Watching things unfold helplessly from the West

YUNUS PAKSOY @yunuspaksoy
Published 13.07.2018 21:58

Tanks overrunning people on streets, putschist soldiers shooting at unarmed civilians, F-16 fighter jets bombing the Parliament and similar outrageous scenes that one can only dream of in a blockbuster Hollywood film. In fact, it all took place on the night of the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, masterminded by the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ).

The psychological effects of July 15 are still seen on citizens who spent that night in Turkey. Yet, there is another side of the story. Some six million people of Turkish origin live abroad. Their feelings about following such an overwhelming event thousands of kilometers away from home are indeed worth a story.

Emre Eren experienced the coup and its aftermath in the U.S. Eren had just performed Friday prayers as he heard of the incident for the first time that day. "I saw on social media that there was some kind of activity. In a very short time, news arrived that gunfire came from the General Staff, then news that the second Istanbul Bridge had been closed with tanks and Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım had been on live broadcast," Eren recalls.

One word Eren used to describe his feeling at the moment was "helplessness." Still, Eren and other Turks tried to do whatever was necessary to convey what was happening in their homeland. "We were gathered in front of the White House with our patriotic citizens living in Washington, Maryland and Virginia. We tried to do everything we could for our country," he said, adding: "Many of our valued NGO chiefs decided to protest in front of the house of the leader of the terrorist organization, and we set out to protest the treacherous coup attempt in Pennsylvania."

Since the July 15 coup attempt, relations between Ankara and Washington have never been the same due to the latter's approach towards FETÖ and the bloody incident. First, the U.S. is home to FETÖ leader Fetullah Gülen. As the U.S. has been unwilling to extradite Gülen for two years, relations have not fully recovered. Also, the U.S. is a top destination for Gülenist militants to find safe haven.

Deeply moved by the coup attempt, Eren even named his son after Ömer Halisdemir, who killed Brigadier General Semih Terzi on the night of July 15, breaking the command chain of the plotters, a turning point that night.

Eren believes that Americans have yet to grasp the July 15 coup attempt. "Because they still cannot understand this resistance and how the people did it. It was an unprecedented epic of resistance in the world."

Another Turkish citizen who experienced the coup attempt from the United States was Zeynep Çelik. She said that she dreams of her next trip to Turkey each time she gets back to the U.S. "On July 15, thoughts such as ‘Will there be a Turkey to return to?' crossed my mind... It gave me worrying moments that I would lose my country and that a home for me would not exist," she said.

Çelik was also very upset because she thought she was "useless" at that point for her homeland. She, too believes that Americans did not grasp the significance of the coup attempt. "The reason people in America do not understand the seriousness of July 15 is that they consider the coup attempt only as a political event. When I told people how ordinary people living in Turkey were affected by the coup I think their seriousness towards July 15 changed."

The government indeed levied harsh criticism at the European Union for belittling the significance of the July 15 coup attempt as well. One of the things that Turkish officials and the people criticized was that European Union leaders did not pay a visit to Turkey in the wake of the coup attempt to show solidarity with the democratically elected government.

Taner İkiz was at the heart of the European Union that night. İkiz said he could not believe his eyes the moment he saw the news. "We were surprised when we first got the news. I was shocked. It must be because we think that such coups cannot happen anymore. But in a short period of time we overcame it and organized, and as a Turkish citizen in Belgium, upon calls from our President we went to the Turkish Embassy in Brussels in the middle of the night to protect our Turkish land in Belgium."

İkiz suggests that some in Belgium were happy about the prospect of the success of the coup attempt. "Some thought that this coup attempt was successful. After it failed, they began to call it a theater and it was staged." He stressed that the importance of the coup attempt was not grasped in Belgium.

Yavuz Türkoğlu, a Turkish citizen in the German city of Munich, said he watched the events with worry and anger in front of the TV on July 15, 2016. "It struck us as a dream at first. As events unfolded we understood that it was really happening," Türkoğlu said.

Türkoğlu explains his feelings as he relives the moments. "We felt that we were helpless. We wanted to be there on the streets against the tanks, yet we were thousands of kilometers away. It was painful," he said with a heavy sigh.

The Turkish citizens in Munich strongly believe that the European Union and European officials let the Turkish government down in the wake of the coup attempt. He argues that Ankara was not given enough support.

This was also admitted by European officials, although much later. Then European Parliament President Martin Schulz said in September 2016, two months after the coup attempt, that European leaders did not show support for the Turkish government "in a timely manner."

"[Prime Minister Binali] Yıldırım spoke of a faction within the military that aimed at overthrowing the government through a coup. I would like to thank Mr. Yıldırım. We did not know of this and did not show the necessary reaction in a timely manner," Schulz said.

Also, another top EU official, First Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans said November 2016 that Turks are right to claim that Europe did not show enough support. "Europe could have been more generous in support and it underestimated what took place in Turkey," Timmermans said.

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