visit on the day of the attack, but coincidentally postponed before the attack happened.
“Maybe, if we had come, we could have been dead or wounded now as well,” Ekiz said.
“But now we are here, and that actually helps our morale. Seeing the crowds, and our flags all through the avenue is comforting, it makes us feel safe,” he added as the nostalgic tram passed through the tracks next to them, packed with people as always.
A Turkish couple, two Istanbulites who moved to Hamburg, Germany, as expats were also walking through the avenue. They came to Istanbul with the sole purpose of visiting the scene of the attack to commemorate their fellow citizens who were victims of the attack.
“I am beyond words. The attack devastated us - we just wanted to be here in solidarity with our people,” said 52-year-old Senay Gemici.
“We are here on purpose today, to show that we are not afraid. As the people of Türkiye, we stand tall and united, and we will not lose heart no matter what.”
‘Anywhere in the world’
Karin Reischl from Vienna, Austria, was also walking through Istiklal with her family. They are in Istanbul to visit her 21-year-old daughter Flora Tichatschek, who is an Erasmus student here and lives seven minutes away from the scene of the attack.
“We had a terror attack two years ago in Vienna, where we live, and we know how Istanbul feels. We feel very sad for all the people who were wounded or lost their lives.” Reischl said, expressing her solidarity with the people of Istanbul.
The family had passed from Istiklal on Sunday as well, a few hours before the attack took place.
“We feel, of course, that it could have been us. But horrible attacks like this can happen anywhere in the world and they do,” she said.