On July 15, Turkey witnessed one of the darkest days since the establishment of the Republic. A fraction of the Turkish army allegedly orchestrated by the fugitive Fethullah Gülen attempted a coup d'etat, bombed Parliament and killed more than 160 innocent civilians. Daily Sabah spoke with Istanbul deputy Erkan Kandemir, who was among the deputies who stayed overnight in Parliament during the failed coup attempt and witnessed many tragic incidents. Discussing the ruins of Parliament Erkan Kandemir said that he witnessed people standing united and without fear, regardless of their age or political background. Underlining that during Friday night, people young and old defended their political rights, Kandemir asserted that the morale of the junta suffered immensely when they saw the determination of the people to protect their democracy.
Deputy Kandemir believes that the most important message from that night is that the people will not allow any power other than the national will to have a say on Turkey, even if it cost them their lives, and added that Turkey will become a more democratic country following this tragic incident.
Daily Sabah: What did you experience during the July 15 coup attempt?
Erkan Kandemir: When we heard that there was a coup attempt, we held a meeting with our friends in the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) administration, decided that we would resist these terrorists on the streets, no matter what happens.
They said that it would be beneficial if some of the deputies who were present in Ankara would go to Parliament. So we went there. Near the Turkish Air Force headquarters, we were stopped by the police. I told them that I was a deputy and I had to get to Parliament. Upon hearing this, they hugged us and one officer started to cry. "Unfortunately the junta is about to succeed," he said. "We heard that the tanks are on the move and if you go any further, they will arrest you too," he added, while I tried to comfort him.
After we finished our talk, three citizens appeared with Turkish flags. When the police tried to block them, one said "I left my wife and children at home to defend our Parliament." We move towards Parliament as a group of 10. Upon reaching the Turkish Air Force headquarters, we were as much as 70 people and we climbed up onto the tanks. One young lady said, "If we are not to die today, then when?" An elderly citizen approved of and repeated the question. Then one police officer, one of the many who hugged us, advanced and was unfortunately martyred by a soldier on the tank. The tanks turned its sights towards us and started to move. None of us ran away. The crowd gathered together, all of us were carrying Turkish flags. The soldiers fired a warning shot, then started to shoot at us. I will never forget what happened that night.
Did they shoot directly towards the crowd you were in?
Yes, that is what happened. Four or five people were wounded, while several others were in a critical condition. We carried them to a safer place. None of the crowd attempted to run away. Quite the contrary, they got up and advanced towards the tanks. As a result, the tanks started to retreat towards the Turkish General Staff compound. It was truly magical, as I witnessed people stand united and without fear, regardless of their age.
What happened when you reached Parliament?
Together with our parliamentary speaker and numerous deputies, we convened the general assembly. We were discussing the possibility of bombing when we heard fighter planes flying low. When they dropped the first bomb, the general assembly was covered in dust. Then the second bomb dropped. We remained there and didn't leave; we stood together with Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ and opposition deputies. We gathered around Bozdağ. A third bomb was dropped and we had to withdraw, moving to the shelter. While we were evaluating the situation, we received a call from President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan.
Do you mean when President Erdoğan went live on TV?
No, Erdoğan called the group deputy chairpersons. He said that this was a crucial process and as deputies, we had important duties regarding this process, regardless of party affiliation. Afterwards we discussed these issues and returned to the general assembly. While Parliament was once again in session, we experienced more attacks and had to retreat. We reconvened at Parliament on Saturday.
Do you believe that this incident was a coup attempt?
This was as much a terrorist attack as a coup d'etat. It aimed to kill civilians. In a coup d'etat, one would first eliminate political rivals or deputies by apprehending them, whereas these terrorists deliberately targeted the people.
If we were to suppose that this was a coup attempt, what differs this from coup attempts in other countries?
The most significant difference is that our people risked their lives to prevent the coup from succeeding. The junta lost when our people showed their determination to remain, even when they were under gun fire and tanks were maneuvering. The morale of the junta suffered immensely. The people I was together with knew that they might not return to their homes. They were there to compel the junta soldiers to retreat back to their barracks, or die trying. This was a commendable act, perhaps more than any other.
Were AK Party supporters the only participants in these protests?
Definitely not, we had many people from different walks of life. It is important to signify this fact. The people, united, protected democracy.
Why were people from every walk of life on the streets?
Politics has become a mechanism to resolve existing issues. Even though the opposition and AK Party frequently complain about the current state of politics, it is the only mechanism to resolve issues. This is a popular belief, regardless of party affiliation. This is why the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) received a high amount of votes, as people believed that if the HDP had seats in Parliament, this might resolve certain issues. The people in Turkey believe in politics and nothing can be resolved outside. This is a reflex that the people learned during successive AK Party governments, and they do not want to lose. The people believe that if politics sustains damage, they will also suffer. This is why the people stood united against the coup attempt.
Doesn't what you say discredit allegations of increasing polarization in Turkey?
It definitely does. I believe that a completely polarized society is desired by some. Of course, people will always have diverse opinions. They should be able to freely voice these opinions through different platforms. When they do so, we tend to regard this as polarization, but it is not polarization; it is plurality.
Until the last decade, people didn't have many platforms to voice their opinions and they didn't possess the required freedoms. Therefore it was supposed that everything was fine. On the contrary, it was not. We can observe this now: people are able to voice their opinions without oppression.
On Friday, the people took the streets, from the youth to the elderly. They defended politics and their political rights. Can anyone claim they were polarized?
How do you perceive Turkey's future? How did the four parties stood united against the coup attempt, even they were unable to compromise on any issue?
All parties expressed their support, even though the HDP was unable to do so at first. Spokespersons from all parties made beautiful statements of unity. It was precious to see all the parties standing together. Defending political mechanisms has become a culture in Turkey, fortunately. This indicates that saying Turkey is at the very beginning of democratic life is unfair. Our people are very mature; they know what is best in every situation. This contributed to political parties standing united against the coup attempt, as it is a reflection of the people's stance.
What will happen now? Will Turkey descend into authoritarianism, or will it reap the benefits of this experience to increase democratic gains?
Turkey will become a more democratic country, no doubt. We the people sent a message around the globe, to all political parties and to the elected: the indispensability of democracy. As a representative of the people, this is our ultimate duty. Many people who were walking towards the parliament, despite warning shots, showed their determination to protect their representatives, which is an honor for us. Their support has motivated us to do our very best.
Democracy is a must. The people, united and abandoning their differences, defended democracy and thus their future. Bureaucrats are aware of this responsibility endowed by the people and are doing their best to further the interests of the people. We saw people defend democracy by voting; now we saw that they put their lives on the line. This is a tremendous success.
What is your comment on the allegations that this is a "false-flag" operation by President Erdoğan, to reform the constitution and abuse the public support in order to realize a presidential system?
The greatest mistake of the Gülenist terrorists is that they believe the people are gullible. We experienced the same during the Dec. 17 and Dec. 25 incidents. They thought they could persuade the people with fake tapes, edited files and slander. They believe that they are geniuses while the people are stupid. The people proved the opposite, and these terrorists will have to accept the fact that they are deluded.
President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Yıldırım have pointed to the Gülenists. In your opinion, what indications make you believe this coup was organized by the said group?
There is certain hard evidence, which I believe will soon be made public. However, I can provide an example: In a tank on Vatan Avenue in Istanbul, our security forces captured a chief of police who was dismissed due to his connections with the Gülenists. A police officer in a military tank. It is known that most of the people who have a connection with the Gülenists are within the military. The state has already investigated these people. President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Yıldırım are not pointing to them in vain.
All of these will be made public in time; however you can see that no one has any doubt regarding this, from political parties to NGOs. I believe that the majority of the people would not be a part of a wild goose chase; therefore it must be true.
What was the ultimate aim of the junta? If they had been successful, what would they achieve?
This must be thoroughly examined, as regards domestic and international repercussions. The Gülenists are a multipurpose organization, similar to the PKK and the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party Front (DHKP-C); foreign intelligence institutions use them to shape Turkey. Turkey's recent policies should be considered, instead of viewing the coup attempt only as a decision made by a certain group. On the other hand, the Gülenists are having a hard time keeping their agents organized. In desperation, they attempted a coup, knowing that decisions taken during the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) on August 1 would cause significant damage to their organization. This was a suicide attack to make Turkey suffer.
How do you see international reactions to the coup attempt? Do you believe they support the legitimate executives of the country?
I believe that our Western allies consider the status quo, instead of unconditional support for the values which they advocate, and are on occasion hypocritical as regards many issues concerning Turkey. This saddens me, as they tend to forsake us when we should be fighting together to defend universal values. This is also disappointing, as you would expect their support in these kinds of matters; not with words, but actions. We witnessed this discrepancy when Turkey was having trouble with the People's Protection Units (YPG), during which Turkey was left alone.
Turkey wanted the support of its allies while fighting against the PKK and lost brave soldiers on a daily basis. We wanted our allies to stand as one with Turkey to stabilize the region, while preventing sectarian attacks.
Prime Minister Yıldırım has said that July 15 will be commemorated as Democracy Day. This is a significant milestone in Turkish history. How will the people remember this day in the future?
This day will hopefully become a festive day: a day dedicated to democracy. The most important message from this day is that the people will not allow any power other than the national will to have a say in Turkey, even if it cost them their lives. This is also a message to the countries of the region, as well as the world. It will definitely boost the morale of every person fighting for democracy. They understand that they can achieve anything by resisting oppression. Turkey will be remembered for this.
We have over 160 martyrs who have given their lives for a righteous cause. They will be remembered always for their bravery and their contribution to halting the coup attempt in its tracks within hours. We should also note that the leadership of President Erdoğan was an important factor. This will send the message that if the people believe they can achieve anything and have good leadership, they will be successful. Thank God, we the people were successful.
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