CNN Turk's Hande Firat was thrust into the limelight the night of the attempted coup when she broadcast Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's message to resist the coup. This is her story recounting the tragedy, and history, of July 15.
July 15 was the darkest night in our political history. It was so dark that no one could comprehend exactly what was going on. For hours, our fighter jets flew over our country, bombarding our own people. Helicopters targeted and fired at our own citizens, soldiers opened fire on their own people, people who could have been their neighbours and their friends.
No one wanted to believe any of this. But Turkey fought back, and millions went out on the streets to protect their democracy, their future. Even though eventually there was light – the trauma from July 15 left deep wounds.
At first, July 15 was just another Friday. The entire world, including Turkey, was talking about the fight against terrorism after the attack in Nice, France. While the rest of the country was having a regular day, it was later understood that there had been something brewing in Ankara around noon – events that could have an immense effect on the country's history.
At 14:45, a commander who claimed to be from the Army Aviation Command delivered information to the members of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT). That same evening, a secret conversation took place between MIT and the Office of Commander in Chief. Neither the press nor the public knew about this conversation.
Around 21:30 people started figuring out that something had gone awry. Rumours of suspicious, and shocking, activity was spreading through social media or through phone calls from the press in Ankara.
Rumours about the military taking to the streets, the police force arming themselves, and soldiers collecting or confiscating police officers' weapons was spreading throughout the public. It was thought that this was all a precautionary move in case of a possible terror attack, but the reality of the situation started to materialise when jets started flying over Istanbul and the military moved to block bridges.
The entire country was glued to their screens, listening for "Breaking News" at 22:18. Then it was announced that all this activity was taking place outside the chain of command.
During this uncertain period, the first explanation came from Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. In NTV's broadcast, Yildirim stated that it was being assumed that this was an attempt at an uprising sparked by a group inside the military, as nothing had been announced to the chain of command.
In fact, the Supreme Military Council was scheduled to meet in August to form a strategy to cut ties between soldiers who are members of the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), and the Turkish Armed Forces. But those trying to overthrow the government struck before this meeting could ever take place.
Government buildings were being bombarded by jets flown by the putschists, choppers and defecting soldiers opened fire on civilians, police and military personnel – basically anyone opposing the coup attempt. The Chief of Staff and other commanders were taken hostage by their own soldiers. The defecting soldiers took over the nation's public broadcaster TRT, and read the so-called coup announcement.
A Call to My People
The breaking point of the night was when Turkey and the entire world heard from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As concerned citizens and professional journalists trying to do our jobs, we were sharing the latest news with Abdulkadir Selvi at the CNN Turk studios.
I was also trying to reach President Erdogan. We managed to get him on a FaceTime call and he invited people to take to the streets and declared, "I have yet to see any power greater than that of the people."
From that moment on, Turkish citizens started coming out on the streets, and avenues and boulevards were filling up by the second. But, the putschists had one last card up their sleeve.
They bombed the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, took over the buildings of CNN Turk and the Hurriyet newspaper in Istanbul. That is when the opposition and the government became one. Turkey was in shock, people fought for democracy and gave their lives for democracy. Some climbed atop tanks, some laid down in front of them, some walked into the fire knowing they might die, some fell and got back up, and many became martyrs.
The scent of gunpowder permeated the air the next morning, and news emerged that coup plotters were being taken into custody throughout the country. The dark night of July 15 had passed. But people, sleepless from the night's events, were still on the streets – for their democracy, for their kids, and for their collective future.
Turkey managed to turn the darkness of July 15, into light, by standing together. I pray to God for mercy and grace for the martyrs at the first anniversary of July 15. I pray to God we never go through such an experience again, and that we have left Turkey with a stronger sense of democracy than ever before.