Patriotism was on show everywhere in Istanbul a week after the 15 July coup attempt, cars flying Turkish flags blasted out songs praising President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. There were nightly rallies on Taksim Square, whose edifices were covered in huge banners declaring a victory for the nation. All parties had opposed the putsch … but there were fears that the ensuing purge could go further than supporters of Fehtullah Gülen, the US-based imam alleged to be behind the power grab.
Friday 22 July 2016
“Erdogan, Erdogan …”
As the sun sets behind the Atatürk monument, Taksim Square fills with a crowd waving Turkish flags – street-sellers are doing a healthy trade – responding to an appeal by President Erdogan to occupy the centres of Turkey’s towns to prevent a repetition of last Friday’s coup attempt.
I’m just off the plane and haven’t met my fixer/interpreter yet, so have to find English-speakers, which rules out a large part of the crowd.
Those who do speak to me, apart from the Algerian woman who tells me in French she has come to see what’s going on, are Erdogan loyalists, proud that a popular mobilisation faced down the tanks and soldiers with deaths and injuries on both sides.
As a new hit song – chorus “Erdogan, Erdogan …” – blasts out, Mesut, an IT engineer, tells me “we are not supporting any party” but he has confidence in the government.
“Because we are living in 21 century, it shouldn’t be, this kind of thing,” he says. “We are supporting our democracy, that’s all.”
Turkey is a European country, he adds, “We are not Middle East any more.”
Neither he nor Songül, who has come back from Belgium where she lives and works, believe that Erdogan will abuse the powers he has assumed in the aftermath of the failed putsch.
“I think that the people now have the knowledge that Erdogan is for democracy, is not a dictator, which is said by many countries, she comments. “I think he is supporting democracy and the people love him. It is possible that he has more power now but he is not a dictator.”
As the crowd swells, Erdogan appears on one of the giant screens that loom over the square, giving a speech, which is presumably broadcast to the crowds on the squares of towns across the country, to an audience that claps regularly, more regularly in fact than the crowd on the square.
The speech is long and is followed by music and more speeches that will last all night, as I find out when I return to my hotel, conveniently close to Taksim, inconveniently close to the noise.
I don’t imagine people staying on the luxury hotels that look onto the square, or residents of the streets that surround it, get any sleep at all.
To read my report of the rally for RFI in English click here
Saturday 23 July
Conscripts, cadets rounded up with coup-plotters
There are few people on the vast esplanade in front of Istanbul’s maIn court house.
Barriers prevent access to most of it, behind them sit a couple of armoured cars, down the side of the intimidating structure, in the pompous pomo style, is a long line of buses commandeered to transport police to raids on barracks and military academies.
Amog the few people here – either in the cafés or leaning on the barriers in the blazing sun watching for signs of activity – are relatives of soldiers detained inside.
Most of them don’t want to speak, indeed one man denounces us as interfering foreigners who want to do down Turkey, but one man, who refuses to give his name, tells us that his son, a cadet, was one of 300-400 cadets detained at the air force academy four days after the coup.
Either he has a military family’s confidence in authority or he is anxious not to speak out of turn and jeopardise his son’s chances of being freed, as 1,200 soldiers were in Ankara this morning.
“The state will decide,” he says when asked what will happen to the boy. “The state will interrogate people and the guilty ones will be punished. That is it. But my son is not guilty. Because, he was a student and he was at the school and he was taken together with some 300-400 other students. They took him just to have his testimony.”
Other people we meet have limited sympathy for the detainees.
A couple who run a small restaurant say they were on the streets to oppose the coup.
“You are talking about the conscripts,” says Savas. “They are detained because they have to be interrogated. We saw what happened, they are doing this for the sake of the public. They wll be released after two or three days.”
“No-one will be able to divide this country,” his wife butts in. “We will fight together under this flag.”
“They planned to create panic and turn Turkey into Syria or Egypt,” is furniture-maker Turgay Dogany’s view of the coup-makers. Some innocent people have probably been detained, he admits, quoting a Turkish proverb that indicates a phlegmatic approach to potential injustice.
“For sure! Wet leaves may be burned with dry ones. You cannot choose. It is not all the military, just some gangs in it. It doesn’t mean that all 50,000 people are guilty.”
Many of the 7,423 soldiers detained are conscripts or even cadets of 14-16-years-old, according to Senaly Karatas, who we meet in the poky but centrally situated offices of the Human Rights Organisation in Istanbul.
The organisation is more used to handling the cases of victims of the military’s offensive in the Kurdish-majority south-east, where 100 soldiers are reported to have been detained.
Many families are scared to ask for help, she says. “We have written applications and 30 verbal applications.”
“Military service is obligatory in Turkey and it is not possible for a conscript to disobey orders,” Karatas points out, describing the young soldiers’ fate as “most tragic part of this situation”.
Many families have no news of their sons and don’t know how to find out where they are or how they are being treated.
“One family saw the photo of their son in the newspaper Posta, where it was clear that he had been subject to violence and was being detained,” she explains. “They went to his unit, they said he was arrested, but the family could not find him at places where he could be detained. In the end we found that he was in Silivri prison.”
He has been charged with involvement in the coup.
The family of one high-ranking officer did not dare file a complaint but told the human rights group that they were frequently insulted and obstructed as they trailed round police stations and courts searching for him.
“The declaration of the state of emergency greatly increases our concern,” Karatas says, citing official figures that show 10,410 people detained, 7,423 of them soldiers, 2,014 of them judges and prosecutors, 44,530 civil servants and other public-sector employees and have been suspended from their jobs, and 241 civilians and 24 coup-makers were killed during the coup.
The first measures of the state of emergency, announce today, were the closure of 15 universities and 600 other educational institutions and the extension of the limit of detention without charge from four to 30 days.
To read my report on Cadets and conscripts caught up in Turkey’s post-coup crackdown click here
“Terrorists in uniform”
The mosque where prayers were said for Senol Sagman in Besiktas Photo: Tony Cross
Late in the afternoon friends of Senol Sagman gather at a mosque in Besiktas district to pray for him.
Two large wreaths of yellow flowers stand by the small cemetery next to the mosque, men perform their ablutions at the fountain in the centre of the mosque’s courtyard.
Sagman’s friend Mustafa Gülenc, who ran a catering business with him, describes how his friend died.
“We went out into the streets, the soldiers were in front of us, we were saying ‘Allahu Akbar’, ‘Allahu Akbar’, Gülenc recalls. We told the soldiers ‘Don’t fire on us. A Muslim cannot kill a Muslim!’ They said ‘Don’t say Allahu Akbar!’ First they shot in the air, then they shot at us. I lay down and when I got up I saw that my friend was dead.”
The soldiers were “terrorists in uniform”, he says.
To read my report for RFI on the mosque honouring Senol Sagman click here
Sunday 24 July 2016
“After this they will take us”
CHP supporters march down Istiklal Caddesi Photo: Tony Cross
Taksim is packed again on Sunday. Coachloads from the provinces arrive, streaming down Istiklal Caddesi in the sweltering afternoon heat, one group in file carrying an enormous banner they will unfold when they arrive at the square.
This rally has been called by the largest opposition party, the People’s Republican Party (CHP), which like all other parties represented in parliament opposed the coup.
CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu has called for the national unity in defence of democracy to continue and Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has responded by declaring its support for the demonstration.
There are no “Erdogan, Erdogan” songs this time, however. The last post for the victims of the coup attempt is head in perfect silence, then part of the crowd joins in with the national anthem.
There are many portraits of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish republic who is the secular camp’s idol and apparently as few AKP supporters as there were CHP supporters on Friday.
Searching for English-speakers, I find a group of Afghans, Hazaras horrified by the Islamic Sate attack on a protest in Kabul that has killed 80 people and injured 230.
Abdurazzak, a Libyan, pays a heartfelt tribute to “the new face of democracy”.
“We are supporting Turkish people who face this army who want to take authority by force because in Libya we are still suffering from this,” he says. “We are still fighting to get our democracy.”
As for the Turks, none of those I speak to have been on the night-time rallies called for by Erdogan during the week.
Many are worried that Erdogan will profit from the boost in his support and the emergency powers granted to the state to clamp down on the secular camp.
“He is more powerful,” comments Hussein, a . “You know the extraordinary situation in Turkey now. They are taking everybody from this corporate [Gülen’s organisation]. But we know that after this they will take us.”
Turkey has the secularists to thank for its democracy, he argues. “We supported and established democracy in Turkey, not the other people.”
Hayri, a middle-aged man, says he has come to show that he is opposed to the coup but also because he fears Erdogan will take advantage of the situation to make “antidemocratic rules”.
The big powers should learn not to “play with the card of Islam, which they did in Syria”, he argues.
“Everything that is going on from Munich [scene of a recent shooting spree by a teenager] to here is because of this dirty game and Turkey is also partly responsible, with Saudi and Qatar.
“I also believe the European Union should think about Turkey in a very serious way,” he adds. “Because this is a very important moment for the future for the democracy of Turkey.”
The secularists feel threatened, political analyst Behül Özkan told me earlier in the afternoon.
AKP supporters drove through their neighbourhoods chanting Islamic slogans after the defeat of the coup. “The exact word is, the secular people feel trapped.“
To read my report Turkey’s secular opposition rallies for national unity click here