On the night of July 15, 2016, life was as usual until people started sharing the same pictures and news article at around 22.00. Soldiers had blocked off one side of the Bosphorus Bridge. Jets were flying over Ankara and gunshots were heard near the Turkish General Staff building. Even though there was talk about a coup attempt, most people were befuddled. Turkey had a bad record in terms of military coups and no one wanted to believe the coup was actually happening. Before long, the truth was revealed. A junta group organized within the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) had attempted a coup in order to seize control of the democratic political system in Turkey and had used methods of terrorization to do so.
What was to happen next? Who was this group and how could they dare do such a thing? Were they going to be able to be successful, and if so, what was going to happen? These questions may have been useful in understanding the coup, however most people were not after rationalization or explanations. Several people came eye to eye and somehow managed to contact each other; they began to take action against the coup attempt despite the lack of any central organization. No one was worried about what was to come; everyone asked each other what they could do and where they should go. This sentiment and approach of the people was effective in the first step of preventing the coup from being successful. When President Erdoğan was rescued from an assassination attempt and appeared on the screens, he did not make long statements. He did not give directives. He did not say a single thing regarding how the people should be organized. However, everyone knew why they were on the streets and had gained awareness as to what should be done. The single aim was to prevent the coup attempt from being successful. From that point on, a legendary struggle against F-16s, tanks, and Sikorskys began. The images that began to circulate in the media on the morning of July 16 are recorded pieces of this legend.
What Happened That Night?
It was as if the coup plotters had acted according to a three-step plan. The first step was to take control of the General Staff. The primary aim in doing so would be to force primarily the Chief of General Staff and the force commanders to sign the coup declaration. Therefore, they would be able to claim the coup was carried out within the chain of command and would have a trump card they could use to control the TSK. The second step was to ensure general control over areas throughout Turkey. Several troops that supported the coup and were stationed in various provinces were to prevent any counter resistance in the country. The bombing, and therefore termination, of the buildings of establishments that could counteract the coup, such as the Special Forces, the Special Operation, and the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), was the first extensive attack. They raided the TRT building and forced the anchor to read the coup declaration, which was only a manipulation to make people believe the coup was successful. The coup plotters did not even have the courage to read the declaration themselves. The manipulation proved unsuccessful after the president and several high ranking commanders were able to contact other TV channels. The armed interventions left 240 martyred and 1,491 injured. The third step was to establish martial law command posts and create a new political and social order. However, during the first and second step, in every region of the country the coup plotters had mobilized, the MIT, Special Forces, and Special Operation –with the support of the people- took action, leading the first wave of the coup attempt fruitless.
Who Were the Coup Plotters?
When President Erdoğan landed in Istanbul, he announced that the coup was carried out by FETÖ. Ever since the beginning of the 1980s, FETÖ has used religious discourse to become organized in several institutions, ranging from bureaucracy to politics and the social domain to the business world. For many years, rather than acting like a religious congregation, it has been behaving as a messiah-like organization; this hidden, secretive structure has been nesting in public enterprises. The extent of the threat of this organization, which uses illegal means, was first realized on February 7, 2012, during an operation targeting the MIT Undersecretary Hakan Fidan. Between December 17 and 25, the organization attempted to overthrow the ruling government by using judiciary and law enforcement. After the incident, with the increasing number of plots and blackmails that were revealed, the organization began to lose its legitimacy both in the political and social sphere. Instead of standing trial on the charges brought against them by legal institutions and proving themselves clean, the members of this organization chose to flee abroad and carry out lobby activities against Turkey.
The organization, which had been unsuccessful in all its illegal attempts to overthrow the government, took a new kamikaze-like step on July 15. FETÖ attempted to behave like a junta by stepping outside of the chain of command within the TSK. The organization was now armed and dangerous and attacked civilians with the heaviest of weapons. The coup plotters did not refrain from shooting at their fellow comrades or citizens. Turkey had seen many coups, but for the first time, it was being organized by a structure the government had deemed as a terrorist organization. The coup had changed in shape and method; however, people had changed even more. The simple aim and intention of the people overcame the outdated, barbarous, cruel methods of the coup. The coup attempt that took place as night fell was dispersed before darkness faded with prayer calls, “sala” and Qur’an recitations, and slogans. All that was left was the sacred memories of the martyrs, the dignity and pride of the people, and the humiliation of the coup plotters.