Turkey’s coup-marred history changed on July 15, 2016, when ordinary people fought a group of rogue soldiers. TRT World spoke to two of them.
There was nothing unusual about the summer evening of July 15, 2016. Tayyip Ayvalioglu was having a cup of tea with some friends at a roadside restaurant near the Fenerbahce coast of Istanbul.
But around sundown he heard the heavy roar of machines – they were military tanks rolling down the road with heavily armed soldiers.
“I called my father to ask if he knew what was happening. He told me a coup was in progress, and I went home around 8:30 pm.”
As the word spread that some rogue soldiers were attempting a coup against the government, hundreds of young men began to gather around the residence of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul’s Kisikli neighbourhood.
That was even before the famous episode when in the height of confusion, Erdogan had made the call for people to resist the coup plotters via FaceTime.
Kisikli quickly turned into a centre of resistance as people gathered and chanted slogans before starting a march toward the Bosphorus Bridge where tanks were blocking civilians from travelling between the European and Asian sides of Istanbul.
Ayvalioglu knew he wasn’t the only one fired up as he saw and heard hundreds of people around him determined to push against the coup plotters.
“All I was thinking was that I don’t mind if I die defending my country.”
As he pushed forward under a hail of gunfire, Ayvalioglu, who was 21 years old at the time, was shot by the soldiers. A bullet hit him in the back and then pierced through his stomach, making him the first victim of that fateful night.
It took a year-long hospitalisation and multiple operations for him to get back on his feet. But his determination never waned.
Turkey had faced a military intervention in every decade of its history since the 1960s. But this time the rouge soldiers were up against determined citizens who included housewives, students and craftsmen.
More than 250 lives were lost and dozens were injured as clashes took place in cities such as Istanbul and Ankara.
Such popular resistance was never visible during military interventions in the past. And the previous elected governments also didn’t put up any fight to stop the coups.
By all measures, Turkey’s defiance on July 15, 2016, by having elements of both popular and political resistance, represented an extraordinary feat in the country’s 94-year-old history.
Hasan Zan, 19, was also among the thousands who decided to confront the rogue soldiers.
He was in Istanbul’s Cengelkoy area on the city’s Asian side, with his friends, when he came to know from social media that something was happening.
“We saw the videos that the soldiers are taking hostages. We were constantly receiving information via WhatsApp and from family members,” Zan told TRT World.
With jets zooming overhead, breaking the sound barrier with loud bangs and the rattle of gunfire creating confusion, there were moments people were scared.
"Loud explosions scared everyone, and people were screaming all around us. But then there was a woman holding a baby, shouting, 'I am here with my baby, and I’m not running, why are you running?' " Zan recounted.
"So we stayed at the bridge to resist."
Resisting against a shadow force
The July 15 coup attempt differed from the military interventions of the past, which have marred the democratic history of the country.
It was the first time soldiers had taken dictates from a man who had fashioned himself into a cult leader and encouraged his followers to penetrate various state institutions.
The designs of FETO and its leader, Fetullah Gulen, had come out into the open in 2013 when the Erdogan government had launched an operation to weed out the infiltrators. That had weakened the group.
The attempted coup was part of the final push of FETO to take over the state.
“The coup was orchestrated by the people [Gulen followers], who used religion as a tool to achieve their aims,” says Resat Petek, chairman of Turkish parliamentary investigation committee on the coup attempt.
For Ayvalioglu and Zan, the events of the night have changed their outlook on life altogether.
“I had a lot of pain, but then I spoke to myself and kept saying it’s okay. I felt great as I did something for my country, and we were [at the end] victorious. At least I didn’t get an amputation and was blessed to have a life,” Ayvalioglu said.