Category 8

The 27-Night Democracy Watch After the July 15, 2016 Coup Attempt and the Social Partnership Against the Coup Attempt.

Civilians On The Night Of July 15

Gülşen ÖZER

Key words: July 15, coup, public, people, motivation

Moments of civilians taking action may demonstrate breaking points in the history of that nation. Popular revolutions are often determined by the magnitude of protest actions. The history of Turkey cannot be regarded prosperous in terms of such movements. Throughout the history of the Republic, the people have generally opted for passive and silent resistance. This has been realized as presenting their discontent at the ballot box, putting the politicians they want into power and dispatching those they do not care for in line with the democratic system. There are certainly several reasons and explanations for this, yet the main concern of this article is how this attitude was broken on July 15, rather than elaborating on the history of passive discontent in the country.

Without any previous mobilization, a short while after the call from the president on a breaking news program addressing the public and inviting them to the streets to stand against the coup attempt, a significant majority of the people poured to the streets in a rare example in Turkey’s history of public protest to such an extent. It is clear that this movement was a usual reaction. The people were clearly aware they might confront death on the streets, as they went out saying goodbye to each other and praying in a manner one would if they did not expect to see each other again. For this reason, they went out to the streets with a mood for a battle of liberation. Here, the question is how this became possible in a nation that is generally silent and passive in terms of presenting discontent. In this article, I will try to present the factors that led this motivation.

Initially, one of the first motivations was the piety of the public. Many people subsequently said in interviews that they went out after reading the Quran and praying in a manner one does before death. Religion is a determinative factor for many in Turkey and it became an energizer on July 15 as Islam suggests the protection and preservation of the land and state. Those who die in such struggles are regarded as martyrs. In line with what it says in the Quran, these people are not regarded as dead, but rather reaching holy blessings. Hence, confronting death on the night of July 15 carried a religious connotation in terms of fighting for the state.

The state and its land is vital for nationhood. Preservation of the land on which ancestors spilled blood for its protection is a sensitive issue as an expression of fidelity. The blood of previous martyrs evokes the land and, hence, its possession is essential. The only way to give up the land is death in line with the ancestors. This firm attachment to the land triggered many people on the night of July 15, when the president called on the people to protect it.

The coup attempt invoked the idea that people should protect the land because of the previous coups in Turkey’s history that turned the social balances upside down for years. These are periods that are etched in the country’s collective memory as something not to be lived again. Coups are full of tangling together the innocent and guilty, unfair accusations and imprisonments, torture and economic and social instability. The most recent coup occurred on Feb. 28, targeting the Muslim population of the country, which irritates that section of the public a lot. In this sense, the hatred of the country’s history of coups gave the energy to the people to prevent a reliving of such experiences.

Another important motivator for the public protests was President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his call to the streets. His influence on a majority of the public was striking in this sense. With early political experiencer as the mayor of Istanbul, he has become an embraceable executor. His close relations with the public during the years he has been in public service in several positions has led to a growth of sympathy toward him. This sympathy played an important role when Erdoğan called the people to the streets to confront the soldiers, as what he asked for carried the possibility of death. And after his call, an incredible rise occurred in the number of people pouring to the streets.

Throughout the history of the Turkic peoples, they have been dedicated to the notion of freedom. Freedom is indispensable. From the times of nomadism to sedentary life, freedom has been an essential feature of nationhood. Hence, in times of  crises of freedom, people may react in a superhuman way and fight for their freedom. The Turkish War of Independence and the Battle of Gallipoli are illustrations of this attachment to freedom, which was also explicit on the night of July 15.

In addition to above-mentioned factors that are mostly related to inner dynamics of politics, there are also factors related to political developments in foreign countries. The recent developments in the Middle East firstly created an atmosphere of pursuit of freedom and emancipation but end up with death and massacres due to the political turmoil. The so-called Arab Spring did not meet the expectations it first created. As such, there has been a fear in Turkey that similar events could occur in Turkey as well. The process in Egypt that started with public protests and ended with a military coup and the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi is an example to this. One of the first things evoked on the night of July 15 was fear of the overthrow of the president who had come to power by the people’s will. The idea that the coup could open a potential environment that could trigger the occupation of the country strengthened the struggle against the coup attempters. In addition, Syrian refugees in Turkey are the visual representation of the reality and traumatic experiences following the political turmoil in the Middle East. Hence, Turkey’s public tried its best to overcome such difficulties and prevent a similar fate for the country.

In sum, the innate characteristics of the Turkish people of Turkey and implications of domestic and foreign politics compelled the people on the night of July 15 to resist the coup attempt. It was nearly an act of collective sacrifice to confront  tanks unarmed. There occurred several extraordinary tactics to stop the putschists such as lying in front of tanks, throwing crowbars at F-16s and lighting one’s own field on fire to restrict the field of vision of aircraft. The driving power for all extraordinary struggles is embedded in awakening national emotions and attachments. The people of Turkey displayed their strong attachment to values such as the state, nation, flag, religion and their will to sacrifice themselves for the sake of these values.

Category 8

The 27-Night Democracy Watch After the July 15, 2016 Coup Attempt and the Social Partnership Against the Coup Attempt.

1. Gülşen ÖZER

Civilians On The Night Of July 15

2. Büşra KILIÇ

The Woman Of July 15

3. İlknur SAVAŞKAN

Witnessing The Power Of People’s Partnership Putting Down A Coup Attempt: The Case Of Turkey, July 15, 2016