Gripped by terror fear, Istanbul in sea of tulips

The 11th Tulip Festival has been held in Turkey’s Istanbul under the shadow of terrorism with a very few participation of foreign tourists this year.

Hanifi Ugur Kupeli has been in Turkey’s tourism business for fifty years.

Usually during this period of the year, his small kiosk at the ancient historical square of Sultanahmet should have been over flooding with foreign tourists buying souvenirs, Istanbul maps or tour tickets.

But this year saw the almost empty square of the most attractive location of Istanbul.

In front of his kiosk, the world’s largest tulip carpet stretches out covering more than 1,700 square meters.

Over 500,000 tulips with glowing colors constituted the shape of an ancient design of a Turkish carpet.

Hundred meters away from the kiosk, however, the ancient Egyptian obelisk stands as an eyewitness of one of the bloodiest terrorist attacks in the city.

An Islamic State (IS) suicide bomber blew himself up in the crowd in a winter day of January killing 12 German tourists in front of that obelisk.

Soon after that incident on March 19, another IS bomber targeted tourists in Istanbul’s major pedestrian Istiklal Street claiming five lives and injuring 36 people.

Since then nothing has been the same for neither Kupeli nor any other people in tourism business in Istanbul.

Official figures indicated that the number of foreign tourists tumbled more than eight percent during the first two months of this year alone.

Kupeli’s monthly salary dropped down 80 to 90 percent as the number of tourists sharply plunged down after the terror attacks.

He said that in many days he has been doing “zero business”.

According to a tour operator Yusuf Akkaya, the participation of the tourists to the tulip festival was 80 percent less than the previous year.

Instead, uniformed security forces and policemen in plain clothes could be seen patrolling the square.

A French citizen Aurora in her 20s was among the handful tourists in Sultanahmet.

“Terror is everywhere. You know what happened in Paris. So, I can say that I am not scared at all.”

Security measures have been augmented significantly during the festival period as a private security team was set up for the protection of the festival area.

Meanwhile, local shopkeepers have also been informing the police every suspicious person or any unaccompanied packages and bags in the area.

The head of the security team said Istanbul can no longer tolerate another incident.

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