We were all traumatized by the terrible events at Atatürk Airport, where 44 people died and more than a couple of hundred were injured. Istanbul Atatürk International Airport is one of the world's best-guarded international airports. There are controls at the entrance of vehicles, before approaching the terminal, the entrance at the terminals are equipped with x-ray detection systems and searching hubs. The passport control check points are also equipped with x-ray detectors and search units.
The whole system of surveillance is supplemented by mobile security units, armed custom officers and other military support units. A military air field is adjacent to the airport, its perimeter is also heavily guarded by the Air Force infantry. All of this sophisticated security could not prevent the terrible slaughtering of almost 50 innocent people. For a very basic reason: An airport, very much like a hospital or a temple, is a public place designed to continuously welcome large numbers of people. Already working well over its capacity, Atatürk Airport cannot be further guarded, without it being shut down for good.
What happened in the aftermath of the attack and the killings is perhaps more dramatic. In no time more than a 100 fully equipped ambulances were mobilized, together with all the hospital emergency rooms and teams within the vicinity of the airport area. The first problem was that the traffic was and always is terribly dense in this spot during evening hours. With the panic stemming from the attack, a number of drivers tried to roll away from the airport area, totally blocking the roads. At normal times, it is very difficult for an ambulance to have free passage in Turkish traffic. This has become such a terrible nuisance that the government has decided to warn drivers through public spots on TV. In the traffic jam, it was virtually impossible for the ambulances to reach the airport. For those who succeeded in reaching the area, taking the injured people back to the hospitals became another difficult saga. All the TV channels started to warn drivers that they should allow free passage for the rescue teams and ambulances.
The worst is not yet to come. The blast and gunfire at the entrance of the terminal killed a number of taxi drivers waiting for customers. When a similar attack happened in Brussels, taxi drivers at Zaventem airport decided spontaneously to give free rides to people trying to escape. In Istanbul, airport taxi drivers decided to ask for exorbitant sums to carry away passengers, like a $100 as a starting fee. Zaventhem taxis honored their profession and human dignity. How the reactions by the Istanbul taxi drivers should be defined is a whole different problem.
This is an issue that should not be singled out. Turkish urban society is sick. The rural exodus has been so swift and the population growth so high that a very young and new urban tissue has formed, especially over the last 30 years. Out of a very inward-looking economy and closed society, a new vibrant and liberalized economy emerged. Neither the economy nor the urbanization had time to establish new codes of conduct. "Ethics" are sorely missing in modern Turkey. The result justifies the means, and that may lead to terrible occurrences like taxi drivers blackmailing people trying to escape from the airport.
Exactly 102 years ago, during the terrible year of 1914, an ill-prepared French Army was trying to stop the advancing German army from marching towards Paris. Reconnaissance troops were only a few dozen kilometers from Paris. General Gallieni, in charge of defending Paris, wanted to send fresh troops to the Marne valley to encircle the advancing German troops. It was not possible to use the trains because the railroads were saturated. So he had the idea of mobilizing Parisian taxis, each taxi being able to transport five fully equipped infantrymen. Between Sept. 6 and 7 1914, a total of 6,000 French soldiers were sent to the front, in 1,200 taxis. These were Renault cars, able to reach a speed of 25 kilometers per hour. The reinforcement troops hardly changed the fate of the Battle of Marne. However, the requisition of Parisian taxis was an attempt at asking civil society to support a war effort. In a symbolic way, it has had immense repercussions. Even today Parisian taxis remember their finest hour during 1914 and take great pride in it. This has been a very important element in forging a participative, vibrant civil society in France. As they say in French "A bon entendeur, salut," which means "a single word to the wise is enough."
Post scriptum: Parisian taxi drivers were paid normal fares on their course between Paris and Nanteuil le Haudoin upon their return by the French government.