Bloody night

*Ahmet Altan was detained on September 10, 2016 on charges of giving ‘’subliminal messages’’ favoring a coup d’etat on a TV show that aired on the eve of the failed coup attempt of July 15 in Turkey. He is now under pre-trial arrest in Silivri Prison, where he is prohibited from all sorts of written correspondence with the outside world. Altan wrote this column on July 21, 2016 for the Greek newspaper, Ethnos. This English version was first published on P24Blog on November 20, 2016.

I have seen many coups.

I was just a child when I witnessed a military coup for the first time.

I was a young man at the time of the second coup.

They raided our house and arrested my father.

Arresting my father was not enough; they came once again towards morning, at the break of down, and searched the house… A weary soldier, holding in his hand a flamethrower taller than him, was standing guard by the window.

I remember a tall, arrogant officer pointing the books that were written by my father, sitting next to each other on a shelf of our library, to my mother, asking, “What are the books by this man are doing in your house?” and my mother, in an ice cold voice, responding, “this house belongs to the man who wrote these books.”

Then there were other coups and coup attempts.

But never in my life have I seen one that was as bloody and foolish as the coup attempt that took place last week.

As of ten past ten at night, we watched a part of the attempted coup live on television.

The military takeover began on the Bosporus, a popular outing place in İstanbul, on a hot summer day, when everyone was out on the streets.,

What happened next was reminiscent of an Italian parody.

Troops blocked off the bridge on one side and left the other side open; cars formed long lines near the entrance of the bridge.

There was one military vehicle and 10-15 soldiers deployed at the entrance of the airport.

We were watching them all on television.

Then the prime minister phoned into live television newscasts and said it was a rebellion by soldiers loyal to a religious cult and that they were not operating under the military chain of command.

Then the President spoke on television via a FaceTime video connection and called on people to take to streets.

And people gathered in streets and marched on the coupists.

These were what we saw but what we did not see was much more bloody.

For the first time in our recent history, soldiers clashed with other soldiers; a sergeant shot a general in the head and the general’s men killed the sergeant.

The coupists opened fire on civilians on the streets.

Fighter jets commandeered by rebel soldiers bombed the Parliament building.

Jets flew low over us, creating sonic booms that sounded like bombs going off.

Within two to three hours, it became evident that the coup attempt had failed.

Particularly the final part of the coup attempt looked like a desperate and hostile-to-all act of a “suicide bomber.”

This coup attempt was different from the previous ones in many aspects but perhaps the most significant difference was its perpetrators.

Until now, “secularist” soldiers carried out coups against “conservative” governments… With this coup attempt, we, for the first time, witnessed a coup, which is perpetrated by a group whose core was made up of “conservative, religious” soldiers, targeting a “conservative” government.

This was never seen before.

For the very first time, a “religious” group that also received support from officers of different worldviews engaged in a bloody battle against a “religious” government.

If the coup had succeeded, I guess a huge civil war would have erupted and the coupists would have been unable to rule over the country for a long time.

This coup attempt has landed Turkey in a political chaos and left it at a crossroads.

Will the political leadership of Turkey try to install an oppressive regime by capitalizing on the public fury caused by the coup attempt or will this coup attempt show Turkey’s politicians that “democracy” is the only remedy?

We will clearly find out the answer to this question very soon.

There are many signs of pressure… News websites are being shut down, lists of journalists to be arrested are making the rounds.

But there are also developments that, with an “optimistic” vision, make us feel hopeful.

The four parties in Parliament that have hardly agreed on anything until now — the conservatives, the social democrats, the nationalists and the Kurds — all opposed the coup together… They took up a very clear stance.

The people marched on the tanks with courage.

If truly appreciated, these are very precious experiences for Turkey.

I am also hoping that the ruling party has seen that compromising on democracy puts everyone’s lives and the future of the country in danger after all.

If, in Kundera’s words, “optimism is the opium of the people” and if I smoke this opium for some optimism in these dark days at the risk of “stupidity,” this would be my last article to be published in a newspaper of a friendly country.

If, on the other hand, even by a slim chance, this “optimism” turns out to be substantiated, we would sit down at that great restaurant overlooking Olympus with my friend Thanos again, talking about books and drinking ouzo.

Translated by: Fatma Demirelli