In Istanbul, three days of snowfall soothes terror-stricken residents


ISTANBUL – The new year arrived here in a terrible frenzy of gunfire and death, with 39 people killed as they celebrated at an upscale, waterside club. The massacre had seemed a grim omen, too, signaling that the coming year in Turkey might be as worrying as the last, with rattling, deadly terrorist attacks, a failed coup and mass arrests by a government that increasingly sees itself as surrounded by enemies.

But then it snowed.

A blizzard that started on Friday evening has hardly stopped since, blanketing Istanbul and swaths of Turkey in white while providing everyone with a moment: to throw a snowball, to take a selfie or to stay at home and talk about the weather, rather than the latest terrorist attack.

Snowmen started popping up on Istanbul’s steep, cobblestone streets, as residents waddled on patches of ice and snapped pictures of the stunning city, so depressed of late but suddenly made more joyful in white. For nearly half an hour, all the men on one street in a neighborhood by the Bosporhous left their shops and started a pitched, ecstatic snowball fight.

“There comes a moment when you can forget your sadness and anxieties,” said Cenk Capan, 37, the owner of a restaurant and a warrior in the snowball battle.

“Of course it is not the medicine to fix everything. We are very sad; a lot of people have been martyred,” he added. But snow brought “purity,” he said. “It holds a special place.”

At about 16 inches in places, it was not the heaviest snowfall the city had ever seen, or even all that rare. But it seemed perfectly timed.

“Nature has given Istanbul a break after everything that has been happening,” said Ozgur Mumcu, a columnist for the daily Cumhuriyet newspaper and law lecturer at Galatasaray University. Among other things, “people feel like they do not have to worry that an attack will happen with this weather,” he said.

Flights were canceled, shops were closed and roads were made impassable by growing hills of sludge. But many people hardly seemed bothered, Mumcu said. “Istanbul needed something like this.”

For others though, it was hard to put Turkey’s troubles out of mind. “The bulletins on the news have changed, but that’s it. The euro and dollar are rising,” said Koray Bilir, 28, referring to the precipitous slide of the Turkish currency as he threw snowballs at some icicles.

“The snow is nice for people who have money,” he said.

The forecast predicted that Tuesday would bring rain, and more grim conversations, no doubt, about the sorry state of the country’s democracy, the spillover of the wars across Turkey’s borders and anxiety about the nightclub killer, who is still on the lam.

But for now it was still snowing, and Selin Samur, 35, was enjoying her coffee, in a downtown neighborhood less than a mile away from a stadium where 48 people were killed by car bombs last month.

“We had been anxious,” she said, “but the snow has been pleasant.”

Special to The Washington Post · Zeynep Karatas