Landschlacht, Switzerland, 3 January 2017
The scene outside my window seems worlds apart and away for the world I am about to describe…for the streets here in this wee Swiss hamlet by the Lake of Constance are covered in snow both magical and mysterious.
You could spend days explaining to me the science behind snowfall and yet the boy inside the man will always find snow to be a marvel of nature unworthy of description but deserving of awe and praise.
Yesterday, St. Berchtold´s Day in Switzerland, a day celebrated since the 14th century, mostly in Protestant regions where Epiphany had been abolished and replaced by a second day off after New Year´s Day.
Some say that the holiday is named after Blessed Berchtold of Engelberg Abbey.
Others claim that the holiday celebrates a hunting trip in 1191 by Duke Berchtold V of Zähringen who decided to name his new city after the first animal he killed on that trip, a bear, this giving us Bern.
Different folks believe that the name is associated with the verb “berchten”, which means “to walk around, asking for food”.
The name may also relate to Perchta, the female guardian of animals and leader of the Wild Hunt, featuring visits from humans transformed into animals.
Or the name could come from the German berhttac, the High German translation of the Greek epiphanias.
In some German-speaking cantons, families celebrate the holiday with meals at pubs or offered by traditional socieities.
In Hallwil, Canton Aargau, residents hold a mask parade with folks dressed up as symbols of fertility, age, ugliness, wisdom, vice, etc.
The Bärzeli occurs on this day when 15 Bärzeli (specifically costumed figures) march though the Hallwil village streets granting luck to all they meet.
In French-speaking Canton Vaud, children celebrate Berchtold´s Day with neighbourhood parties involving folk dancing and singing.
Nuts are involved.
Nuts are both eaten in a nut feast and used for games.
So considering snow-covered streets and animal figures marching through Swiss streets granting good fortune and then finding parallels to events in Turkey is a bit of comparative shock, but this morning I learned the name of the sole Canadian victim of New Year´s Eve in the attack on an Istanbul nightclub.
Istanbul has long be known as a city where East meets West, and its cosmopolitan makeup is reflected in the nationalities of revellers killed in Sunday’s attack:
The dead included a Russian, a Belgian, three Lebanese and seven Saudis, as well as eleven Turkish nationals, among others.
At least 25 of people killed in the attack were foreign nationals.
Nationals of Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Morocco, Libya, Israel, India, Canada, a Turkish-Belgian dual citizen and a Franco-Tunisian woman were among those killed at the nightclub on the shores of the Bosphorus waterway.
A Toronto-area mother of two has been identified as one of the 39 people killed in the early morning terrorist attack in Istanbul on New Year’s Day.
Alaa Al-Muhandis, a resident of Milton, Ontario, in the Greater Toronto Area, was killed in the attack, which was executed by a lone gunman in a luxurious Istanbul nightclub a little more than an hour after revellers celebrated the start of 2017.
Ms. Al-Muhandis operated an events-planning business, specializing in weddings.
Her Facebook page also identified her as an employee of her husband’s Milton car dealership, a business – Looloo Auto Sales – that was named after her.
“We used to call her Looloo,” said Ghada Saad, a friend who also works as an events planner.
Ms. Al-Muhandis, a Canadian of Iraqi heritage, leaves two children, one youngster around two years old, as well as a six-year-old, friends said in interviews.
One friend said that Ms. Al-Muhandis’s children were not with her in Istanbul and were staying with a relative.
A spokesman for Global Affairs Canada confirmed on Monday evening that Ms. Al-Muhandis was the Canadian citizen who was killed in the nightclub attack.
A relative told a Globe and Mail reporter that the family was in mourning.
According to her public Facebook posts, Ms. Al-Muhandis had last shared a posting from her events-arrangements business in April, then posted “Bye bye Canada” on 23 June as she prepared to fly from Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport to Amman, Jordan.
Two months later, on 22 August, she indicated she was flying back to Montreal, but she subsequently posted twice in November from the Iraqi city of Erbil, according to those entries that were geotagged on Facebook.
In early December, Ms. Al-Muhandis posted a prayer on Facebook in Arabic asking God to help her overcome despair.
Ms. Al-Muhandis launched her event business a few years ago as a “new start” to her professional life, said Ms. Saad, her friend from the events industry.
“She was a fashionable woman, full of life. … Every time you see her it was a new style,” Ms. Saad said.
One friend of Ms. Al-Muhandis, who asked not to be named, said that it was common for Iraqis to travel to Turkey as a way to leave behind the violence and conflict that has ravaged the region.
Istanbul was seen as an escape, he said.
“You never know what cities you’re going to get killed in now,” the friend said.
The Reina nightclub was a symbol of a cosmopolitan Istanbul…a dazzling nightclub where people from around the world could party together, free from the mayhem and violence gripping the nation.
It was there, at the Reina nightclub on the Bosporos – a hot spot for soap opera stars and professional athletes, Turks and well-heeled tourists – that those hoping to move past a particularly troubled year…died together.
Canada´s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, issued the following statement on the terrorist attack that took place at the Reina nightclub in Istanbul, Turkey:
“It is with deep sadness that I learned of the deadly terrorist attack on a nightclub in Istanbul that killed and injured innocent people celebrating the New Year and claimed the life of a Canadian citizen.
“On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of all of the victims of this horrible act, and we hope and pray that those injured have a rapid and complete recovery.
“We mourn with the people of Turkey today and with all countries who lost citizens in this vicious attack.
“We also grieve the senseless loss of a Canadian citizen and remain steadfast in our determination to work with allies and partners to fight terrorism and hold perpetrators to account.”
Nuts are involved.
Islamic State claimed responsibility on Monday for a New Year’s Day mass shooting in a packed Istanbul nightclub that killed 39 people, an attack carried out by a lone gunman who remains at large.
It described the Reina nightclub, where many foreigners as well as Turks were killed, as a gathering point for Christians celebrating their “apostate holiday”.
The attack, it said, was revenge for Turkish military involvement in Syria.
The attack had been carried out “in continuation of the blessed operations that the Islamic State is conducting against Turkey, the protector of the cross”.
“The apostate Turkish government should know that the blood of Muslims shed with airplanes and artillery fire will, with God’s permission, ignite a fire in their own land,” the Islamic State declaration said.
At a news conference in Ankara, Turkish government spokesman Numan Kurtulmus made no reference to the claim, but said it was clear Turkey’s military operations in Syria had annoyed terrorist groups and those behind them.
“This attack is a message to Turkey against its decisive operations across the border,” Kurtulmus said, adding that the offensive in Syria would continue until all threats to Turkey were removed.
The authorities are close to fully identifying the gunman, Kurtulmus said, after gathering fingerprints and information on his basic appearance, and had detained eight other people.
NATO member Turkey is part of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State and launched the incursion into neighboring Syria in August to drive the radical Sunni militants, as well as Kurdish militia fighters, away from its borders.
The jihadist group has been blamed for at least half a dozen attacks on civilian targets in Turkey over the past 18 months, but, other than assassinations, this is the first time it has directly claimed any of them.
It made the statement on one of its Telegram channels, a method used after attacks elsewhere.
All of those killed died from gunshot wounds, some of them shot at a very close distance or even point-blank range, according to a forensics report quoted by Milliyet newspaper.
The attack at Reina, popular with Turkish celebrities and wealthy visitors, shook Turkey as it tries to recover from a failed July coup and a series of deadly bombings, some blamed on Islamic State, others claimed by Kurdish militants.
Around 600 people were thought to be inside when the gunman shot dead a policeman and civilian at the door, forcing his way in then opening fire with an automatic assault rifle.
Some at the exclusive club jumped into the Bosphorus after the attacker opened fire at random just over an hour into the new year.
Witnesses described how he shot the wounded as they lay on the ground.
The attacker was believed to have taken a taxi from the southern Zeytinburnu district of Istanbul and, because of the busy traffic, got out and walked the last four minutes to the entrance of the nightclub, newspaper Haberturk said.
He pulled his Kalashnikov rifle from a suitcase at the side of the road, opened fire on those at the door, then threw two hand grenades after entering, Haberturk said, without citing its sources.
It said six empty magazines were found at the scene and that he was estimated to have fired at least 180 bullets.
Security services had been on alert across Europe for New Year celebrations following an attack on a Christmas market in Berlin that killed 12 people.
Only days ago, an online message from a pro-ISIS group called for attacks by “lone wolves” on “celebrations, gatherings and clubs”.
In a statement hours after the shooting, President Tayyip Erdogan said such attacks aimed to create chaos and destabilize the country.
“They are working to destroy our country´s morale and create chaos by deliberately targeting civilians with these heinous attacks.
We will retain our coolheadedness as a nation, standing more closely together, and we will neve give ground to such dirty games.”
Four months into its operation in Syria, the Turkish army and the rebels it backs are besieging the Islamic State-held town of al-Bab.
Erdogan has said he wants them to continue to Raqqa, the jihadists’ Syrian stronghold.
Turkey has also been cracking down on Islamic State networks at home.
In counter-terrorism operations between 26 December – 2 January, Turkish police detained 147 people over links to the group and formally arrested 25 of them, the interior ministry said.
The New Year’s Day attack came five months after a failed military coup, in which more than 240 people were killed, many of them in Istanbul, as rogue soldiers commandeered tanks and fighter jets in a bid to seize power.
Above: US General Joseph Dunford examines ruins of Turkey´s Parliament on 1 August 2016.
More than 100,000 people, including soldiers and police officers, have been sacked or suspended in a subsequent crackdown ordered by Erdogan, raising concern both about civic rights and the effectiveness of Turkey’s security apparatus.
The government says the purges will make the military, police and other institutions more disciplined and effective.
In my second journey to Turkey, on the Turkish Airways flight from Antalya to Istanbul, I was surprised and shocked to find amongst the travel literature the airline offered a full-colour Turkish Airways souvenir album of the events of 15 – 16 July (15 – 16 Temmuz) and the coup d´état attempt.
The photos are powerful, the coup is shown almost minute by minute in glorious splendor, the reader is captivated by photos of civilians seizing a tank, anti-coup demonstrations filled with Turkish flags, bombed buildings and bullet-ridden vehicles, President Erdogan on TV advocating calm, blockades of bridges and arrested militia, shots of protestors worldwide supporting the Turkish government (including demonstrations in Geneva, Toronto and Zürich among others), the descriptions exclusively in Turkish.
Did the airlines assume only Turkish people would fly between Turkish cities?
The attempted coup, the subsequent mass arrests of 40,000 people, (including 10,000 soldiers and 2,745 judges) (15,000 teachers suspended and 21,000 teachers´ licenses revoked), ongoing attacks on Turkey by ISIS and Kurdish nationalists, do leave me wondering…
This Turkey, a country tearing itself apart amid terrorist attacks and political instability…
A nation engulfed by the dark and destabilising forces gripping the Middle East, where everything seems to converge: terrorism, the migrant crisis, the rise of authoritarianism…
If I were Turkish, how would I be feeling about my country now?
Would I still feel it was a place to comfortably call home?
Would it still feel like my country?
“I don´t know what to say.
I don´t want to say anything political, but this can´t be accepted as the new norm.
Terrorism is everywhere now and the government has no control.
Something needs to be done.
There is no life left in Istanbul.”(Zeynep Ozman, brother to one of the injured in the nightclub attack)
Above: The Bosporos Strait
Sources: The Globe and Mail / The International New York Times / Wikipedia