How Turkey’s military launched coup against Erdogan and government
Peter Foster, Telegraph, Jul 16 2016 00:18 UTC
Even before soldiers appeared on Istanbul’s Bosphorus Bridge and tanks were positioned at the entry and exit points for the capital’s Ataturk Airport on Friday night, there had been a sense of unease in the air in the Turkish capital. On a warm sunny day Gabriel Turner, a 23-year-old management consultant from north London who was on holiday in Istanbul, had been strolling through the city and remarked on how many police seemed to be patrolling the streets. He told The Telegraph on Friday night:
I thought that was normal but the two Turkish girls I was with told me it wasn’t. We were walking around the centre of Istanbul, at the Grand Bazaar there were police at every entrance and exit with lots of guns.
A few hours later, at about 8pm, a police helicopter was seen buzzing low over the rooftops, but it was not until nearly 10.30pm that the true import of the military manoeuvres became clear. Suddenly in the thriving heart of Istanbul, Turkey was once again subject to a military coup. With Erdoğan, away from the capital on a holiday, disgruntled elements of the Turkish security services had apparently moved to seize control of key assets in the capital in a bid to overthrow the government. Turner said:
We went inside a cafe and everyone was on their phones looking worried, texting. Lots of people were running to catch a ferry, because the bridges were shutting and people wanted to get home. Then policemen came out of the ferries on their Walkie-Talkies, looking very alert.
It was, apparently, a carefully planned and co-ordinated operation with forces from a section of the Turkish security apparatus moving in to occupy strategic choke points in the city, including the bridges, the state television station and the airport. In an apparent show of force, shortly after 10.40pm local time, Turkish F16 fighter-jets were sent screaming across the city skyline just a few hundred feet above the rooftops, bringing home the reality of what was happening. Marina Lourenco, a Portuguese human rights worker visiting the city, texted:
Right now in the skies of Ankara fighter-jets flying low. Please let this be some sort of training, I’m scared.
At the same time the Bosphorus and Fatih bridges were closed by the gendarmerie, a branch of the Turkish military dedicated to internal security, with traffic travelling from Asia into Europe halted, while vehicles from the European side were allowed to pass. Minutes later the sense of panic deepened as pictures of tanks appearing at Istanbul Ataturk Airport began flashing over social media, as troops moved in on the state broadcaster, reportedly seizing mobile phones of all staff on the premises. An hour after internet air-traffic monitoring stations had reported unexplained congestion and flight delays at Ataturk Airport, Reuters confirmed that Turkey’s largest airport had been closed to all flights. Then came the official declaration that Turkey was now under military rule of a “Peace Council”, with the breakaway branch of the Turkish military issuing a formal statement, promising to ensure the safety of the population and attacking Erdogan for eroding the rule of law. They said in a statement read on NTV television, without giving further details:
The power in the country has been seized in its entirety.
The military’s website appeared to have been shut down, with Twitter, Facebook and YouTube also blocked shortly after 11pm. Dorian Jones, a British journalist based in Istanbul told Sky News:
There are reports of clashes between the police and the army. There are also reports that police guarding the presidential palace had been disarmed. I have been speaking to various friends across the city, some are reporting that they are hearing gunfire in the streets.
The sense of chaos deepened minutes later as the Turkish state news agency reported that the country’s top general was being “held hostage” at military HQ. Citing “credible” but unnamed sources, it said:
General Hulusi Akar has been taken hostage by a group in the military who attempted an uprising.
The rebels control was clearly not complete, however, with Binali Yildirim, the recently installed prime minister of Turkey, countering the claims of a coup and ordering security forces to “do what is necessary” to suppress the takeover. He said:
Some people illegally undertook an illegal action outside of the chain of command. We are working on the possibility of an attempt. We will not allow this attempt.
Soldiers surrounded Taksim Square, appearing calm, but while some people shouted in anger at them, others broke out in applause and chanted the name of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the Turkish Republic’s founder. The divide in reaction might hint at what is to come. Few expected a military coup, as, after decades of military rule in the second half of the 1950, public opinion is considered as unfavourable to a takeover, but they spoke to the increasingly weak position of Erdogan. A source from the presidential office told Reuters that Erdogan was “safe”, but he was forced to address his country via Skype from his holiday location in the south of the country in Marmaris. Nearly two hours after the coup began, Erdogan appeared on CNN Turkey over a FaceTime video connection held up to the camera by the news anchor. The coup attempt would fail, he said in these least presidential of circumstances, warning that those behind it would pay a “heavy price” in the courts, blaming the move on a “parallel structure.” But even as he spoke, tanks were seen rumbling forward outside the parliament in the capital Ankara, the private Dogan news agency reported, while strong blasts were across the city as NATO jets continued to scream overhead, their afterburners lighting up the night sky.