Asia

Turkey’s rising star has been stopped in its tracks

The dust may have settled, but the shock still hangs heavy in the air. And will do for weeks, months – maybe even years – to come.

No one knows what will happen now. No one knows how to fix the mess. No one knows how we even got here.

And I am not talking about the decision of the British people on June 23 to leave the EU.

Last week the attempted military coup across Turkey – eerily stealthy and entirely unsustainable in equal measure – was a huge blow to a country already on its knees, reeling from months of mounting political, social and economic instability.

This is the sad story of a rising star stopped in its tracks. Just over a year ago Turkey was on track to be the fastest-growing economy in Europe with an average annual growth rate of 5%. A former safe haven in an otherwise turbulent region, it is now systematically being dragged down by both internal and external geopolitical strife.

The coup – ended within 12 hours and resulting in the death of more than 300 people, while leaving the future of many more hanging in the balance – comes after months of unrest. On 28 June, three men carried out a targeted terror attack on Ataturk Airport in Istanbul. Guns and bombs left blood-smeared walls and shards of shattered glass in their wake. And 42 people dead.

The attack and the coup came hot on the heels of numerous bomb scares over the past 12 months. In Istanbul alone, 10 people were killed by an IS suicide bomber in the vicinity of the city’s iconic Blue Mosque back in January, and four people died in March in a similar attack on one of Istanbul’s main shopping streets.

Now, heading into the country’s main tourism season, international visitors were already down by 10% and early predictions suggest numbers may decline by a further 5.2%.

On the real estate side, this was a country that, just 18 months ago, was on a clear upward trajectory. The development pipeline was looking strong, there was a dedicated plan to deliver on major infrastructure projects and bold, fresh architecture was set to cement the country’s position as a serious global player, as the likes of Soho House and Yoo Hotels flocked to get in on the action.

Then everything changed. Almost overnight.

I remember, because this time last year I happened to land at Ataturk Airport the day after Turkey shocked the world and launched airstrikes on IS targets in Syria. It was the first time the country had become directly involved in the conflict since the Arab Spring. The original purpose of my trip was to visit Istanbul as part of a plan to work up a standalone guide for investors looking at the city as the next emerging market to splash their cash.

Two days before I left the UK this was an entirely viable project. By the time I got off the plane it had dwindled to a pipe dream. And the story instead became one of a city stuck between the east and west – caught in a haze of geopolitical crossfire. And it has been the case ever since.

Whatever is happening in the UK, however strongly we feel about the implications of a democratic vote, the footage of tanks lining up silently along the Bosporus Bridge and the horrific scenes from Nice last week should, hopefully, help to put things in some kind of perspective.

We live in a world where nearly 100 innocent men, women and children have just been wiped out as they went about their daily lives. Where gunmen took to the streets of Paris and started to shoot in cold blood. And where Syria, a once beautiful, historic country has been all but decimated.

One of the saddest outcomes of the EU referendum vote in the UK has been the emergence, and exacerbation, of a huge divide between the leave and remain voters.

While no death, no terror attack, no injury should be used irresponsibly to force people – guilt people even – to feel less concerned and worried about the future of this country, shouldn’t they at least act to remind us that turning on each other is not the answer?

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