When the Turkish Coup Struck

An Endless Call to Prayer Sounding Over the City, Occasionally Punctuated by Gunfire

/ by Emily Feldman

It began with a series of tweets. Reports of fighter jets over Ankara; photos of soldiers stopping traffic on an Istanbul bridge.


That bridge, one of the main arteries connecting the city’s two halves, was already a minor topic in the news: It was alit in red, white and blue in solidarity with Nice, which had been heinously attacked the previous night.


Besides prompting displays of solidarity, the Bastille Day attack also heightened tensions in Turkey. The country had barely exhaled since ISIS unleashed mayhem at its largest airport on June 28, and it seemed everyone was waiting for the next round.


So when the reports rolled in on Twitter, it was terrorism, again, that came to mind.


Probably ISIS and probably bad, I thought, as I scrolled through the first reports of an ominous military presence in the country’s two principal cities.


What didn’t immediately occur to me, or the vast majority of journalists and analysts and Turks and non-Turks, whose musings I was reading on Twitter, was that these military men were not responding to a threat—they were the threat.


It wasn’t until after 11 pm, a full hour after it first became clear that something troubling was afoot, that the country’s prime minister confirmed, on television, that a faction of the armed forces was attempting a coup.


It was chilling news to hear—that the guys with guns and tanks, who a moment earlier I assumed were protecting the country against ambiguous bad guys, were in fact ambiguous bad guys with tanks and guns and hijacked military aircraft flying menacingly overhead.


I walked to my friends’ house for some company. The walk was short; just a few blocks. But it was clear that my Istanbul neighborhood was panicked. The markets were emptying fast—a sight that compelled me and a friend to buy some essentials at staggeringly marked-up prices.


Not that we touched any food or drink, once we headed back inside. We stared at our phones and computer screens and out the windows as the coup plotters bombed parliament in Ankara, as clashes erupted on the bridge, and as the country’s omnipresent leader surreally appeared on television, as a small face in a cell phone screen, and called his supporters to the streets.


The muezzins around the country seconded his call, establishing the haunting soundtrack of the night —an endless call to prayer sounding over the city, for what seemed like hours, occasionally punctuated by gunfire.


Reports of more clashes, more deaths, rolled in on Twitter, as the fighter jets that everyone in Ankara was tweeting about made their terrorizing appearance in the skies above Istanbul. Their sonic booms rattled the building, and my insides, as they exploded, like bombs, overhead. Windows in my neighborhood shattered.


As the night wore on, it became clearer that the coup attempt was falling apart— that the majority of the armed forces were against it; that not one political party came out in support of it; that the public abhorred it; that the foot soldiers carrying out the orders looked like kids; that this would be squashed before long.


No one was under any illusion that, when it was squashed, life in Turkey would go back to the tense and dysfunctional, but not entirely doomed way things were. But we knew that a coup would be worse. Far worse. Immeasurably worse. For Turkey, for the region, for us. So we tracked the president’s plane, silently rooting for it to land, for him to stay, for this to end.


“When he lands, he’s going to crush skulls,” I texted my boyfriend, trying to make light of the darkest night. “Maybe he’ll emerge in a cape!”


There was no cape. But he landed, and the jets stopped, and the call to prayer stopped, and the gunshots stopped, and the night fell utterly silent. I went to bed just before dawn and, before nodding off, I caught the first glimpse of light through the bedroom curtains. The sky was soft and pink and pretty, and finally I felt myself exhale and release.


It was a brief respite, that sleep.


We awoke, drained, several hours later to a still-silent city of frightened people cautiously surveying the damage to their windows, their traumatized children and pets, the country as a whole. The latter has been toughest to assess.


Turkey skirted civil war, but it is not the feeling of victory and celebration that prevails. It is dread. It is anger and a desire for vengeance signaled by the men who hang effigies in Taksim Square. It is paranoia, marked by the government’s quick purges of thousands upon thousands of police and security forces, teachers, imams and other civil servants in the days after the attempted coup. It is fear that I hear in the chatter of the shoppers at the grocery stores and that I see in the travelers at the airport, who whipped their heads around when an argument erupted at a check-in counter.


The most optimistic of friends are struggling, reaching to find the brightness at this time. One, who days earlier spoke convincingly about the country’s resilience, posts a quote from Orhan Pamuk’s “The Day the Bosphorus Dried Up” to Facebook.


"My soul, my beauty, my dolorous one, the day of disaster is at hand,” the excerpt begins.


I “like” it. There’s nothing much else to say.

Emily Feldman