Yusuf Ak will remember July 15 for the rest of his life. The father of two had three pieces of shrapnel lodged in his head on the fateful night of the coup attempt. Ak says he is "honored" to bear the mark of the July 15 fight for democracy, when a junta linked to the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) tried to seize power.
Ak and his friends in Istanbul were among the citizens resisting the putsch attempt, in an unprecedented response triggered by a call by the president and prime minister urging people "to claim the streets" from the putschists.
He and others headed to the Bosporus Bridge, which was blocked by putschists on July 15, to convince them, in vain, to lay down their arms. The bridge, since renamed the July 15 Martyrs Bridge, was the scene of a massacre by pro-coup troops who opened fire on unarmed civilians confronting them. Shelling from a tank injured dozens on the bridge and three bits of shrapnel hit Ak in the head, leading to a long stay in hospital.
Giving an account of the night to Anadolu Agency, Yusuf Ak said he hails from a town in Rize in northern Turkey. "I am from Kendirli, a town where the majority voted no to the constitution drafted by the 1980 coup regime. We were persecuted for this opposition. So, it was natural for us to oppose a new coup attempt," he says. Ak joined a crowd heading to the local branch of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), near to his Istanbul home. "We then heard President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's call and decided to go to the bridge," Ak recalled. Erdoğan, who escaped an attempt on his life during the putsch, addressed the nation through a video app in a live broadcast and called on them to stand against the putschists. "We managed to take back a tank from (the coup plotters) and handed it to the police on our way to the bridge," he said, while casually mentioning how the crowd overpowered the heavily armed soldiers who backed off due to the immense public reaction to the coup attempt.
It was past midnight when Ak and others reached the bridge. Pro-coup soldiers blocked traffic for hours but anti-coup civilians refused to leave. "It was about 3 a.m. when helicopters fired on us. No one was injured and the police officers with us fired back. It left. Then, snipers on the bridge started firing. It was an incredible moment. We all felt God took the fear out of our hearts. No one thought about backing off when they opened fire," he remembers. They were awaiting daybreak to approach more than the soldiers, who were under the cover of the darkness. Ak was standing next to a police vehicle when a tank shelled it. He does not
remember the exact moment when the shrapnel scattered around him. "They told me I was about to get burned by flames after a fire broke out when the tank hit the (police vehicle). They dragged me away. I vaguely remember what happened next. I saw one of my toes torn off, then I passed out," he recalls. Five days later, he woke up in an intensive care unit and doctors told him he had three bits of shrapnel in his head. "They told me they could remove them but there was a risk of paralysis after the surgery. So, they will remain there," he said.
"With God's help, we stopped the putschists. I would do the same thing if it happens again. I will have the mark of this coup on my body until I die but I am honored to bear it. It is like a medal of honor for me," he proudly said.
The July 15 coup attempt, which was the third major coup attempt in the history of the Republic of Turkey, was quelled thanks to staunch resistance from the public. A total of 247 people were killed by pro-coup soldiers, while another 2,194 people were injured. Most casualties were in Istanbul and in the capital Ankara where putschists tried to seize the Presidential Palace, city halls, military bases, police headquarters and other strategic locations. Many victims were unarmed civilians hailed as "martyrs" and "democracy heroes" who confronted heavily armed troops in tanks and armored vehicles. Some managed to stop the tanks by laying in front of them while others, with the aid of armed police officers, wrestled control of the tanks from the coup officers who surrendered when large crowds surrounded them.