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This Is Life Inside Turkey During A Military Coup

“A terrorist attack we were expecting—but this?”

Turkish citizens, already reeling from a recent devastating terrorist attack, and likely expecting another, were shocked to instead find the military on the streets after dinner Friday night. Suddenly, the nation’s airports and bridges were closed and the state media shutdown as one of the world’s largest armies seized the country with tanks and jets in tow.

Helicopters flew overhead and blasts could be heard. The city of Istanbul, filled with 14 million people, previously buzzing with pedestrians and buses went into a frenzy as the military declared martial law. Bomb blasts shook windows. On a normally quiet street on the Asian side of Istanbul, gunshots could be heard close to midnight. Sonic booms used by militaries to keep people home exploded across neighborhoods. People lined up at the ATM to withdraw money while others shopped at grocery stores to stock up on food. Cars honked in support of the coup on the street while protestors shouted “God is Great” on the sidewalk.

Dozens of people stand and wait for their turn at a local ATM. Image courtesy author.

Neighbors gathered in common areas of buildings to talk, smoke and pace. “I’m afraid of a civil war,” one building guard told his buddies who drank tea and nodded. “A terrorist attack we were expecting but this?” said the guard’s friend. “Just sit tight and watch the show,” a third friend said watching protesters march by, drinking his tea.

Cars blared music with patriotic songs. Cengiz Tomar, a professor of Middle Eastern Studies, stood in line at the ATM machines nearby his home. People are getting money out because political upheavals in the past have shut down banks, he said. He said he thinks it’s going to be a failed coup. Even if Turks don’t support the government, they need to oust it through elections, he said.

The last military coup in Turkey occurred in 1980. Little blood was shed but dissenters were tortured and disappeared after the takeover. This time, Turkey is fiercely polarized and fragmented between secularists and two factions of Islamists. The ousted Islamist Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP, has majority support but it’s at odds with the Islamist Gulenists whose leader, Fethulla Gulen, is currently living in exile in Pennsylvania. Reports from some officials say Gulen supporters and secularists are involved in the seizure. However, the Alliance for Shared Values, the group associated with Gulen, denies this claim, telling the Associated Press, "we condemn any military intervention in (the) domestic politics of Turkey."

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan used FaceTime to tell Turks a small group in the military was responsible and would be defeated. He urged his supporters to protest the coup and not long after, the sound of demonstrators echoed from different neighborhoods. Hundreds gathered at one of his homes in Istanbul in his defense.

Ankara, however, appeared to face more violence. Residents reported clashes, gunfights and explosions as helicopters and jets roared overhead. Those responsible for the coup held some members of the government hostage.

The situation on the ground is fluid, facts unclear on who’s responsible and why. Before 3 a.m. local time, the state run TRT TV station was back in government control.

UPDATE 10:30 A.M. Pacific Time: Friday night’s military coup against Turkey’s civilian leadership appears to have failed, with 2,800 military personnel who’d participated detained as of publication. Recent estimates put the death toll at approximately 300, wounded at 1,400.

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