Confusion, Fear, Relief: My Emotional Night In Istanbul During The Turkey Coup Attempt

It was about 10:30 p.m. Friday in Istanbul when I was having dinner with a couple of friends in a beautiful restaurant in the Sultan Ahmed area, just a few blocks away from the Blue Mosque. We decided not to stay in Taksim (the more hip area) this time, seeking a different experience than the one we had had a couple of weeks earlier during our first time in the city.

A delicious plate of fish, an amazing salad and an ice-cold beer had us praising our luck. We had already finished eating and were chatting with a local friend, making plans for the night.

"I've heard something is happening in Turkey now. I'm not sure if it's true. Is there anything unusual around you?" she asked.

"What do you mean?" I replied.

“Like soldiers and stuff… Some people are saying there is a military coup here now. And I feel like it's better not to go out tonight. I'll stay in watching the news instead, see if they say something… It's not certain yet. But it's interesting, for sure."

A few minutes later, she added, "A friend told me there are also jet planes flying in Ankara, where the government is located."

Still, nothing on TV.

"There are many news on social media, but they seem like fake ones," my friend continued.

Related Link: Failed Turkish Coup Consequences: Heightened Western Tensions, Increased Authoritarianism And 'Fleeing' Foreign Capital

Suddenly, the restaurant owner turned on the television. Everyone gathered around it.

The news was in Turkish, so we couldn't understand much. One waiter was kind enough to translate:

"The military is now in control of the government… That's what the title says."

He was calm, as if it wasn't a big deal.

"I'm from Benin, in West Africa. So this is normal for us… Just stay strong… And go home now."

Back at our hotel, we turned on the TV and started casting EuroNews, Al Jazeera, Bloomberg and CNN on our mobile phones. Turkish TV news channels weren't informing much, or just said the military had seized power and that a curfew was in effect. By that time, helicopters and fighter jets could be heard overflying the city regularly.

We decided to go up to the hotel's terrace to get a better idea of what was going on. The jets were flying and the sound was quite imposing.

The video above features some fighter jets flying over us, and my friend, Pablo Erbar, describing what is going on.

Constantly tuned into international news channels, the situation became clearer. The military wasn't in control of the government, but rather trying to do so. However, information was scarce, since most local TV stations were either taken or surrounded by rebels.

The streets were deserted. The only noise that could be heard was that of the airplanes and helicopters, some chants from the mosques, and occasional gunshots.

In this second video, you can hear the chants from the Blue Mosque, asking for peace.

Suddenly, it all started to unravel. President Tayyip Erdoğan, who the media said was being held captive by rebels, appeared on TV via Facetime, and called the Turks to go out to the streets to protest and resist the coup attempt. He assured he was well and still in power, adding that there was no such thing as a curfew. This was another one of the rebels' tactics to operate freely: controlling the media and having people locked up in their homes.

Almost simultaneously, the first images started to circulate. There were tanks on the major bridges of the city, and blocking the entrance to Istanbul Atatürk Airport. Pictures and smartphone videos also showed several soldiers and tanks in the Taksim Square, considered the most central point in the city, just two blocks away from where we were supposed to be staying and dining that night.

And then… pandemonium.

Over the hours that followed, the media bombarded us with images of people taking to the streets to resist the rebels, of soldiers shooting at crowds, of police standing up for democracy, of the Parliament bombarded and on fire, of knocked down helicopters that the rebels had stolen.

Still, confusion was the unifying thread. Both Erdoğan and the rebels assured they were in control.

Who was really running the country? Could we go out to the streets? Where was President Erdoğan? And what would happen to us?

We watched the news non-stop until about 5:30 a.m., when we decided to go to sleep. By 9 a.m., when we woke up, chaos had stopped. The news said the coup had failed, and the arrests and body count started to surge. Fifty, 100, 150, 200 deceased; 500, 1000, 1500, 2000, 3000 rebels arrested.

The street remained deserted. Turkish TV channels were now showing videos of how the crowd stood up to the rebels, how the police made them surrender, how people kicked them while on the floor. Policemen were now heroes. But people were still worried.

At night, Erdoğan gave a speech, and the people went mad. A renewed sense of freedom and appreciation for democracy could be felt. Every building and car, every man and child had a Turkish flag. And every policeman was suddenly far more appreciated.

On that day, the people forgot about partisanship, about their trouble with Erdoğan’s policy, about the societal rift.

They were all Turks.

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