Istanbul terror attack: A bloody end to a grim year for Turkey

Updated 11:18 AM EST, Mon January 2, 2017
Surveillance footage of the suspect in the Turkey nightclub shooting. It is unknown when or where the surveillance video was shot from.
CNN Turk along with other Turkish media outlets say they obtained the photos from police.
CNN Turk
Surveillance footage of the suspect in the Turkey nightclub shooting. It is unknown when or where the surveillance video was shot from. CNN Turk along with other Turkish media outlets say they obtained the photos from police.
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ISTANBUL, TURKEY - JANUARY 1: Turkish police secure the area at Ortakoy district near night club Reina on January 1, 2017 in Istanbul, Turkey. Istanbul governor Vasip Sahin says at least 35 dead and 40 wounded at terror attack at Istanbul's famous night club of Reina in Bosphorus shores in the new year party.  (Photo by Stringer/Getty Images)
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ISTANBUL, TURKEY - JANUARY 1: Turkish police secure the area at Ortakoy district near night club Reina on January 1, 2017 in Istanbul, Turkey. Istanbul governor Vasip Sahin says at least 35 dead and 40 wounded at terror attack at Istanbul's famous night club of Reina in Bosphorus shores in the new year party. (Photo by Stringer/Getty Images)
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People react at the site of an armed attack January 1, 2017 in Istanbul. At least two people were killed in an armed attack Saturday on an Istanbul nightclub where people were celebrating the New Year, Turkish television reports said. / AFP / YASIN AKGUL (Photo credit should read YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images)
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ISTANBUL, TURKEY - DECEMBER 10:  (EDITOR'S NOTE: Image contains graphic content) Forensic policemen and officers attend the scene following a twin suicide bomb attack near to  Besiktas Vodaphone Arena on December 10, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey. According to reports, at least 13 people were killed by a twin suicide bomb attack near to the Besiktas Vodaphone Arena, which is believed to have been targeting riot police. (Photo by Kurtulus Ari /Getty Images)
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A protester holds up a Turkish flag as others raise their hands during a demonstration in Taksim square in Istanbul on June 8, 2013. Thousands of angry Turks took to the streets on June 8 to join mass anti-government protests, defying Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's call to end the worst civil unrest of his decade-long rule. Erdogan, meanwhile, was meeting in Istanbul with top officials of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) to discuss the crisis, and a deputy prime minister was due to make a speech later on June 8. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
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Turkey: A country in turmoil

Story highlights

Repeated violence blighted Turkey in 2016, threatening its popularity with tourists

Country is in crosshairs of two groups: radical Islamists and Kurds

(CNN) —  

In Istanbul’s horrific New Year terror attack the message is clear: 2017 has begun, expect more of the same to come.

The echo of the black-clad gunman’s bullets on such a globally festive night will reverberate long and hard.

The year 2016 had already laid a terrible and bloody foundation of terrorist mayhem for Turkey’s citizens: Dozens of attacks, from Europe’s easternmost tip in Istanbul through to Turkey’s southern border with Syria.

At times last year it felt that barely a week went by between strikes, from a brazen gun and bomb raid at Istanbul’s main international airport to carnage on the city’s tourist-filled streets, to the assassination of Russia’s ambassador in the capital, Ankara, 12 days ago.

Such was the crescendo of attacks in the last few months of 2016 that the terror at Reina nightclub had a feeling of inevitability about it – if not there precisely, then someplace similar: upmarket, secular, serving alcohol.

Barely two months ago, the US State Department warned that “extremist groups are continuing aggressive efforts to attack US citizens in areas of Istanbul where they reside or frequent.”

In a year, Turkey has gone from popular tourist destination to disturbingly dependable terror venue. That’s not a reputation any country wants – and particularly not Turkey, with its economy struggling following an attempted coup last summer. This has not come out of nowhere.

READ MORE: Dozens killed in upscale nightclub attack

Decades of bloody conflict

There are two brands of terror targeting Turkey now: Kurdish and radical Islamist.

It would be easy to lay the blame for the growth of both at the feet of Turkey’s increasingly autocratic and powerful President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but that would be to oversimplify the upheaval underway in this once secular country.

Yet Erdogan shapes Turkey’s destiny more than any other single person.

Four years ago he ended three decades of bloody conflict with the country’s Kurds. They make up one fifth of Turkey’s 80 million people. Tens of thousands died in a terror campaign as they fought the state for better rights.

With peace came popularity, a secular Kurdish party winning seats in the following national elections. But their gains threatened Erdogan’s grip on parliamentary power.

As this was playing out, the war in neighboring Syria was heating up. The United States did a deal with Turkey to use its Incirlik airbase close to the Syrian border in order to strike ISIS targets. In return, Turkey agreed to strike “terrorists”