Istanbul – and in fact, the world – woke up to a stark reality on Wednesday. Forty-four people were killed and 239 people were injured during an attack staged at the international terminal of Terminal 2 at Atatürk Airport in Istanbul, one of the busiest in the world by passenger traffic.

Olga Alexopoulou, an award-winning Greek artist living in the city, was among those shocked by the incident.

“On Tuesday night my husband, our five-month-old son and myself were fast asleep when a friend called us to check that we were okay,” she says.

“It took a while for the news to sink in. You see, in the last year there have been 17 terrorist attacks and most of them happened in Istanbul. You would think that we are used to it but we are not. There is a lot of denial that we entertain to keep us going. Istanbul is a megacity of 18 million, so the next day it was pretty much business as usual. Don’t forget, this is the Middle East, so things take on different significance or lightness or tragedy than in the west.”

Coping with this kind of violence potentially erupting at any given moment can be a challenge, but the city’s residents are not willing to be defeated, says Olga.

“Every time something like this happens people try and mend their wounds in different ways. Some turn to hatred, others try and get closer to the people around them. For the previous terrorist hit (7 June), a great street food blog called ‘Culinary Backstreet Istanbul’ was encouraging people to go out and drink Turkish tea with one another. Tea runs through every aspect of social life in Turkey, whether you want to do business, buy a rug or console a friend. This time, people started gathering to give blood for those still in hospital. I don’t know what people will do next time; it gets harder every time …”

Those who want to inflict pain to the city and the country know this, of course. For Istanbul is where the heart of the Turkish economy beats. The wave of extremist attacks is bound to leave a mark on the economy – and is already posing a threat to the tourism industry, one of the largest sectors of the country’s economy, accounting for as much as 12 per cent of its GDP.

According to many reports, the industry has almost ground to a standstill as a result of the bloody string of attacks over the past year. The number of foreigners arriving in Turkey in May was 2.48 million, down 34.6 per cent from the same month in 2015, according to government data, and this week’s attack is bound to further affect this. The Atatürk Airport, after all, is the main entry point for a majority of the more than 30 million people who visit Turkey every year – among them many Australians, but also Greeks visiting their homeland, as it has become one of the stop-overs of choice for many carriers.
The airport is also the hub of Turkish Airlines, the country’s only known international brand, and the gateway to doing business in Istanbul.

And not only business – for centuries the city, perched on the crossroad between east and west, has been attracting intellectuals and artists who want to benefit of Istanbul’s energy and at the same time, add to it with their work.

“I first visited Istanbul about a decade ago while on holidays, but it hit me straight away, that feeling that I could live here,” says Olga, who was born in Athens and has studied and worked in the UK.

“There is a certain mystery and atmosphere about this city that draws you in. So I packed my stuff and moved from London to Istanbul. Being a painter made such decisions easier because you can send your art to galleries around the world while having your studio where you please.”

How does an artist like herself cope with this kind of everyday threat?

“Some months ago I did a painting workshop for a charity called Project Lift that reaches out to Syrian refugee children in Istanbul,” she says.

“A huge number of them live in a neighbourhood called Sultanbeyli which is an ISIS recruiting ground. These children are afraid, they are unprotected and if we don’t reach out to them others will. Building bridges is the only thing that will save us all.”