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The Away Days: Indie band reveal 'desperate atmosphere' in Erdogan's Turkey

Exclusive: Frontman of Istanbul group was moments away from car bomb that killed 44 people

Roisin O'Connor
Monday 19 December 2016 11:06
The scene in Istanbul after a bomb was detonated next to a police bus
The scene in Istanbul after a bomb was detonated next to a police bus

The frontman of Turkish band The Away Days has revealed that he was just moments away from a bomb that killed 44 people and injured 166.

Can Ozen, who fronts the Istanbul-based dream pop indie band, told The Independent that he and his girlfriend were in a taxi driving down a main road between Taxim Square and Besiktas in Istanbul when a car bomb was detonated near the Vodafone Arena football stadium, with another set off in a nearby park.

"Me and also some of my friends were really close to the explosion - it was two or three cars in front of ours," Ozen said. "It was terrifying - we tried to get home as soon as possible - the taxi driver tried to charge us more, of course."

Can Ozen (left) with The Away Days

There has been no claim of responsibility since the attack but deputy prime minister Numan Kurtulmus told CNN Turk that the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) may have been behind it.

Turkish police have been carrying out a wave of arrests since the bombing, targeting pro-Kurdish politicians, officials accused of having links with the PKK, and members of the opposition People's Democratic Party (HDP).

The interior ministry said on 12 December that 235 people in 11 cities had been arrested on terrorism-related charges and for spreading terrorist propaganda on social media.

Turkey has received strong criticism from western governments, legal experts and human rights groups for its treatment of journalists in the country as part of a wider government crackdown following the July coup attempt.

"Turkey is now the world’s number one jailer of journalists," Ozen said. "International press has to pay more attention to Turkey and give voice to our people and journalists. It's really heartbreaking and embarrassing that these things are happening in 2016."

According to an annual survey compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), there were 259 journalists in jail as of 1 December, with at least 81 of those held in Turkish prisons.

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In a two-month period, the Turkish government - led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan - detained more than 100 journalists and closed down at least 100 news outlets, the report said. All of the editors, writers, cartoonists and photographers detained in Turkey are facing anti-state charges. It is believed to be the highest number of journalists ever held in one country at one time.

The CPJ report reads: "In Turkey, media freedom was already under siege in early 2016, with authorities arresting, harassing, and expelling journalists and shutting down or taking over news outlets."

Ozen says that the atmosphere in Turkey over the last few months has become "desperate".

"Hundreds of thousands of government employees including teachers, police officers, and military officers have been either laid off or moved positions," he said. "One half of the country is happy that Erdogan's power is reassured and the other half feels trapped and powerless. Meanwhile the economy is getting worse, unemployment is increasing, Turkish lira is losing value and and people are restless.

"We have media censorship after each terror attack - everything stops. Twitter, Facebook, even the internet gets shut or slowed down. TV channels stop sharing the news because the government wants to be the one who informs people on who did what and why."

He says that many people in Turkey - particularly those who are young, educated and with liberal views - want to leave the country. The Away Days tackle the subject of feeling trapped in their second single 'Places To Go'.

"You'll always hear Turkish people talking about leaving their country for various reasons, but this time it is different," Ozen says.

"People now want to leave because they are scared for their and their loved ones' lives. They are convinced that the future is not bright for the country."

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