There was always going to be another. The question was “When?” Even as I got on the plane for Istanbul I wasn’t sure if I had another book in me. Or in Suzan for that matter. But given her world had imploded as well as exploded as I typed the first sentence to Road to Damascus it seemed inevitable that there would be more to tell.
Six years later things are a thousand times worse than they were in 2011. During this time we have seen each other twice. Syria was out of bounds, but we were able to meet in neighbouring countries. Jordan. Lebanon. Turkey. We were treading around one gigantic war zone, each destination having seen its share of conflict, and in our lifetime. We knew all too well that peace when you arrived might not mean there would be peace when you departed.
When my plane landed in Istanbul on 15 July this year I was met with blistering sunshine and smiling faces. Within eight hours the chill of unrest hit the city and Turkey was once again at war with itself. Bombs, demonstrations, helicopter gunships and marshall law about to be imposed, and all in what had been a relatively stable, democratic county with its eyes on Europe.
I slept through it all. Well most of it. I awoke briefly around 3am to the sound of sirens. Nothing new there. Sirens in the dead of night in a Middle East country is compulsory. More often than not there is no emergency, just a need to get somewhere quickly. However these sirens did go on. And on. Deciding that it was in fact a multi-car accident and the emergency services had just forgotten to turn off their sirens in the excitement (a very real possibility even at that time), I turned my deaf ear to the ceiling and drifted off to sleep again.
When I awoke in the morning and checked my phone, for no other reason than to check my phone (a very pointless contemporary habit for which I am thoroughly ashamed), there was a text from a friend back home telling me Turkey was under attack and I had to get out of there fast. More British than Jordanian, I decided it was too early to panic. I called Suzan. If she was panicking then I might have a problem.
Suzan took a while to pick up and when she did she was irritated. I had woken her up. A good sign I felt. Her apartment was eight floors up overlooking the city. If it really had gone up in smoke she would have had a bird’s eye view of it. But I did detect a quake in her voice as told me that the army had attempted to take over the country during the night, but it had failed. Deciding I needed a more reliable source of information I checked the web. It wasn’t difficult to find, Turkey was headline news: “As it Happened: Turkey Coup”. The fifth in just under half a century. This one lasted just 9 hours, but had left 300 dead.
The coup attempt had had little impact on me personally. If anything it created a sharper atmosphere in which to write, but seeing the faces of Suzan and her family when I joined them later that day I could see it had been a long night for them. She had every right to be irritated at being woken up, she had just watched Duma all over again.