I wrote about the Ankara bombing for the Huffington Post

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I wrote about the Ankara bombing for the Huffington Post (I’m a Huffington Post blogger now!) because it really, really, really sucked. You can read it below, or here

I was sleeping when Ankara city centre was hit by twin explosions just after 10am on the morning of October 10th. I woke up to a message from my boyfriend: “Two bombs have gone off near the train station. Looks like a lot of people dead. Might want to let your mum know you’re OK.” His office is metres from where the blasts tore through a crowd of peace protesters, hitting with such force that his whole building shook. My heart stopped as I read it, the air knocked out of me by the realisation that he might not have been OK, and that many people weren’t.

It’s a strange feeling to see the city you live in, a city so few people outside of Turkey seem to know much about – forgotten, as it is, under the shadow of the mighty Istanbul – as a disaster zone on TV news. Most Ankara residents had expected an attack at some point – violence was the flavour of the summer in Turkey after the uncompromising Justice and Development Party (AKP) failed to gain a majority in June’s elections. Snubbed by the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), who surpassed the 10% threshold in their first parliamentary elections, old tensions between the state and rebel group the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) flared up. As if that wasn’t enough acronyms to deal with, ISIS seemed to be advancing on Turkey, too, having already been held responsible for July’s deadly suicide attack in Suruc that killed 33 pro-Kurdish activists.

When an attack hits in such a vile and callous way, anticipated or not, it’s devastating. It’s not just another faceless, violence-afflicted place in the Middle East, you think, watching UK TV reporters explain what happened and imagining how others will see it. This is my home. The people cruelly targeted were not soldiers or rebels, they had gathered to protest the recent violence between the PKK and the state. As Turkish novelist Elif Safak wrote for the Guardian: “Innocent hearts beating for peace [were] brutally stopped”.

Pleas for blood donations flooded expat groups on social media. Once I’d gathered my thoughts and had some assurance it was safe to go out, I headed to Numune hospital, one of three treating the injured. I was unable to give blood – turned away on the grounds that I have not yet been in Turkey for three years – but was moved to tears to see how many people had come out to do what they could.

Soon, however, the mood turned. Frustrations were vented on one of the blood vans, which had stopped taking donations. Men screamed, lashing out at the van as a mob chipped and dented its sides before it could drive away. Anti-government chants aimed at President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spread quickly and the crowd swelled, blocking the road.

It’s easy to see why emotions are running high. The death toll currently stands at 102, with hundreds more injured. Many were young – teen activists, future MPs and a nine-year-old boy all lost their lives. The 20-year-old daughter of teacher Izzettin Cevik – whose image, blood spattered and cradling his injured, crying wife, became one of the defining images of the tragedy – died instantly.

With a second election in November looming, Turkey is on a knife-edge. The government, accused of harbouring an anti-democratic ‘deep state’ faction, is increasingly facing allegations of foul play and protests against them are commonplace. Just a few weeks ago, a former ISIS fighter told Newsweek that commanders had informed troops that the Turkish state was an “ally” and their forces would not bother them.

Yunus Emre Alagöz, the brother of the Suruc bomber, has been identified by Turkish authorities as one of the Ankara bombers and many more men with suspected links to Isis and the PKK have been arrested. Yet at the 10,000-strong protests against the blasts that swamped the streets of Istanbul that night and the mourning ceremony in Ankara the day after, similar anti-government songs could be heard: “Erdogan, murderer”, “police, murderers”. ISIS may be held accountable for the attack, but the people have their culprit. Whether they hold the government directly responsible, or blame them for failing to protect people, it doesn’t look good for Erdogan’s AKP. If they do somehow win their majority on November 1st – in the past, election rigging has often been suspected, with the state once even blaming an unruly cat – Turkey looks set for a rocky future.

I am haunted by the image of the girl I saw leave the hospital, no older than 21, her arms and legs bandaged and dried blood splattered across her clothes and brand-new Air Max. I think of all the people who died protesting for peace, while 5km away I did nothing but drool on my pillow. Yet despite all the heartache and uncertainty, life in Ankara goes on. People still buy food from the supermarkets and walk their dogs. Friends still meet for coffee, perhaps hugging for a few seconds longer as they greet.

The city is bruised, but not defeated.

Ankara fell victim to the very worst of humanity that day. In the people who queued to give blood, however, and those who gave everything to help the injured, I also saw the best. No matter what happens over the coming weeks, the Turkish people refuse to give into fear.

Nor should they.

I wrote a piece for the Telegraph about whether foreign women are safe in Turkey

Are expats safe in Turkey?

This weekend’s twin blasts in Ankara were devastating to local residents. Before this summer’s elections and the violence that followed the AKP failing to gain their majority, I wrote this for the Telegraph’s Expat Zone. Just goes to show how much the next election in November matters. You can read the edited version here

Between the threat of terrorism and questions about women’s rights, Turkey has been making the headlines a lot lately. According to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, it is the 18th most likely country in the world for Brits to require assistance while abroad, with violence against women on the increase, too. Last month saw protests in cities across the region following the violent murder of 20-year-old female student Ozgecan Aslan, although it was the male demonstrators in skirts who attracted the most attention.

Perhaps it’s unsurprising, then, that since I moved to the Turkish capital, Ankara, from London almost six months ago because of my partner’s work, the thing I’ve been asked most by friends and family is: “Are you safe?”. It’s a tricky question to answer.

Let’s start with terrorism. It’s hard not to be a little on edge considering warnings of heightened security risks across the country and the recent suicide bombing of Istanbul’s busy tourist district, Sultanahmet. One American told this paper late last year that she felt an “unnerving sense of doom” and likened the atmosphere in Turkey to pre-war Germany. Others talked of making escape plans and avoiding crowded places such as shopping malls.

I was jumpy during my first few months here too – every low flying plane or loud noise set my heart racing. However, how many major capital cities are there that aren’t at risk from terrorism? The UK’s terror threat level is set to ‘severe’ and I’ve been having mini-heart attacks following loud noises in London since 7/7.

The longer I’m in Ankara, the less I worry. Turkey has the second largest military in NATO and, along with armed police, soldiers are omnipresent. It’s a little authoritarian, yes. Ankara’s government buildings are so dystopian they could have been pulled straight from the pages of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Yet when there are frequent warnings of planned attacks on the city – particularly the US embassy, which I live alarmingly close to – a spot of austerity and few weapons can be surprisingly comforting.

Gender inequality, is, for me, a stickier topic. Turkey ranks 125th out of 142 countries on the World Economic Forum’s 2014 gender gap index, meaning little has been done to tackle inequality. To put that into context, India was 114th. 300 women have been murdered in the last year alone and UN Women have warned that: “Two out of every five women in Turkey are exposed to sexual and physical violence.”

It can be hairy at times being a woman in Turkey. Two of my friends have been followed in the street and a group of young men once tried to solicit sex from me when I accidentally wandered into the old town after dark. However, if I’m honest, despite my concerns over the treatment of women in Turkey, on a day-to-day basis I don’t feel repressed or unsafe. It saddens me to admit though, that this has a lot to do with where I live – in Kavaklıdere, a posh part of town that could perhaps best be described as the Kensington of Ankara. It’s an area dotted with embassies, trendy bars and restaurants close to the city centre. It’s liberal, young and politically fervent – on Fridays nights women get their glad rags on and drink/dance/chat their working weeks away as they might anywhere in the UK.

That being said, the US government rates Ankara’s crime levels as ‘low’ meaning that, despite Turkey facing its fair share of issues, it wouldn’t be that crazy to class Ankara as a fairly safe city. Unlike London, there is little street crime. If you absent-mindedly leave your phone on the table in a bar, more often then not, it will still be there when you get back. There is, however, one side of Ankara life that does scare the life out of its residents. Oh, how I wish drivers would pay attention to the roads