That night and beyond: Shame, mourning, pride, victory
On the night of July 15, 2016, jets started low altitude flights and some military personnel and vehicles simultaneously blocked the Bosporus and Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridges in Istanbul. At first, rumors were about a stolen plane that might attack Parliament or a similar key strategic building. However, blocking the bridges raised questions about whether it could be a DAESH or PKK terrorist attack. However, within less than an hour, thanks to a few pieces of footage on Twitter, as well as Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım’s statement on a live TV broadcast, it became clear that a small radical clique within the military was attempting a coup, acting against the chain of command. In a very short span of time, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s call through FaceTime on CNN Türk succeeded in showing that he was aware of the situation, he was fine and the establishment was taking the situation under control. He also took the chance to reach out the people in order to encourage them to stand against the putschists. Even though before his call for resistance there were already a great number of people on the streets, it significantly increased the amount. The following hours up to almost noon of the following day was like a nightmare for the people who seemed quite ready to face it. On the one hand, jets and helicopters attacked Parliament, the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) headquarters, police headquarters, Special Forces headquarters and ordinary people.
Helicopters even used thermal cameras to locate and shoot unarmed citizens hidden behind trees or walls trying to save themselves. What kind of damage such heavy ammunition inflicted on people is beyond words, something people on the streets would tell you if you sincerely ask what they lived through that night. Make sure that they do, since I personally witnessed without their feelings of sadness triumphing over their pride even when they talkg about their beloved friends and relatives deformed due to the expected impact of helicopter fire on ordinary people. These were the very people, in spite of their friends and/or relatives who were brutally killed in these attacks, faced tanks, helicopters and assault rifles with unprecedented courage and commitment to democratic norms and values. More than 200 people were killed and around 2,000 people injured in the popular fight for democracy.
Their resistance, grievances and injuries, the moments they bravely stood against the coup attempt, can still be felt while walking through particular streets in Ankara where attacks were focused. It is not so different from walking the streets of Sarajevo, where a sworn enemy, indifferently, using every military means at its disposal, but specifically making use of snipers, tried to cleanse a particular portion of the population just because of their religion. You can still see bullet holes, scars from bombs and destroyed and then rebuilt buildings. The difference is, this time in Turkey, it was not a war, the attackers were serving in our own military, they were educated and trained with the people’s taxes, they attacked their own people with the state’s guns and machinery, and it is 2016. We are talking about such an undemocratic, outdated and brutal attempt after numerous EU acquis-related reforms were carried out over the years in order to avoid such an attempt.
As of now, the result was taking our democracy back from a group with a radical ideology and an outdated reading of the world that glorifies coups with a belief that it can be done by reading out an announcement in the state-owned TV channel, in 2016, when TV channels are numerous and social media and the internet are the real mobilizers. At the end of the day, the coup attempt was found to have been directed using WhatsApp, and the resistance was encouraged by Erdoğan on FaceTime, organized social media publicized and websites and video sharing platforms. With respect to the radical clique and its affiliations, the Gülenist Terror Organization (FETÖ), with each and every new confession by the people arrested, more evidence emerges about the organization that gave the Turkish people such a nightmare and put a great deal of effort to lay the groundwork for such an attempt by infiltrating the military since 1971, with increasing capacity for infiltration with each following decade. Th number of those taken into custody, arrested and suspended are and will keep rising for some time, but they add up to a vast amount, more than 50,000, showing the organization’s presence in the judiciary, police, academia, military and bureaucracy due to its years-long efforts. A key point, an important moment of disappointment also needs to be mentioned here. Comparisons with the Gezi Park protests were made by people on the streets due to the lack of Western press and capitals’ support this time. Even though a country as a whole, with all its political parties, most of the military and almost all of its people rise up for democracy, reactions from the leading Western newspapers and TV channels covered a wide spectrum from even supporting the attempt to criticizing the people standing against it for their ideology and from analyzing why the coup plotters could not succeed to being indifferent to the claim that it was just a staged drama – a drama in which hundreds of people were brutally killed and thousands injured by heavy military weapons live on TV, in which thousands of people agreed beforehand to be arrested once they failed and in which the ruling figures risked their lives due to armed attacks on their cars, helicopter strikes on their residences and jets bombing Parliament. The responses from Western capitals was also regarded as too late and too weak, as if the statements were not to be made earlier in order to see who the winner would be. With “buts” and “althoughs,” Western coverage after the attempt was again mostly focused on how religious language prevails among the resistance, even though all the opposition parties were there and the next week, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) organized a rally in Istanbul that representatives from the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) also attended, and the municipality, which is led by the AK Party, announced that transportation would be free, and how the ruling AK Party would tighten its grip. The principle of objecting to a coup, whenever the conditions are in a country to support the democratically elected government and the will of the people even if you disagree with the ideology and/or policy choices of that government, seems compromised. In Turkey, similarly, reactions from intellectuals and academics were quite modest when looking at some of the major social developments Turkey experienced recently. Even though this list of silence can be extended, mentioning a few to see how they performed for future reference would suffice.
Now, it is the democratically elected government and the state establishment’s turn to try and punish the people who took part in this coup attempt within the boundaries of the rule of law. Investigations, arrests and remanding people to custody need to be conducted with a delicate attitude in order to avoid any unlawful and counter-productive consequences. Without successfully eliminating as many supporters of the organization as possible, repetitive waves could be possible. The military and intelligence structures have been targeted fort major restructuring and Ankara has demanded the extradition of Fethullah Gülen from the United States. The required legal files on him were presented and new ones will be presented once confessions and trials were filed. Exams for placement into positions state institutions, the bureaucracy, police and military colleges will be under close scrutiny. Simultaneous, multi-dimensional efforts seem to be the way to go as along with the recently announced state of emergency (SoE), which should help the state take the necessary steps quickly and more effectively and leave these days behind us as soon as possible. Considering that just in one year Turkey has suffered from more than a dozen terrorist attacks by several groups as well as a coup attempt that claimed hundreds of people’s lives and left thousands injured, compared to France’s response to two major, tragic terrorist attacks by extending its six-month SoE for another six months, Ankara’s decision to declare a three-month SoE seems more than understandable. Criticism about the decision from the very same press and individuals that were deadly silent or shyly supportive of the coup attempt speaks for itself. The people’s commitment to democracy and defense of their will as well as the state’s repeatedly stated commitment to the rule of law without compromising security and stability will act as major control mechanisms regarding this process.
Turkey’s display of how deep-rooted democratic values are in society, political parties and the majority of its military won the day. On the other hand, the coup plotters, their supporters and instigators have to bear the shame of attempting to impose their will on the democratically elected government as the self-appointed guardians of whatever principle they fight for. Without forgetting that the country lost many citizens and many more were injured, who are the real heroes of the night, along with the patriotic military personnel and police who stood against the putschists, the people have every right to celebrate what they achieved and to show the world how the people can defend their democracy .
* MA at the London School of Economic, PhD candidate at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, currently visiting researcher at the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM)