Meet the women in the spotlight during resistance to Turkey’s failed coup
Nazlan Ertan - İZMİRFor many Turks who were anxiously following the sudden attempted coup unfolding on the night of July 15, one of the unforgettable images was the white face of Tijen Karaş, an experienced speaker on state-run TRT television. Hands shaking, blond hair pulled back, eyes showing fear, face and voice frozen, the young woman read out from the monitor that the declaration she was to read was an “order from the Turkish Armed Forces.”
“It was the most difficult broadcast of my entire life,” she told the press later. “The armed soldiers rushed into the station, tied our hands back and threatened us with their guns.”
The group, which called itself the “Peace in the Country Council,” was a group within the military reportedly loyal to Fethullah Gülen, a U.S.-based cleric who was initially a mentor of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, then his arch-enemy. The group holding Karaş at gunpoint made her announce that a curfew and martial law had been declared on screen at around 9:30 p.m., Turkish time, on July 15. The group’s declaration, reminiscent of the earlier military coups, consisted of quotes from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, accusations of “treason” of the president and assurances that the public would not be harmed if they stayed home.
A few hours later, on Turkey’s most watched private TV channel CNN Türk, another senior female journalist, Hande Fırat, put her iPhone in front of the cameras to broadcast a Face Time call with Erdoğan.
The president urged people to “take to the streets” to resist the coup and defend democracy, along with the police force, members of the military who were not part of the coup and members of the “Special Operations Unit,” which had already defeated the putschists in most areas.
This was a critical moment in the fight against the coup, if not actually the moment that turned the balances. Fırat, the Ankara bureau chief, would later explain that she had called all her sources in Erdoğan’s circle as soon as she was alerted to the developments and finally suggested that Erdoğan connect through the telephone (she has received congratulatory calls from Saudi Arabia and Oman, in addition to a unique offer over Twitter from a man offering to buy the phone for $250,000).
After the president’s call, thousands of people, carrying both Turkish flags and ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) banners, rushed out to stage demonstrations against the coup attempt. Most were shouting “Allah-u Akbar” (God is Great).
The long night
Violence in the streets caused by the confrontation of the angry mob with the men in uniform, some of whom were young conscripts led by coup-planners to think all of this was an exercise, continued all night. In the capital Ankara, the sound of F-16s was mixed with the fighting on the streets, including bombs thrown at the parliament building. “I wish I never lived last night - when the bombs exploded at the police station on the parallel street and I was scared out of my wits. I wish I did not have to control my breathing when I heard my phone ring, so that I could convincingly lie to my mother in İzmir and assure her that I was alright and everything is secure here,” wrote Naz, a university student living in Ankara, on her Facebook account. “I am so sad, so ashamed, and so hopeless on what happened in my country last night.”
Among the 265 dead and 1,440 wounded, there were several women, including six female police officers. One of them, Zeynep Sağır, was a mother of two who had just come to Turkey after an international mission in Kuwait. Several days before her death, she had posted a photo of herself with her children, with the caption: “Enough deaths.”
Women were also on the streets. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said that one of the most touching photos he had seen was that of a headscarved woman driving a truck to fight putscists and on her left, an unscarved woman. “This is a photo of solidarity to protect democracy,” he said.
Coup averted, future scary?
Despite the relief over the averted coup and headlines in the mainstream media that the “people united against the military take-over,” the large-scale operation with 6,000 arrests, various websites and a debate to reinstall the death penalty (banned in 2002 before the AKP rule, as part of a European Union reform package) continued to cause worry among the Turks.
“We have escaped the coup, but what about the lynching culture?” wrote journalist Melis Alphan, as she cited instances of how the “public” or those who posed as “plainclothes police” attacked onlookers.
“The properties and women of the putschists belong to the nation now,” said a tweet from Veysel Taşkın, one of the administrators of Trabzonspor in the Black Sea city, a stronghold of the Justice and Development Party. Faced with a negative reaction (as well as some supportive messages) he resigned from his post and removed his tweet.
“In know that this is a single tweet from an unreflective man,” wrote journalist Alphan. “I just wonder how many of them there are.”