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The night of July 15 in Istanbul

On Friday night in Turkey, everybody was awake on the streets or at home, frightened of the possible outcomes

It was a regular Friday night. I was at the wedding of a close friend in Beykoz on the Anatolian side of Istanbul. A friend of mine sent me a message about an attack at Beylerbeyi Palace where there is a presidential compound that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan uses as an office, very close to where I was. Soldiers had closed the roads, de-armed the police and asked everyone to go home as martial law was declared, they announced. This was the first news that I heard and decided to leave the wedding at an early hour. Something bad was going on.

It was the weekend, but there was unusual activity on the roads. According to the GPS, there was a lot of traffic toward both bridges that connect the Anatolian to the European side of the city. I was trying to get home as quickly as possible as there was some abnormality that I could not name. We chose to drive through the forest road, which is way longer than the highway. During our drive, news from social media and messages from my friends and family members started to flow in.

Everything was surreal. The Bosporus Bridge was closed one way by gendarmes. There was a picture shared of 10 or 15 very young men in uniforms standing in front of a tank in the middle of the bridge. What was going on? Everyone was repeating to go back home for your own safety. We were trying, driving through dark alleys.

On the radio there was some oldies but goldies playing from the '90s. I returned back to social media, which has become our main source of news for some years now. There was a lot of information flowing. Not knowing which were true, each piece of information coming was terrifying: F-16s flying low in Ankara, top general Hulusi Akar taken hostage, his bodyguard killed, both bridges closed and under the control of the military, Turkish airspace closed for flights, an airplane hijacked. What was going on? No one had an idea, everybody was in total shock. Turkey has a long history of military coups and has suffered from their consequences - this should not be happening now.

Finally, news channels on the radio started to report. But they did not know much, either. While we tried to make sense of what was going on, conspiracy theories started to flow. Was the whole event really staged? Turkish society is inclined toward conspiracy theories and the naked truth is sometimes not enough. What was worse, could this be a real military coup? Had Turkey not learned already from its own history full of successful and also unsuccessful coups and their outcomes?

The bridges were closed for sure. A friend of mine traveling with his family by bus from Istanbul to Antalya was stuck in traffic. Air traffic was also down. Another friend of mine was waiting in a plane not knowing what to do. She was asking us if she should stay or leave the plane, as the flight attendants could not give her an accurate picture. In the end, she waited and her plane took off after a few-hour delay. But her brother was stuck in the chaos on the streets in Istanbul. He was shot in the knee and could not find an ambulance. He will be operated on today.

Finally some accurate information started to flow. My friends were sharing news with us. They were watching the coup attempt live on TV. But this time the internet was slow. It was impossible to catch the news. We decided to go to the Bostancı port to catch a boat as the bridges were totally closed.

Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım announced on TV that a group from within the country's military attempted to overthrow the government. Stressing that the government elected by the people will remain in charge until the people say so, he added that all security forces were called in to do what was necessary. Some newspapers labeled the attempt the work of "parallel structure" soldiers, which is a name given to the supporters of U.S.-based imam Fetullah Gülen. However, the Gülen Movement-linked body, the Alliance for Shared Values, condemned the uprising, saying that they support peace and democracy.

At the same time, the state run TV station, TRT, was stormed and a military statement from a group called the Yurtta Sulk Konseyi (Peace at Home Council) started to air its statement on TRT and others channels. The military said in their statement that the armed forces had taken control of the country to protect the democratic order and to maintain human rights as well as the secular nature of the country. Some footage showed military tanks in front of Istanbul's Atatürk International Airport, the city's main airport, which was recently the scene of a deadly terrorist attack.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was on Turkey's south coast on holiday that night. He took to FaceTime to connect to CNN Türk live. He urged his supporters to take to the streets to revolt against the coup attempt. His return to Istanbul early Saturday morning was a clear sign that the coup was failing. He announced that the "minority" from within the armed forces who plotted the coup attempt will pay a heavy price for their treason.

Finally, I was in my neighborhood by midnight. A long line had been formed in front of gas stations. The rumor that banks would be closed for a few days forced people to ATM machines. There were long lines there, as well. Everybody was in a panic. Nobody could understand exactly what was going on. I went home and started to watch TV and read the news. While trying to understand the significance of the bombing of Parliament in Ankara, I feared that we could have been heading into a civil war.

On Friday night everybody was awake on the streets or at home, frightened of the possible outcomes. However, one thing is for sure, it will affect Turkey for a long time.

Karel Valansi Daily Sabah 17 July 2016


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