Standing tall in front of tanks: Story behind the iconic photo

AYŞE BETÜL BAL @bal_betul
ISTANBUL
Published
Standing tall in front of tanks: Story behind the iconic photo

On the night of July 15, 2016, many ordinary people turned into heroes; some of the photographs taken on that night have become symbols of resistance, including one of a university student in front of a tank, who still recalls the thrill of that night

"There was panic all over the place. All the lights in our dormitory were switched off. Our supervisor even sent the elevator to the basement to stop its light from being seen from the outside. They did not let us leave." These are not the words of a war victim that had to stay in a shelter for days, without proper food, under the sounds of combat jets. These lines come from an ordinary university student who, at the time, thought it was just another day. However, July 15, 2016 was definitely no ordinary day.

Families could not gather for tea after dinner. Students, like Muhammet Emin Tekin, would not be able to focus on their classes. Some tried to understand what was happening while updating their social media timelines; while others focused on news channels. People were sharing posts on social media that there were soldiers on the Bosporus Bridge in Istanbul and that fighter jets in Ankara were flying low. Later, it turned out that it was not some kind of security measure responding to a terrorist threat, but a treacherous attempt by the members of the Gülenist Terror Organization (FETÖ) in the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) to overthrow the government.

Recalling his memories of that night, Tekin, now 21-years-old, continued to explain the situation that unfolded in his dormitory, "As I said, there was panic all over the place, and this panic triggered something inside me. Switching of the lights and staying in my dorm room after coup soldiers declared an illegal curfew didn't seem right to me. All of those acts of acceptance hurt my pride. I knew deep inside that we would do whatever it took to resist."
Muhammet Emin Tekin (L) met with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at a restaurant near Ankara.

On the second anniversary of the failed coup attempt, people shared posts about their memories of that night and commemorated what they experienced through social media. One Twitter user shared an image of Tekin standing in front of a tank with his left arm in the air, asking whether or not Tekin had been killed that day, worried about his whereabouts. Tekin's response went viral as he said, "I haven't been martyred. I'm playing 'Age of Empires 2.'" The random response drew attention as people paralleled the fictional video game to the real-life battle they had fought for their lives and the future of the country. The cold reality was that thousands of people walked toward the fully armed coup soldiers without a second thought. Being martyred was also a choice for that crowd as Tekin said, "We hadn't left ourselves an alternative; we would either resist the coup or become martyrs. Some of us had the honor of becoming martyrs."

When Tekin was asked about whether he was scared, he replied, "Of course I was scared in the moment, but we were there to rip those targeting our country and democracy off the [Bosporus] Bridge. We had nothing, no other solution or weapons. We had nothing but our bare hands, so I used mine."

Tekin, who was just 19 years old when the failed coup took place, is a student of theology at Marmara University and student of philosophy in the correspondence study program of Istanbul University. On the night of July 15, he was in his dormitory studying Arabic. Saying they did not get permission to leave the dorm Tekin added, "My family also didn't want me to go when I talked with them on the phone. However, I knew that I would regret it for the rest of my life if I stayed in my dorm room following the news about my brothers and sisters being killed by those traitors. Me and a couple of kids from my dorm whom I didn't even know at that time, signed a blank paper for our supervisors to fill in that we were leaving under our own free will, and we left the building."

After President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan went on live TV and called on the people to take to the street against the coup, thousands of people from different neighborhoods poured into the streets and saved the future of Turkish democracy at the expense of hundreds of lives and thousands of others who were injured - Tekin being one of them.

"We took the streets to resist their attempt to set a curfew, not leaving the bridges or the squares to them. And there were hundreds like me walking toward the Bosporus Bridge that night without hesitation," Tekin said.

The people who went outside on the night of failed coup attempt two years ago did not belong to any kind of organization but were people of different ages and different backgrounds with ideologies of their own but something in common: To protect their future. Tekin continued, "I understood one thing at that night; we are not different at all. We do not have to agree on everything in our daily lives. We can have diverse ideologies. However, we always unite, as seen throughout history when it comes to our country, our homeland. I saw how we united to protect our nation. After that day, people from everywhere embraced us, welcoming us with open arms. "

"July 15 is not a limited to between the night of July 15 and the dawn of July 16. It is a turning point for the Republic of Turkey. It is not some kind of memory to be mummified and set aside. It was the day in which our fight and cause became clear. Within this context, the spirit of July 15 still remains," he concluded.

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