This afternoon, we spoke to the Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to Canada, Selçuk Ünal about the recent bombings in Istanbul Turkey.
Sacha@Context: What message do you have for the Turkish community in Canada?
Ambassdor Ünal: In the wake of this recent terrorist attack in Istanbul, first of all I am, and we are, offering our deepest condolences not only to our nation but also to our community in Canada who have been living at peace for decades here. We would ask them to stay calm and rest assured that everything has returned, and is returning, to normalcy. We will find the perpetrators.
Sacha@Context: With Turkey sitting on the frontline of this conflict, you have a unique perspective on it. What steps need to be taken to decrease the potential of such attacks happening in the future?
Ambassdor Ünal:It is obviously a terrorist attack. All the points that we are able to gather at the moment point to IS. IS is a terror organization which, as you know, started in Iraq and spread to Syria. First of all, I think we need to finish the problematic issues in those countries. Secondly, we have to continue to fight against terrorism with all our material support. Thirdly, with any kind of intolerant terrorism, we will have to continue to win the fight going on in the minds of people. That is, I think, most important.
Sacha@Context: That’s an interesting point about the ‘fight in the minds of people’. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Ambassdor Ünal: Yes. Most of these people, the perpetrators, they cannot be representing Islam or any religion. This is a totally mindless, heinous, terrorist attack which is indiscriminant. We must always be thinking that the perpetrators are not normal people since they are not only killing people with this terrorist attack but also blowing themselves up and killing so many innocent bystanders. So, that’s why they have this mentality that pushed them to this act. We also have to fight, not only with the terrorists themselves, but with this mentality which means more global education. A war of words, I would say.
Sacha@Context: Bearing in mind the reality of the emotions being felt by those impacted by these bombings, how do we refrain from a fear-based response?
Ambassdor Ünal: I believe we as a society, as a responsible member of the International community – both Turkey and Canada – we have to continue to hang on to the main pillars of our society. Openness, pluralism, the rule of law, and of course, we have to step up to security. In any country which could face a terrorist attack, you work 24 hours, 365 days and watch. You always have to be on your toes. If something goes wrong somewhere, in a very small corner for 10 minutes, these guys – the terrorists – they only need those 10 minutes to step in. Their job is easier, our job is more difficult. We have to continue to step up security but in the frame of the rule of law. This is how we refrain from a fear-based response.
Sacha@Context: Reports have suggested that these Islamist extremist groups want a cultural or religious war with the West. With Turkey being a country with largely Muslim population, these attacks suggest to me that this is about ideology and ‘right believing’ – that these groups are opposed to those who do not believe as they do. What are your thoughts?
Ambassdor Ünal: They obviously do not represent Islam or any religion. This group, as it is thought to be IS, they are an obvious threat to our national security. They have been a threat to our national security for Turkey, Canada, and others. We in Turkey, as a G20 member, are part of this international coalition against terrorism and we are fighting with this menace, with these extremist terrorists, on a daily basis. In a way you are right in saying we are on the frontline. But we are also part of this coalition with Canada – training more people who would continue to fight with them on the ground. We have to refrain from any kind of anti-Islamic or Islamophobic statement – any anti-religious things – because these will only play into their hands. Any kind of anti-anything will just increase their extremism.
Sacha@Context: What are practical ways that civilians can keep our minds and hearts open to each other at this time?
Ambassdor Ünal: I think that it starts with understanding each other. It starts with standing by each other and showing solidarity in such delicate and difficult times.
“IT IS…TIME TO SAY ‘WE ARE ISTANBUL'”
Sacha@Context: In times like these many of us turn to prayer but increasingly, we’ve been hearing that statements like ‘our prayers are with you’ are inadequate. What is a practical way that religious communities in Canada can respond right now?
Ambassdor Ünal: I sort of agree with you. It’s not only the religious communities saying or doing something or not. We have to actually show solidarity and really hug each other. That’s why we are sincerely thankful for the hundreds of support messages we have received for Turkey through our embassies, social media accounts, from our Canadian friends. Likewise, we have read the statements of Prime Minister Trudeau, Foreign Minister Mr. Dion, and Mayor of Ottawa Mr. Jim Watson who was kind enough to raise the flag of Turkey for two days at City Hall.
These important gestures give a clear message of solidarity. Similar attacks have happened everywhere in the world recently: Paris, Brussels, other european cities, United States. In some of them there was as statement ‘we are with you’. We are Brussels. We are Paris. Today, I think it is also time to say ‘We Are Istanbul.’