Russia’s ambassador to Turkey was assassinated in public at a photo exhibit in Ankara

The killer, a moment after the shooting.
The killer, a moment after the shooting.
Image: AP/Burhan Ozbilici
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A gunman shouting “Don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria!” shot and killed the Russian ambassador to Turkey today (Dec. 19) at a photo exhibit in the Turkish capital of Ankara.

The assassination seems likely to stir new tension between Russia and Turkey, which only recently restored normal ties after a rift when Turkey, only a year ago, shot down a Russian military jet.

The mayor of Ankara, Melih Gokcek, tweeted that the gunman at the gallery was a Turkish policeman. Identified in Turkish media as Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, he was killed in a shootout with Turkish police after the assassination. Photos and a video of the shooting seemed to show at least three other people wounded by Altıntaş.

Given the extraordinary unease around the world over the wellspring of anti-elite populism, the murder of the Russian ambassador, Andrei Karlov, has already triggered nervous comparisons with August 1914, when the assassination of archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria inadvertently ignited World War I (though the analogy may be a stretch).

The Turkish lira, already down by 20% this year, took a new plunge after the shooting.

Adding to the unpredictability of the situation is the ego- and nationalist-driven personalities of both Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan and Russian president Vladimir Putin. Both are headstrong and prone to theatrical and risky shows of power and force.

Russia’s relationship with Turkey is that of geopolitical rivals. In Syria, both of them oppose ISIL, but otherwise are on opposite sides, with Russia propping up Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and Turkey opposed to him and supporting the Free Syrian Army, a rebel group.