They say a picture is worth a thousands words. The one of an off-duty police officer standing triumphantly over the body of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey in Ankara, says so much more. On what was due to be an ordinary evening in the Turkish capital, Andrei Karlov attended a photo exhibition to make a few remarks at the opening of a collection entitled ‘Russia as seen by Turks’. They turned out to be his last. As he addressed the small crowd, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The 62 year-old was, as you’d expect of a man of his status, flanked by men in suits. Little did anyone expect that one of the suits would open fire and kill him.
Captured on camera, the gun fire can be heard before ambassador Karlov falls to the ground. As the lenses pull out, his assassin, named as Mevlut Mert Aydintas, aged 22 and a member of the Ankara riot police, is seen shouting. ‘Allahau Akbar’, he is reported to have said, before apparently saying: ‘Don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria’. A short time later, it was confirmed the shooting was fatal.
While many questions are being asked about the assassination of Russia’s ambassador, the most important surrounds not the act itself, but the impact it may have on the fractious relationship between these two neighbouring countries. In the last 13 months, the friendship between Russia and Turkey over Syria has been on ice so thin, both sides have suffered frostbite. These ‘friendly neighbours’ backed opposing sides in the Syrian conflict and at times that’s led to direct conflict, including in 2015 when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane on its border. Diplomatic ties were cut. As, too, were economic ones – nearly starving entire sectors of Turkey’s economy, until President Erdogan grovelled to Vladimir Putin.
With the tensions put behind them, the two presidents have been forging their own solution to the Syrian conflict, reaching a deal within the last week to allow people to leave Aleppo as Assad’s forces regained ground.