I am neither a skilled blogger nor a good writer so I’ll write this as I experienced it Friday night.
I was at a wedding accompanying a friend who writes at the only Jewish newspaper in Turkey. We decided to leave the wedding early for her to be on time for the ferry to the Princess Islands. I was driving when she checked her Twitter and said something was happening around the neighborhood close to the Bogazici (Bosphorous) Bridge that connects the European part of Istanbul to the Asian side.
At that moment I wasn’t even listening to what she was saying because I was way too busy setting up the navigation to find the fastest route to the ferry port. What I saw in my mobile phone’s screen should have been an indication of what was about to happen, but I mistook it for another crazy night of infamous Istanbul traffic. As the navigation told me to go make a U-turn, I was passing over the highway and saw intense traffic both towards and from the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge (the 2nd bridge connecting 2 continents).
As I started following the navigation, my friend started bombarding me with news.
- Jet fighters flying low in Ankara; the capital of the country.
- Gunshots heard in different places all over Istanbul, Ankara and other cities of Turkey.
- Bridges closed down by the army forces.
Army Forces? What? Why?
I started to think of different scenarios in my head. Was this another terrorist attack? Are they targeting bridges now? It must be a really big threat if the army is involved…
As I increased my speed to get my friend to the port, she continued informing me of the news.
- Presence of army in the capital.
- News of police forces being disarmed by army forces.
- There are tanks on the bridge.
What kind of an attack are we expecting now? Is it PKK? ISIS?
Then we received a video from a WhatsApp group we both are members of. A soldier telling civilians to go home and stay there. I heard the word “coup” from his voice in the video.
Military Coup? Now? At 21:45?
My brain ignored the previous statement and started to function as it should, and I felt a shiver go down my spine. It came to me that this was not an attack that was happening in an instant, and was not going to be over after the enemy was neutralized. I must have lost myself so deeply in the shock of things that I did not realize we were already at the port. We waited in the car while continuous unconfirmed reports found their way into our phones and the radio.
As my friend walked to the ferry, I started to receive all kinds of messages and calls from my family and friends, including friends who live in other countries. Everyone had the same idea: “Go home and be safe”.
4.5 km from port to my family house… shouldn’t take long…
But this is Istanbul… Lots of people were trying to do the same thing I was trying: “Go home.” 15 minutes after leaving the port and coming only half a kilometer closer to my home I received a text message from the Turkish Jewish Community. “If you can not get back home due to curfew, call the following numbers.”
It’s Shabbat; they wouldn’t text unless it’s very bad… Wait! What? CURFEW? People are running to ATMs and to the markets to buy food at 23:30…
I got home and parked my car after avoiding a few traffic accidents due to panicking drivers, and went upstairs to find my whole family watching the news.
Why am I not getting notifications from Twitter?
I though to myself… “No, not again please.“ Twitter and Facebook were blocked. “Am I supposed to trust the TV Channels now?” I have a tendency not to trust the TV and newspapers after witnessing their bigotry during the Gezi Park Uprising. How was I supposed to trust them now.
Open VPN! Stay connected!
- President Erdoğan’s plane is up in the air. The hotel where he was staying had been attacked.
- A military takeover of the Turkish Intelligence Agency.
- There is a military presence and tanks at the Ataturk Airport.
- Turkish National Television TRT is taken over by the army and they are making the TV anchor read their manifesto:
“Turkish Armed Forces have completely taken over the administration of the country to reinstate constitutional order, human rights and freedom.”
I froze. I had no ideas bouncing through my head. Completely blank.
Is this a good thing?
I checked my phone as I was listening to the manifesto. I saw a message on my screen that jolted me. My friend, also a columnist like my other friend at the Jewish newspaper and a tour guide, was on his way to the other airport to pick up a French group that was supposed to land and now he was walking back from the highway because police were not letting them go any further.
I called and told him to stay calm and go to the closest recognizable place. I told my father to come with me and before I knew it, I was already back in the car. Only 15 minutes later I was in the streets; driving again. The chaos of the streets was gone. There was a silence that we Istanbul citizens are not used to. I stepped on the gas and broke a few speed limits on the empty streets.
I got to my friend just 10 minutes later. He was on the phone explaining the situation to his customers. When he finally hung up the phone he said how glad he was that I showed up. As I was driving more calmly back to my family house, my father was telling us that he himself was a soldier during the military coup of 12 September 1980.
We got home and the news was getting even worse. President Erdogan was on TV via Facetime telling people to go into the streets. He added that if the army was gonna do something they would have to dare do it to their own citizens.
Am I hearing this right? Is he actually provoking civil war? What if the army responds? What if people attack those poor 20-year-old soldiers who are bound to follow orders?
Now there were more of us on our phones gathering information and watching TV. We watched in total terror when soldiers started shooting at people who followed the president’s demand and tried to walk to the bridges. The real shock happened as CNN Turk was seized by the army and the only thing on the live feed was a blank studio.
My younger sister muted the TV. We could hear prayers blaring from the speakers of the mosques. This was not supposed to be the hour for prayers. Then we started hearing sirens from firetrucks outside, accompanied by people chanting “Ya Allah bismillah allahuekber”
Yes, G*d is great, but what does that have to do with the coup?
We un-muted the television to hear the same chanting. My Facebook timeline was filled up with videos and reports that mosques were announcing the call for prayers and declaring Jihad.
Am I not allowed to be against this coup just because it is against Democracy? I have to be a part of Jihad? With a Magen David tattooed on my wrist?
Don’t be tempted… Don’t search Twitter for “Yahudi”…
I couldn’t control myself and I regretted it instantly. People were blaming all kinds of minorities for the coup. The same minorities that are not allowed to be officers in the military.
The sonic boom of a fighter jet on top of my house snapped me out of my anti-Semitism worries. These booms went on more than a few times. Jets were flying very low and above speed limits.
The rest of the night continued as we gathered information on Twitter, watched the news and saw the parliament building in Ankara bombarded live on air.
As the news of soldiers surrendering started to emerge, my body lost its battle with sleep. I fell asleep around 5 a.m. only to wake up at 6 to read a text from the Jewish community stating that synagogues will be closed for services. At 7 a.m. I woke up again and witnessed soldiers surrendering on the bridges. There were casualties from among the military, police and civilians.
It’s 17:00 right now on Saturday as I sit down to write this article, and the TV has announced the number of casualties: At least 161 killed and 1,440 wounded. There is news of an angry mob decapitating a 22-year-old soldier while chanting “Allahuekber”.
My phone still keeps buzzing and ringing. People ask me what is going on. I have no certain answer. Yes, there was a military coup attempt which was subdued, but no, it did not make sense.
Isn’t the whole purpose of a military coup to overthrow the Government?
- Was the government attacked?
- Was any government building or ministry taken over by the army?
- Was any politician or minister detained or killed?
- Than who was attacked?
Bridges, airports, police stations, some TV channels.
The previous coups were launched after midnight. The army was everywhere when people woke up in the morning. By that time politicians and ministers were already arrested and government buildings were seized. Has the army lost its touch on coups? Didn’t they know how to take control of TV channels and internet while everyone was asleep?
How could the police force, which controlled millions of people during the Gezi Uprising, not prevent 3,000 soldiers from carrying out these attacks?
Why did the government dismiss 2,745 judges this morning?
How did they blame this coup on Fetullah Gülen; a person who they used to worship as a mentor?
I don’t have the answers yet. All I know is I’m sad and afraid. I don’t feel I belong. I don’t think I’ll ever trust the military or the government unless something changes radically, and that does not seem likely in the near future.