Since there seem to be a lot of bombs in Istanbul lately, and given that rival groups have been threatening coups that sound much more treacherous than they actually are, we thought it might help readers interpret the news -- and assess the level of threat to their favorite Istanblogger -- if we guide you through our habitat. That way, when there's a bomb, consulate attack or other provocation, you can reassure yourself or panic accordingly. Very service-y of us.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that Istanbul has 15 million people (give or take) and covers 700 square miles. That's a lot more people than LA County or New York City. You can get an idea of how sprawling -- yet also dense -- it is when approaching Ataturk from the air. Miles and miles of red tiled roofs carpet the rolling hills to the horizon. Thousands of spindly minarets -- none of which outside of the hisitorical center are remarkable for any reason --- break the concrete monotony.
Most yabancıs like us have absolutely no reason to visit 75% of Istanbul's neighborhoods (though, if truly like Carpetlblogger, the proportion of irrelevent neighborhoods might increase to 99%). Our life is very much centered around the Beyoğlu district in general and Cihangir in particular (Cihangir is also known as Yabancı Köy, or "Foreigner Village"). Indeed, we rarely venture places we can't walk to. Sometimes we get crazy and take the metro out to Etiler, a concrete settlement of malls and high end Sitesis (housing developments) that's also known as Chiplomatistan, or go the bazaars in Eminönü or take the ferry to Kadiköy. In fact, we always express surprise at how pleasant it is to go out to eat and drink in Kadiköy then promptly forget it exists. Generally, we dread going to Sultanahment (Istanbul's historic district) and never do it unless visitors are in town. So, despite living in one the world's biggest cities, our world is surprisingly small.
Here's a guide to all the perils assocıated wıth living in Turkey right now:
Coups: Those will happen in Ankara, which is the capital of Turkey and six hours drive from Istanbul. No one goes there who doesn't have to. It's hot and boring. If you read about a judicial coup, or an "e-coup," especially, you can be sure that absolutely nothing interesting is happening and that Ankara is still so boring you can't be blamed if you slip into a coma while there. Carpetblog Panic Rating: -12
Earthquakes: Please, do panic. But your panic will probably remain uncommunicated because all the internet and mobile services will be down. As survivors of Northridge '94, we don't even like to consider what this this town will be like after a even moderate one. A heap of steaming rubble is a safe guess, but remember that Beyoglu is built on bedrock and has lots of old buildings so the risk is mitigated somewhat. Carpetblog Panic Rating: Chernobyl
Bombs: Most bombings in Turkey are credited -- fairly or unfairly -- to the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party). If you read about a bombing in Istanbul that is blamed on the PKK, you can be pretty sure of a couple of things:
- It occurred in a distant, obscure Turkish neighborhood. The last night happened in Gungorne and we still haven't figured out where it is. Based on the news coverage, it looked downscale and not religious -- none of the victims were wearing headscarves and some were in tank tops. In fact, it looked like hundreds of other ordinary Istanbul neighborhoods stacked with poorly built concrete apartment buildings and small shops, filled with people out strolling on hot summer night.
- It probably didn't target foreigners. I don't know why PKK avoids higher profile targets like Taksim Square or Istiklal Caddesi where there are tons of Turks and foreigners, but they generally don't bomb these places.
The last big bombing that targeted foreigners (the HSBC/British Consulate bombing in 2003) was blamed on al-Qaeda and happened out one of the business/high rise districts, and notably, here in Taksim. Five days earlier, truck bombers hit two synagogues, one of which is also in this 'hood. So the historical record suggests that if you want to kill foreigners, head to Taksim (though mostly Turks were killed in all these attacks). Carpetblog Panic Rating: 5
Consulate Attacks: You already know that the US Consulate is 20 kms out of the center. and probably odds are against another attack in the near future. However, almost all the major European consulates (French, German, Greek, Dutch, Russian, Swedish, Belgian, Italian, UK) are in the Taksim area. If one of those gets attacked, you can be concerned. Carpetblog Panic Rating: 7
Istanbul has so many yabancıs who live in so many different parts of the city, bomb planners who want to target them do have options, depending on the message they want to send. If they want high-value business types, ladies who lunch or diplomats, they might choose the swanky Asian settlements or Etiler or Maslak. If they want hit lots of tourists and young people, they might consider Taksim Square or the pedestrianized Istiklal Caddesi (if Istanbul had a center this might be it. Because Taksim is lways considered a target, there is not one garbage can anywhere in the vicinity that could be used as a bomb or as a place to throw out a doner wrapper). If they want to hit the "consultant"/journalist demographic, Cihangir would be the place to start (bombs in Cihangir sounds patently ridiculous but we did get tear gassed there on May Day, so, yah, it can too be edgy).
Also, think about the day of the week. If it's Sunday, the Producer is almost certainly cooking Sunday Dinner for a small crowd that has achieved various degrees of intoxication. Accordingly, we had no idea about last night's bombing until this morning.
So, if you hear about a bomb in the Taksim Square or Cihangir area or hear that that Marmara fault has cleaved in two, you are allowed to be concerned. If it is anywhere else, you can feel pretty confident that Carpetblogger is safely ensconced in the ass-dent in her couch cushion.