November 20, 2003 – A reflection

Wow. It has been a long time. It was the day that I was upfront and almost centre to a major terror attack. It was the twin bombings in Istanbul, Turkey. As fate had it, a last minute change in scheduling, saved me from who knows what. Worse case dead, best case severely wounded. In the attacks I lost most of my new friends as I had only lived in Turkey for just over a year.

HSBC Headquarters in Istanbul shortly after 2003 bombing. My friend Kerem was in a taxi and died instantly.

An Al Qaida twin bombing attack on the UK Consulate and the HSBC headquarters left many dead and hundreds wounded. Here is the story with resources from WIkipedia and other news outlets. The photo above shows the devastation of this, first of the two attacks.

The first attack occurred at around 10:55 a.m. (UTC+2.00) with the detonation of a bomb, comprising 700 kilograms of ammonium sulfate, ammonium nitrate, and compressed fuel oil, in a truck that had parked in front of the HSBC Bank AS building on Büyükdere Avenue in the Levent neighbourhood of Beşiktaş. There were fatalities and injuries inside and near the building, and after the explosion, the first six above ground stories of the building became unusable, and the front side of the building was badly damaged. Inside the building, an elevator that had been in motion at the time of the bombing collapsed. Body parts were flung from the site of the explosion as far as 400 meters away.

Approximately five minutes later, at around 11:00 a.m., another bomb-laden truck drove into the security gate and detonated in front of the British Consulate on Meşrutiyet Avenue in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district. Deaths and injuries were immediately reported from the explosion, and the outer wall of the consulate’s front garden collapsed onto cars driving by in the street, and a fire burned in the garden. Buildings nearby the consulate, including the entrance to the Çiçek Passage market, and cars on the street were also badly damaged.

A statement issued by the Office of the Istanbul Governor Public Order Operations Center on the day of the attacks reported that 27 people had died—11 in the attack in front of the HSBC General Directorate and 16 at the British Consulate—and more than 450 people were injured in the bombings. According to a written statement on November 24 from the Istanbul Provincial Health Directorate, 432 people had been treated and discharged from the hospital and 30 people, of whom six were in intensive care, were still receiving treatment.

Devastation of the consulate blast. I was supposed to have been in the building where the flagpole’s top is pointing at.

Turkish actor and singer Kerem Yılmazer died in the HSBC bombing as he was going to the NTV building, where I also worked. Yılmazer’s wife Göksel Kortay, a famous Turkish actress, was on a live program on TV8 when the news of the bombings broke. 58-year-old British Consul General and career diplomat Roger Short also perished in the attack.

Kerem and Roger were both friends of mine. I met Kerem at NTV and we connected quickly as he had visited Canada many times. I met Roger at a consulate function and we hit it off right away. I also had a number of friends from the consulate with whom I met at a local tea garden across from the consulate. Most were from the UK and some were local staff. It was nice to have English speaking friends. All but one of them perished in the blast. The one that survived was called out to another office minutes before the blast. It took me three days to find out he was alive. His phone was buried in the rubble along with his consular department workmates. I also found out days days later that Kerem had died.

In memory of all those who perished or were injured in the horrendous acts of violence and terrorism. May goodness and peace prevail on this beautiful planet.

Martin Huhn

Nov 20, 2022

Postscript:

More photos from that morning from CBS News. Warning: These are distressing even for me, as these were areas I worked quite often. In some of these photos, I know those helping or being helped. M.H.