On the night of July 15th, a military coup shocked Turkey. Fighter jets were flying around 10:30 pm. I heard a woman tell her infant son that we were going to war. I was in the hospital that night. The nurses informed me and my mom that all ambulances had been dispatched to an army HQ. Some people assumed that it was a terror attack. Some thought it was a coup. I guess, it could be argued that it was both. Those who attempted the coup were later called “terrorists in uniform”.
News was coming in that the bridges in Istanbul that connected Asia to Europe had been blocked by army vehicles, with passage to the European side being prohibited. Then came the talk of martial law being imposed. Curfew. Fighter jets were flying low. Social media cuts were experienced. No one knew exactly what to think. An idea of a coup sounded insane. My mom was joking about how she might not be able to go outside, like the 80’s coup, that maybe we would have to stay in the hospital. The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) declared that the government had lost its legitimacy. The national broadcasting channel, TRT, was taken over by armed forces, with the manifesto of the coup being forcibly broadcast; CNN Turk soon followed and was down for about an hour. When it got back, President Erdogan addressed the country through a live FaceTime call.
He urged people to go out into the street and stand up to the military. People followed; some threw themselves in front of tanks. This was seen as a great moment of irony in Turkey, the same man who had said he would “wipe out” Twitter was now using it to call on the people to take to the streets in protest, something else that he hadn’t been very fond of in the past.
By this time I was asleep as the nurses had gotten cross with me for staying up so late and asked me to turn off my electronics. However, I woke soon after to sounds of Ankara being bombed by its own military. The Parliament building was bombed thrice. They narrowly missed hitting the Presidential Palace, and hit the garden instead. Hostages were taken, the Chief of Staff among them. Soon after President Erdogan left his vacation home in Marmaris, it was bombed. They missed him by 62 minutes apparently. Many sound bombs were also dropped. The President flew to Istanbul and invited the people to greet him at the airport. This was after the national intelligence agency, MIT, declared the coup to be over. Soldiers blockading the Bosphorus bridges surrendered. I have no words to describe those images. Soldiers surrendering to their own police like they were an invading force. Many civilians attacked the soldiers, and some were beheaded by civilians. It was horrifying, people acted like animals. The police had to keep people from lynching the soldiers.
If the way in which I’ve told the events seem chaotic and non-cohesive, it’s because they were. No one knew what was going on or who to trust. The Prime Minister was on TV saying the coup was under control as rumors were spreading of martial law being imposed and of the TSK having taken over. In the capital, Ankara, windows were shaking as the bombs hit. I could hear people sobbing in the hospital and the nurses trying to keep them calm. In the morning, my mom came to pick me up and we went back to our house using the metro. I’d never seen it so empty. People on the trains were screaming at each other and accusing each other of not following the principles of Ataturk. There was an atmosphere of disbelief, grief, anger and fear. People were either utterly silent or couldn’t stop talking. When we got off, sounds of fighter jets were still in the air. We went to the store to buy bread. They were out. People had come in at night and bought as much as they could.
We turned on the news when we got home. There were images of the bombed parliament building. People were calling the perpetrators “traitors”. Governing officials were quick to take advantage of the situation and paint themselves as heroes. It was sickening to see. Parliament soon met, as the building was still intact, albeit heavily damaged in some areas. The coup was condemned by everyone. The opposition party, as I described to my sister, was “low-key throwing shade” at the governing party, talking about how changing the constitution would not be democratic. The whole of the national anthem, itself a poem, was recited in parliament. The 15th of July was referred to as Democracy Day.
It was around this time that my friends abroad started messaging me asking if I was okay, if I was safe, if my family was safe, how I was feeling. I didn’t know what to say. I was fine, but then again, I wasn’t? My sister was talking to her friends; they were saying they had a new phobia of planes. I can only hope that they were joking, but since they had experienced what I had last night, I knew it was far from it. I was also shaking that morning as more jets passed overhead. They were saying 40 dead. 60. 90. 100. 130. 161. 208 is the latest number. 1491 are injured. The Prime Minister called those who orchestrated the coup “The worst of terrorists, worse than the PKK”, which is quite a statement in Turkey. 2839 soldiers were arrested. Over 2700 judges were dismissed. All this while President Erdogan said that Turkey will consider reinstating the death penalty. One can only imagine the number of soldiers that would be executed if this is indeed the case. Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2004, due to its bid to join the European Union; no one has been executed since 1984.
I found out that the police station from where I had gotten my passport a month ago had been bombed. The police officer who had handled my application had fast-tracked it since he knew I was traveling soon. He stayed overtime to finish it before lunch so I could get it that same day. He jokingly asked me to bring him back a pink fan from Japan. When he saw that I was restless, he said that he had a daughter my age, that we were all fidgety like this.
On a group chat for a summer program that I was a part of, people were starting to talk about the coup attempt. Soon, an argument broke out. It was over a conspiracy theory of sorts, that the government had actually orchestrated the coup in order to pass their new constitution that, among other things, would greatly increase the powers of the president. People started saying that it had played out too perfectly. How Erdogan had narrowly avoided being in Marmaris when it was bombed, how his plane had had no trouble getting to Istanbul, how the airport he landed in hadn’t gotten bombed even though there were fighter jets nearby, and how they had narrowly missed hitting the presidential palace. They were saying that trained soldiers wouldn’t make these mistakes unless they were intentional. People were saying they had no qualms bombing parliament but avoided bombing the presidential palace. How no one the President would actually care, had died. How this would only benefit the President. These are all conspiracy theories, but many people seem to believe in them. As do many people believe that this was orchestrated by the U.S. or Israel. They say that the jets that night had gotten fuel from the U.S. air base in Incirlik, which is used in aerial operations against the so-called Islamic State. Now the U.S. has imposed a travel ban on all flights from Turkey to the U.S. and on U.S. flights flying to the Istanbul or Ankara airports. I’ve heard some people say this is because of tensions over the Incirlik air base. Turkish Labor Minister Soylu has also accused the U.S. of being behind the coup. In response to this, on a phone call on Saturday with the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoğlu, Mr. John Kerry, American Secretary of State, urged restraint by the Turkish government and said that “public insinuations or claims about any role by the United States in the failed coup attempt are utterly false and harmful to our bilateral relations,” according to a transcription of the call made public by the State Department. “We think it’s irresponsible to have accusations of American involvement,” Mr. Kerry told CNN Sunday.
The government accuses ‘the parallel state’, essentially Fetullah Gulen, currently in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, of orchestrating the coup, a charge Mr. Gulen has denied. The government wants the U.S. to extradite him to Turkey to be charged. Mr. Kerry has said the Justice Department would examine any evidence Turkey presented as part of an extradition request.
News started to come in that there was a WhatsApp group chat of the coup members which they used to communicate and organise themselves. My friend joked that it was impossible to plan anything on a group chat, much less a coup. People were saying they were fake. Some believed them. many didn’t know what to believe. Then came the videos of the soldiers on the Bosphorus bridges being attacked. Beheaded. The attackers in one video, civilians, could be heard saying: “We’ve killed four, we’re going to get the fifth now” and one shouting as police intervene, “Let me shoot him once, it’ll ease my conscience”.
All traces of that eventful night were cleansed in the morning; However, there were still abandoned tanks on the streets, as well as overturned cars that had been run over by tanks, some with people still inside them. People are taking to the streets on “democracy watches” to protest the coup and all public transportation is free of charge for the time being. There are still instances of gunfire on the streets; a night or two ago two people on a “democracy watch” were shot. There was also a shooting outside of a court, where those who accused of participating in the coup are having their statements taken. The shooter has been reported to have been killed.