ANKARA—For weeks, the main shopping areas of Turkey’s capital city have been eerily vacant. On October 29, the U.S. government advised family members of embassy staff to leave the country, while other nations sent out warnings, recommending their citizens avoid streets with high foot traffic throughout the month of December, in response to intelligence indicating a likely attack by the Islamic State. With two bombings and one assassination over the past ten days, everyone expected an attack of some sort in Ankara. But few would have predicted the form it would take, when, on Monday night, a 22-year-old police officer named Melvut Mert Altintas gunned down Andrey Karlov, Russia’s ambassador to Turkey. “God is great!” he shouted in Arabic, and “Don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria!” in Turkish, as he stood over Karlov’s motionless body.
For months, Turkey has been unraveling. Shortly after the attempted coup of July 15, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government announced a state of emergency to remove any lingering threats from supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the exiled religious and political leader who the state blames for orchestrating the failed putsch, as well as people affiliated with the Kurdish movement. Mass purges touched nearly all job sectors, with education and the state judicial system taking the biggest hits. Anyone suspected of a crime could be held for 30 days without charge in detention centers where inmates are reportedly being tortured.