After the junta’s “official” statement that was broadcast by the TRT around midnight, my grim expectation was for all other TV channels to be also occupied and taken off the air. So I began to surf whatever was “still” available even more intensely. Observers have wondered why the coup plotters didn’t shut down public media as one of their first steps. We now know, however, that a very early stage they did attack the Turksat facilities in Ankara. Apparently they wholly intended to destroy the Turksat facilities, which would have cut TV access for a large section of the Turkish populace.
When that plan didn’t succeed, they were forced to try to occupy TV stations singly, and that made the TRT their first natural target. In the following hours, they also occupied the Doğan Media center, and briefly took CNN Türk off the air. There were further rumors to the effect that 24TV, a channel friendly to the AKP government, would also be occupied. But by that point in the coup attempt it was already clear that the junta didn’t have the resources to go after each and every TV channel in this way.
While these events were visible on television, sounds of sporadic gunfire were coming from the Bosphorus bridges. Military helicopters began to fly over our neighborhood from time to time. Concurrently, announcements from politicians continued to arrive on television, with the main opposition leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of the CHP, as well as Devlet Bahçeli of the MHP, both releasing strong statements condemning the coup attempt. Then there took place what will probably remain the single most defining moment of the coup’s failure.
For several hours it wasn’t clear where President Erdoğan was, but other prominent AKP leaders were constantly on the air. Around 00:30, President Erdoğan finally appeared — on a live feed via cell phone on CNN Türk. Here is one thing that should be mentioned: by then all TV channels, regardless of previous political allegiences, had united in open opposition to the coup. The channel President Erdoğan first called was CNN Türk, which has been an opposition channel for many years, and is owned by Aydın Doğan, one of Turkey’s most powerful media barons. And Doğan had clashed with the AKP on a number of occasions.
Of course, the fact that Erdoğan was not in front of TV cameras was disconcerting because that meant he was in some kind of precarious, endangered situation. Later, I understood that President Erdoğan was still in Marmaris when he spoke on CNN Türk. In any case, it was via that cell phone feed that President Erdoğan called on the Turkish people to resist the coup. Almost immediately, most channels began to show Turkish citizens milling around the entrance to Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport, haranguing the troops ordered by the putschists to guard the driveway.
Many details are still somewhat vague, but by morning (on the 16th) it was clear that the coup plotters had aimed specifically at capturing or even killing President Erdoğan. A prominent Gülenist by the name of Tuncay Opçin (who appears to have fled to the U.S. last year) tweeted, about 36 hours before the event, two rhyming lines: yatakta basıp, şafakta asacaklar (1). That means “they’ll catch him in bed and hang him at dawn” (2). This is especially chilling because that’s exactly what the Purple Beret commandos that launched the Marmaris raid tried to do, and Opçin was so confident of the outcome that he tweeted these cryptic lines, which of course were apt to be taken as a non-specific hate message, a day and a half before the event.
After Erdoğan flew to Istanbul, details began to emerge about what the plotters had tried to do to him. Erdoğan mentioned on TV that the hotel where he was staying was “bombed” after he left, and that F-16 fighters loyal to the junta had “harassed” (tâciz etti) the president’s plane on its journey from Dalaman airport to Istanbul.
Several hours later we learned that the junta leaders had actually sent three helicopters carrying 40 soldiers (or four squads) of the Turkish military’s most dangerous killers, the Purple Beret commandos, to either abduct Erdoğan from his hotel or assassinate him on the spot. Arriving after the president had left, they attacked the hotel but were repulsed by the Special Operations policemen that had been left behind. Two (later three) policemen from the president’s security detail were reported killed in the process. We wouldn’t learn just how close the situation had been until Sunday, when footage from the hotel’s security cameras showing the commandos entering the hotel was obtained by the press, and footage taken by civilians of a helicopter firing rockets into the hotel also emerged (3).
The extent of the coup plot also became more clear as reports of clashes in various strategic places across Ankara and Istanbul emerged. Naturally, this increased my unease. The plans for the coup had apparently been incubating for some time, and tweets from Gülenists seemed to provide evidence for this. Last year Emre Uslu, another prominent Gülenist sighted in the U.S. as recently as March 2016, tweeted in reply to an inquiry from another user about when he would return to Turkey. “July 2016,” he wrote (4). I wonder if he had already purchased his tickets.
(2) A note about Turkish grammar: in Turkish it is possible to write a message such as Opçin’s without separately indicating any sort of pronoun (because it is already in the suffixes). Those who are “in” on the message will instantaneously understand the unstated yet very specific reference. The Turkish of the message, translated literally into English, would read: “they’ll catch [him] in bed and hang [him] at dawn.”
(3) That must have happened just before sunrise on Saturday, since the first light of dawn is visible in the footage. But by that time everyone in the country knew that Erdoğan was already in Istanbul. Possibly the junta troops that attacked the hotel were not aware of this, having been deployed only after Erdoğan’s facetime appearance revealed his whereabouts.
(4) https://twitter.com/ragipsoylu/status/754294122157080576. A shout out to Ragıp Soylu for bringing the Opçin and Uslu tweets to everyone’s attention.