From darkness to light: The night of July 15

Published 14.07.2018 00:00

On the evening of July 15, 2016, citizens in Istanbul and Ankara realized that something strange was going on after noticing a lot of suspicious activity.

Shortly after, social media was flooded with photos and videos from the two cities showing soldiers on the streets. Even so, no one really thought that a coup could take place in the country at this point in Turkish history.

But as the hours passed into the night, it was becoming apparent that the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) was attempting to overthrow Turkey's democratically elected government, teaming up with a faction in the Turkish military, through a military coup d'etat. FETÖ is a criminal enterprise founded by the fugitive Fetullah Gülen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, U.S.

With its media and business arms, the terrorist group created significant public clout, which was augmented by the infiltration of state institutions, mainly the judiciary, police and military.

As the night and events were unfolding, violence was also beginning to occur. The first shots were fired inside the General Staff complex in Ankara at 10 p.m. and a helicopter had opened fire on people on the street.

In Istanbul, putschists surrounded and occupied the Bosporus Bridge (now the July 15 Martyrs Bridge), and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge. Dozens of people were killed by snipers, gunshot and tanks that night. The Bosporus Bridge was one of the first locations that putschists seized during the initial stages of the coup attempt.

After a while, the FETÖ-linked putschists took control of state broadcaster TRT and the General Staff headquarters in Ankara. Shortly after, TRT briefly went off the air.

In the first few minutes after midnight, the putschists dropped two bombs near the Beştepe Presidential Complex in Ankara. At the same time, they were attacking the gendarmerie headquarters and opened fire on the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) headquarters. The security forces stationed at the MİT headquarters resisted by exchanging fire with the putschists.

In order to take control and cut down communications in the country, the putschists were also attacking the mainstream media in Istanbul. The Turkuvaz Media Group, that runs ATV, A Haber, the Sabah newspaper and Daily Sabah, were one of the main targets of the putschists.

The aim was to take control of the channels and stop journalists from spreading the news about the developments. The putschists attempted to take control of the Turkuvaz Media building in Beşiktaş, Istanbul to prevent the flow of information. Clashes took place at the scene between the putschists and the security personnel at the building.

The MİT headquarters in Ankara was also a prime target for the coup plotters. A helicopter operated by the putschists opened fire on the building.

Meanwhile, an explosion was heard at the Police Special Operations Center in Gölbaşı around 11:30 p.m. It killed 42 police officers in their sleep. The blast was followed by a statement from Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım in which he announced the coup attempt on live TV, which echoed throughout social media to reach millions.

Shortly after, clashes erupted between the police and the putschists. People gathered around the General Staff building, which was blocked by military tanks, to protest the coup attempt. Coup soldiers opened fire on civilians and killed many of them.

At the same time in Istanbul, civilians in Taksim Square, Vatan Avenue and the Bosporus Bridge became the targets of the coup plotters.

The putschists took control of TRT and forced anchorwoman Tijen Karaş to read out a coup declaration at 12:13 a.m.

Following the coup declaration, people started worrying because they didn't hear from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. After a short while, Erdoğan joined a live news broadcast via FaceTime and called people to take to the streets and defend democracy.

Upon his call, thousands of people poured into the streets.

Meanwhile, attack helicopters opened fire on the hotel in Marmaris where Erdoğan was on a vacation. But, luckily he left the compound just minutes earlier. Masked putschists in heavy gear raided the hotel, leaving two security guards dead and three police officers injured in the ensuing clash.

At 12:55 p.m., First Army Commander Gen. Ümit Dündar announced on live TV that, "This isn't an act supported by the Turkish Armed Forces [TSK]."

After this statement in the very early hours of July 16, tanks surrounded Parliament in Ankara. In response, Parliament's General Assembly opened with the attendance of Parliament speaker İsmail Kahraman and deputies.

During the assault, 100 deputies had gathered in Parliament for a meeting that was broadcast live. Even though the building was bombed several times throughout the night, the parliamentarians refused to leave.

At around 3 a.m. in the morning, then Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım spoke live over the phone to private broadcaster NTV. He compared the attackers to the members of a terrorist organization.

Meanwhile, TRT came back on the air after it had gone off hours ago. Half an hour later, Erdoğan's plane finally landed at Atatürk International Airport in Istanbul, and a hoard of people was there to greet him.

At 4:30 a.m., Erdoğan spoke to the media at Istanbul Atatürk Airport and gave the details about the coup attempt. By that time, 130 FETÖ-linked putschists, including high-ranking brass, had been arrested and one general had been killed.

Following that, hundreds of putschists in the General Staff building surrendered to police in the early morning and it was under the control of soldiers loyal to the state.

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