By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
ISTANBUL, July 29 -- After the first explosion, Seyma Ozkan rushed from her bedroom to the apartment balcony, her father said. Things don't often blow up in Gungoren, a working-class district near Istanbul's main airport.
Her mother and father soon joined the curious 12-year-old. They watched from the fourth floor as wounded, startled neighbors ran from the blast site. Suddenly, Aydin Ozkan began urging his wife and daughter to go back inside.
"There's going to be another explosion," Ozkan told them, but his warning came too late. A second, more powerful bomb detonated on the crowded street, sending a piece of shrapnel flying toward them.
Ozkan, 52, in an interview Tuesday, recounted what happened next in a monotone, a cigarette between his fingers: The fragment pierced Seyma's heart, killing her almost instantly.
The Sunday evening attack, the deadliest in Turkey since 2004, killed 17 people, wounded nearly 150 and further unsettled a country already on edge. Turks are grimly watching the progress of two legal cases that illustrate the perilous rift between secular Turks and the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party, which broadened its mandate in elections last year.
On Monday, Turkey's chief prosecutor told the country's top court that the ruling party should be disbanded and many of its members, including the prime minister, should lose their seats in parliament. Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya argued that Justice and Development had injected Islam into policymaking in violation of the constitution.
If seven of the high court's 11 jurists agree, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will have to step down.
Party leaders, whose popularity has been boosted by a growing economy and their determination to win Turkey's membership in the European Union, say they are not trying to turn Turkey into an Islamic state.
In a separate case, Turkish prosecutors filed charges this month against 86 people, including former military officers, accusing them of planning to overthrow the government. In the past, military leaders have forcibly removed from power governments they judged too Islamic.
On Tuesday afternoon, made unseasonably cool by a morning rain shower, Turks on Gungoren's Menderes Street were quick to link Sunday's bombings to the political crisis.
Zeliha Oner, 56, a secularist, got into two screaming matches with women wearing Islamic head scarves in the span of 10 minutes. She said her finances have suffered since Justice and Development took office and accused its leaders of silencing critics.
"I blame the government," she said. "We don't have security."
Leyla Kucukyilmaz, 43, a party supporter, shot back immediately. "We elected people who pray," she said. "But we did so democratically."
A crowd gathered around them. Some clapped when Oner railed against the ruling party. Others egged Kucukyilmaz on.
Since the bombings, residents have hung scores of flags on damaged stores and homes. Sedat Cigdem, 40, walked up and down the street selling the red and white banners.
"They suffer, and this is how they show their rejection of terror," Cigdem explained.
Down the street, Kazim Buyuk, 65, rolled up his pant leg to display purple bruises caused by shrapnel from the first blast. He was eating nuts on a bench when the bomb exploded, he said.
"We are afraid," he said, speaking barely above a whisper. "We don't know who anyone is."
In remarks Monday, Erdogan suggested that the bombings were carried out by the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, a guerrilla group that seeks greater autonomy for Turkey's Kurdish minority. The PKK denied the assertion.
Turkey considers the PKK a terrorist organization, and the military has bombed the group's hideouts in northern Iraq in recent months. Turkish forces carried out a fresh wave of such attacks Tuesday, the military said. The operation targeted a group of about 40 fighters, some of whom the military said it killed, the Associated Press reported.
On Tuesday, Erdogan seemed to back away from the allegation that the group carried out the Gungoren bombings, saying it would be wrong to draw hasty conclusions.
"Please, do not give a name to terrorism. Let the security forces work the case and let them give it a name," he told parliamentary supporters, according to news reports.
Inside the Ozkans' apartment, weeping veiled women comforted one another. A huge Turkish flag was draped over the balcony.
Zeynep Ozkan, 27, Seyma's only sister, sat on a sofa as a stream of stone-faced relatives and neighbors walked through the tidy apartment. Her sister, she said, dreamed of becoming a dentist. She was a voracious reader; novels were her favorite.
"I'm alone now," Zeynep said.
Special correspondent Zehra Ayman contributed to this report.