It might be considered weird to put a city under this category but just as a person can be inspiring to you, so can a city. Where else do you get to see 40 year-olds with a hipster beard, short jeans shorts, suspenders, and a graphic tee, grandmas with pink and lilac hair, tough “mafia-movie” looking policemen with sunglasses steping off their motorcycle to buy ice cream, and a family on a caravan being pulled by a horse in the middle of the city.
Istanbul’s people are just as inspiring as the city itself which once was and still continues to be in some ways the center of the world. I don’t know many cities in which life is as rich as it is here, where people continue to live together as a collective and yet maintain their individuality. If you look and listen closely, Istanbul’s streets will tell you the story of past and present inhabitants, the history and culture and knowledge they brought and the memories they made.
I love Istanbul. It is filled with all sorts of sounds and smells and views: the lighthearted laughter of the fishermen at the Bosphorus, the five ezans of the day and the party sounds by night, the clincking of the raki glasses at the dinner table. Old and new living together in harmony. This city has been the closest I have ever felt to home; I’ve never felt as free and happy as here and yet it has caused me great pain the past 5 years.
Since 2012, Turkey has been politically charged mainly because of president Erdogan and his party AKP. Beginning with the Gezi Park protests, going to locking away opposition and journalists, building a 1,000 room palace in a natural reservoir, forging elections, and much more (you can read more details in this post on my personal blog). Now exactly a year ago, there was a failed coup attempt happening in major cities in Turkey, including Istanbul where my family and I were at that moment. We were glued to the TV the whole night, watching the event unravel.
For anyone who doesn’t know: the evening of the 15th of July 2016, tanks rolled onto the streets in Ankara and Istanbul, blocking the Bosphorus bridge in Istanbul. First we thought:”There must be bomb warning that’s why they are blocking it”. But it quickly became clear that this whole thing was motivated by something else. A part of the military was “revolting” or at least that’s what we got told. Most news outlets were forced to stop reporting and then shortly before midnight they released a statement via CNN Turk stating they want Erdogan to resign since he and his political administration has “lost all its legitimacy”. Erdogan then called CNN Turk via FaceTime telling his citizens to go on the streets and fight the soldiers, he would take his plane to Istanbul and be there as soon as possible. I cannot stress how crazy this is: he told his civilians to go out and fight professional soldiers with tanks and weapons. He deliberately put them in danger. It had its effect though. Citizens were storming the streets, opening fire on the soldiers, taking them hostage, and taking over the tanks. Within a few hours, the coup was over but obviously not without taking some lives. Around 240 people died and 1,200 people were wounded. Erdogan arrived at the at the Atatürk airport, safe and sound, after the coup was already basically over.
The aftermath: soldiers were killed, shunned, and tortured, while it turned out they didn’t even know why they were there in the first place. People were quick to apply vigilantism. Furthermore, the administration released a list of FETÖ (Fethullahçı Terör Örgütü = Fetullah’s Terror Group) followers who were supposed to be in high rank positions and trying to slowly overtake Erodgan’s administration. 48 hours after the coup attempt, 8,000+ people were on this list. The following days almost 800 schools were closed and almost 9,000 people were fired and brought to court, including police, soldiers, judges, and teachers. In October, this number rose to a shocking 31,048 people. Erdogan also declared the state of emergency, which is still applying to this day, making the court of justice and the senate useless and lead the country not with legal rules but with individual court decisions (decree law).
While Erdogan was blaming FETÖ for the coup, the Turkish collective has many other theories on why this happened though. One of them was that America was helping Fethullah take over in order to get rid of Erdogan. Another was saying that America and Erdogan were working together and yet another one was suggesting that Erdogan planned the coup by himself in order to test the limits of obedience.
The reason for there being so many conspiracy theories is because there are so many fishy parts about it. If Fethullah is really this influential why would he have started a coup with clearly too few people? Why did it take the president so long, way too long to get to Istanbul? Why was the administration so quick to release the list with all the state’s “enemies”? Plus this coup was just a bit too convenient for Erdogan’s regime. He used it to strengthen his political position. Instead of mourning for the people who died, he was celebrating, declaring the 15th of July the Democracy and National Solidarity Day (pretty ironic if you consider him banning Atatürk’s (founder of the Democratic Republic of Turkey) day of National Independence and Children two years ago) which was celebrated yesterday with a ruined Turkish flag and propaganda placards.
For us, this was another event that deepened the gap in the population and drove us a bit further away from the great democracy Turkey once was. While Ankara is the official capital, Istanbul is the heart and soul of Turkey. Seeing many political and social changes over the past years due to Erdogan’s regime here is more than a symbolic killing of Turkish values: it meant the end of individual freedom and democracy for a lot of us. After all, what makes Istanbul so great is its diversity, its freedom but Erdogan and his party are taking this away from us. Not only here but everywhere in Turkey and it hurts me to see my country making this U-turn. However, until his supporters stop backing up his decisions nothing will change.
For a bit more context on Atatürk: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1vwbax?start=11
More on Fethullah Gülen: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/fr/originals/2014/01/akp-gulen-conflict-guide.html