The Russian ambassador to Turkey was shot dead in the Turkish capital Ankara on Monday, sparking immediate fears of a diplomatic crisis and some even to compare it to the event that led to World War I. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo, Bosnia, in June 1914.
A month later Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, Europe split in two, with the continent’s major powers coming down on either side. War raged for more than four years, costing the lives of around 17 million soldiers and civilians.
Soon after the killing of Ambassador Andrey Karlov, the name of Franz Ferdinand was trending on Twitter.
The incident comes at a diplomatically precarious time. The foreign and defense ministries of Russia and Iran, which backed Syrian President Bashar Assad in his country’s bloody civil war, were set to meet their counterpart in Turkey, which supported the Syrian opposition, in Moscow on Tuesday.
The talks were scheduled following a significant victory, at the cost of heavy civilian casualties, for the Syrian army and its allies in regaining control of Aleppo, once Syria’s largest city and financial center.
The man who shot and killed Karlov, reported to be Turkish police officer Mert Altintas, shouted “Do not forget Syria! Do not forget Aleppo!” after carrying out the killing at the opening of a photography exhibition.
Still, comparisons with the killing of Ferdinand look to be wide of the mark, if understandable in this most destabilizing of years.
Ferdinand’s assassination arguably provided Austria-Hungary the excuse it was seeking to quell rising Slav-nationalism. Peace in Europe was also still a very tenuous one after centuries of disputes.
Although the future of the European Union has come under the spotlight following the United Kingdom’s vote to leave and a rise of nationalistic populism across the continent, Europe has now been at peace since the end of World War II more than 70 years ago.
And the incident looks unlikely to fracture the relationship between Russia and Turkey. While there was enormous tension last year when a Turkish plane shot down a Russian jet close to a Syrian empire, the two countries have been recently cooperating over the ceasefire in Aleppo.
Following the assassination on Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, Turkey’s foreign ministry called the shooting a “lowly terrorist act” and that Turkey would not allow the incident to “cast a shadow” over Turkish-Russian friendship.