Istanbul’s French community speaks out on Paris attacks

French citizens living in Istanbul have told Anadolu Agency that the Paris terror attacks were an assault on multicultural neighborhoods, where Turks, Arabs and French people lived together.

“Their target was an area where the Arabs and French live together happily,” said Turkish-French citizen Julide Yasar, 43, a businesswoman who has been living in Istanbul for the last 10 years, and grew up in Paris.

Speaking at a memorial at Istanbul’s French consulate this week, Yasar said people chose to live in areas with those from different backgrounds: “Most of my friends are living or working in that neighborhood as it is Paris’ most pluralistic district,” she said: “Arabs, Turks, Japanese, French…”

At least 129 people died and more than 300 people were injured in Friday night’s suicide and gun attacks at several locations — a stadium, restaurants, and a concert hall — in the City of Lights.

The terrorist group Daesh claimed responsibility for the Paris carnage.

The attacks also targeted Paris’ multicultural hipster neighborhood known by locals as the 11th arrondissement: five of the eight incidents on Nov. 13 took place in this neighborhood.

According to Yasar, Paris’ Turkish neighborhood is also located in the nearby 10th arrondissement. “Previously they attacked Charlie Hebdo’s intellectual cartoonists, saying they offended Islam but this time everybody on the street [was attacked],” she said. “This has nothing to do with Islam,” she added.

Yasar believes the target of the Friday attacks was the unity of France as well as the values that the country has been spreading all around the world.

“The French Enlightenment […] is just the opposite of that obscurantist, fundamentalist hatred,” she said, denouncing the killers for trying to demolish democratic structures. “Their main aim is to demolish the wall of democracy by removing every stone, one by one. In this regard, they are united with the ultra-right.”

A young French citizen living in Istanbul, who did not want to give her name, agreed with Yasar. “It is not even attacking our government; it is attacking our lifestyles, the way we live,” said the 22-year-old architecture student from Paris. Living in Istanbul for two months, she said: “At the beginning I thought it would be more dangerous here. I think it is dangerous everywhere these days.”

Another French person living in Istanbul is Francoise Guerin, 58, who said that the terrorist group Daesh “fights against the way we live”. Guerin, whose son lives in Paris, left the city on the day of the attack. “We must continue to live our values and to cultivate love and enjoy [life]; it is very important,” she said.

Soheib Bounendjel, 19, is a French business student at Istanbul’s Bilgi University. Living in Istanbul for the last three months, his family is originally from Algeria.

“I was shocked,” he tells Anadolu Agency: “I don’t understand what is going on.” As a Muslim Frenchman, he rejected any religious motivation for the murders, saying: “Maybe people will think that Muslims are responsible [for the attacks] but I hope people will be more clever and will understand that this has nothing to do with any religion in the world.”

An Istanbul-based French social science assistant professor — who did not want to give his name for fear his university might be targeted – suggested that France “needed a new security system” as it was not “prepared for these kinds of attacks”.

France’s president, Francois Hollande, has pledged to raise the budget for the country’s security forces after the attacks.

“We have to understand now that we really have to deal with this issue very seriously,” said the 35-year-old academic, who lived in Paris for a year and has been living in Istanbul for the last four.

Originally from the Lyon area, the academic warned: “Everybody could be a victim – Turks, French, Americans, Russians, English – we are in the same boat right now.”

Turkey’s capital Ankara experienced similar bloodshed on Oct. 10 when more than 100 people attending a peace rally were killed by twin suicide bombings.

Just a day before the terrorist attacks in Paris, at least 43 people were killed in twin suicide bombings in Beirut and on Nov. 13 dozens of people were killed in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

“We are dealing with total terrorism; we are dealing with Nazi-like people,” he added.

The Paris attacks were the deadliest in Europe since the 2004 Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people, carried out mainly in the 10th and 11th arrondissements of Paris.

The French academic said he makes a point of visiting the neighborhoods hit by the killers when he is in Paris: “It is very nice when it is sunny; everybody lies down by the canal, or makes a picnic – it is like Galata, for example,” he said, referring to central Istanbul’s vibrant historical neighborhood.

“Maybe in Turkey you are more aware of issues [of terrorism] and danger,” he added as he explained that last time when he was in the Parisian neighborhood he asked himself: “Why there is no security?”

One of France’s top officials in Turkey is French consul-general in Istanbul, Muriel Domenach; she was shocked as everyone. “We are careful,” Domenach told Anadolu Agency just after the Istanbul commemoration event for the victims of the Paris murders.

Domenach spoke about living in Istanbul as news broke in Turkey that police here had foiled an attack, which was reportedly to be simultaneous with the massacres in Paris.

“We are all affected by this terrible threat; we should stand shoulder to shoulder,” said Domenach, 42, who was appointed to Istanbul two years ago.

“It is actually my neighborhood where I lived, the street that I took my kids to crèche, so all the places, the concert hall… all the places that I know,” she said.

 

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