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all content ©missyweimer 2017

Monday, July 18, 2016

Pool d'état

Friday July 15, 2016, 10:30 pm
I’m 7.5 months pregnant and it’s still almost 90 degrees here in Istanbul. I’m laying on the couch, in front of a fan, with an ice pack on my head.
Should I go to bed? Should I eat a popsicle? I’ve reached the end of Turkish Netflix...and the internet.
My husband bursts into the living room.
“Yavrim!” he cries, “The bridges are closed. I think it’s a coup!”
I have no idea what he’s talking about. I just stare at him. “What?”
“The same thing happened in 1980,” he said while turning on the TV. “The military closed the bridges and it was the start of the coup.”

I’m American. The word coup exists only in historical contexts for me and none which have affected my life directly. In my almost 2 years in Turkey, it has been politically stable, if bitterly divided - not unlike the U.S.

He’s got my attention now and I’m sitting up, trying to take it all in. The TV shows long lines of cars at the first bridge - soldiers are blocking the road. Istanbul straddles Asia and Europe. The city has 2 major (soon to be 3) bridges, an underwater rail line and a number of ferries which connect the two sides. On Friday night traffic would be heavy on the bridges, but the bridge is empty. People spill out of their cars to see what’s going on.
The news confirms that this is indeed some type of coup by the Army. According to the Army’s bylaws (article 35) they obligated to maintain the secular nature of the Turkish Republic and uphold the constitution. We are flipping between channels and my husband is breathlessly translating for me. I text a close friend, Işıl Eğrikavuk, who I think may have gone to bed, so she can follow the news.
10:50 pm I call my parents (no answer), I call my sister (no answer), I post to Facebook “What’s going on in Turkey right now?” American friends quickly respond saying “Embassy attack.” But I know better. Another comment links to an announcement of Martial Law declared by the military. My sister calls back.

While I’m on the phone with her I look out the window and see people on foot streaming down my street. I live just north of Taksim Square, which was surely packed on a warm Friday night. My street is the only direct route from Cumhuriyet to another major roadway at the bottom of the hill. These people are not in a hurry, but this foot traffic is unprecedented. While I’m watching them a covered Army truck loaded with armed soldiers comes barreling up the street, followed by another. “OMG,” I tell her, “I have to go!” I tell my husband about the trucks and he says, “I’m taking the flag down!”

My husband is a Kurdish Turk. We have a Kurdish flag hanging in my studio which is somewhat visible from the street. “Take them all down.” I say (a Chicago flag and the flag of the State of California share a wall in this room). “Turn the lights off,” I say, and for a while we watch the flood of people on our street from darkened windows.

I reach my parents by phone, they are at a funeral and offer to call me back.

Around 11:00 pm Binali Yıldırım, the new PM, announces that a faction of the military is attempting a coup. The news is showing images of Taksim being controlled by military guards and there are reports of explosions in Ankara, as well as, jets buzzing the capital city.
Facebook is in and out - Twitter is shut down and I am watching live video feeds on Facebook from towns all over Turkey.

We double bolt our front door and then sort of laugh. What good will that do if things really go wrong?

Işıl calls, she is up and home safe. We wonder together, “Where is Erdogan?”

Around midnight TRT World (the Turkish, English language news) is out and a female reporter in a blue, business casual jacket with perfect hair and makeup is reading a statement from the military - my husband translates for me. They are claiming control of the country in an effort to return/maintain secularism. The statement accuses president Erdogan of corruption, a conservative Islamist agenda and stealing from the people.

I wish I went food shopping today.
I’m glad we got our (drinking) water delivered today.
I’m glad I made popsicles.
I’m glad our baby isn’t here yet.
I’m glad my husband is so calm.
Ataturk airport is being held by the military. I comment with concerned friends on Facebook when it’s working. We flip between news channels. The military calls for a curfew and tells everyone to stay inside.

12:30 am on CNN TURK, Erdogan FaceTimes a reporter live on air. It is surreal. He tells the people to go to the squares, to take to the streets and the airport and confront the military. This shocks me. I picture the clash between armed military and civilians. Where are the police? Where are the military factions who are not part of this thing? The reporter keeps getting calls on her iphone which disrupts her video of Erdogan and it seems sort of hilarious. He is in a nondescript location with a white curtain behind him. Is he in a bunker? Is he on a plane? The reporter and her colleague don’t ask him where he is, which seems crazy to me. They ask him if he is headed to Ankara, the capital. “Tabiiki!” he says, (of course!).

1:00 am - We can hear jets above us and the street in front of our house is empty of people now. Helicopters are flying low. I post to Facebook:

It's almost 1am here and things outside seem to have calmed down on the street. But we can hear jets flying. Akp still encouraging people to take to the streets...but no one is around here. I don't see any police either, just soldiers…

1:30 am - I switch on my VPN. Twitter is a mess and between the news and Facebook there is too much information coming at me.
A friend in LA sends me a note on Facebook Messenger asking if I will be interviewed on CBS Los Angeles via skype and I agree. We are watching the news and sitting in front of the fan, somewhat in disbelief.

Around 2:00 am the news feeds are disrupted on many channels. CNN is broadcasting while the building is being taken over, Al-jazeera International (English language) goes black and TRT World is fuzz.
TRT World
We hear some popping noises from outside. My husband and I look at each other and know that it’s not gun fire. This sound is immediately followed by machine gun fire and then return fire from a different weapon. We literally get lower on the couch.

At 2:20 am a reporter from CBS reaches me on skype, though my interview did not air. He says to me a few times. “You seem so calm.” I said, “My husband is calm.” Can you describe the situation there?” “I can hear sporadic gunfights coming from Taksim/Cumhuriyet and there are low flying helicopters. There are jets crossing above and we don’t know what side they are on. I can’t see any people outside, on foot, but the news is showing people out in the streets. They're answering Erdogan’s call. I can’t hear or see anyone on the street from here.” He says it again, “You seem so calm.”
"I’m from Chicago.” I tell him.

2:40 am we hear a loud explosion noise near the house.

3:00 am
A friend posts from the U.S. that the "coup has failed." But here, it does not seem over. There is machine gun fire, explosion sounds and helicopters nearby. The live feed from Fox News in Ankara shows a helicopter shooting at various government buildings in the capital. Many news sources are disrupted. CNN gets taken over live on air by the Army, to later be taken over by what are seemingly armed civilians...Where are the cops?

I post on facebook:
This is the feed from TRT world right now. Al-Jazeera is offline. Low flying jets and sporadic gunfights near our place in Taksim. Fox news live feed from Ankara shows helicopter fire on government buildings. Some explosions sounds near us as well. But I'm probably going to bed now…

At 3:30 am we hear a lot of gun fire and the some low flying jets. The jets are coming in low now. We can hear them shrieking closer and closer until it gets impossibly loud. Are they gonna hit our house? Our building rattles, windows nearby shatter. The jets are breaking the sound barrier seemingly right above our building - BOOM - Every nerve in my body is rattled, my ears ring. Again, right afterwards, an explosion of sound which makes the air seem thick and makes my vision blurry - shaking the Earth. I'm calm, but scared now. I feel like I’ve been kicked in the head. This is what a war zone sounds like.

My husband comes rushing in and sits next to me. “Are you scared?” he asks.
“A little.”
He puts his arm around me, “Well,” he says, “if we die, we die together.”

More jets come. BOOM
I’m so tired.
I’m so glad our baby isn’t here yet.
I’m so glad my dog is dead and isn’t here to live this terror.
I think of the three kids who live below us. And their parents, with no way to console them.

We can see clearly now that the ‘coup’ will not be a success. The soldiers have left the airport and Erdogan has arrived there. The people (men, some of them armed) have taken to the streets at his continued behest.  TRT World comes back on. The women in the blue jacket, who read the military statement, can now be seen in the midst of a sea of men, she says she read the statement at gunpoint, under duress. I am confused because the opposing factions of the military don’t seem to make an appearance, but maybe I just don’t see them. The police don’t seem to take to the streets until hours after the people do.

Just this morning I posted to Facebook this image by my friend, the artist, Ray Mack, with the caption, “Always relevant.”

The jets stop.
We finally fall asleep on the couch, away from the windows.
In the morning I write:
“It's like waking from a dream today. Aside from the unusual quiet, things are "back to normal" whatever that means. I guess we'll find out soon. Turkey is one scrappy and resilient country. It's young and it's old. It changes fast here and in some ways it changes slowly. Together we'll see what's next.”

It’s quiet, but sort of normal. There are a few cars out and a few people walking around. Not the average crowd, but not a ghost town. On Twitter I see images of young soldiers being dragged, stomped and lynched by mobs of (civilian) men, while I was sleeping. The soldiers look so young. They are clearly terrified. I am shocked that some of these images are just a block or two from our house.

My husband tells me he is headed to the Asian side to finish some business. “Really, do you have to go today?”
"Well, I have an appointment,” he says, “..and the ferries are running.”

At the house by myself, I call Işıl and we decide to go to the pool. It’s too hot to stay inside and the pool is pretty secure - it's in a hotel where they are holding the UNESCO conference and where Saudi Princes often stay when they're in town. Typically, I pass through one two or three levels of security to enter, but not today, for some reason. On my way to meet her I see bullet holes in some of the buildings, shop windows and planters. Some windows have been shot out all together, but the glass has been cleaned up. It’s not very obvious that anything happened. We swim and consider the absurdity of it all, “Pool d'etat,” she says and we laugh uneasily.

People have asked me - “As an American, what did it feel like?” All I can say is, at that moment - when the jets were buzzing our house, I thought, “I don’t want to die.” I thought about the Syrians living in Turkey who fled this type of horrifying violence only to relive it here, in the only country willing to shelter them. I thought of Iraqis who saw their cities destroyed in airstrikes and Palestinians who return mortar fire with hand-thrown rocks. I thought of Europe during WWII who suffered relentless air bombardments, “Keep Calm” they said, “Carry On,” they said. I thought of Kurt Vonnegut and Dresden. I thought of everyone who ever lived through an air strike and the ones who didn’t live.
Will they drop a bomb on us where we sit, here in our home?
Will the plane get shot down and land on us, as we sit on our couch?

I didn’t feel American. I felt human.

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