ISTANBUL ―Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan landed at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport Saturday morning and declared the attempted coup against his government to be a failure, but also a “gift from God.” The coup attempt sent Turkey into a state of chaos and left more than 160 people dead and more than 1,100 injured, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency.
The uprising was “an act of treason” carried out by a minority within the military, Erdogan said. He vowed to “clean up” the armed forces and “eradicate” those who had operated aerial forces against his government. As of Saturday morning, nearly 3,000 people have been rounded up, ranging from foot soldiers to senior officers, Reuters reported.
”Turkey has a democratically elected government and president. We are in charge and we will continue exercising our powers until the end,” Erdogan said. “We will not abandon our country to these invaders. It will end well.”
Turkish military forces had declared a takeover of the country late Friday, but government leaders quickly insisted that the coup attempt would not succeed.
Tanks rolled through the streets and the sound of gunfire and explosions rang out in Istanbul and Ankara, sparking fear and confusion about who was in control. Later, crowds of people poured into the streets in protest.
The nearly ousted president was greeted by crowds of supporters when he emerged at the airport the following morning, according to images broadcast on Turkish television.
The coup was declared Friday in a military statement read on TV, in which armed forces expressed concerns about rising autocratic rule and increased terrorism. The statement said martial law and a curfew would be imposed in the country.
But Erdogan, speaking to CNN Turk using FaceTime late Friday, appealed to people to resist the challenge to his power.
“I urge the Turkish people to convene at public squares and airports,” he said to CNN, according to a translation of the statement from a presidential source. “There is no power higher than the power of the people.”
Several senior military figures also spoke out against the coup and predicted it would fail, adding to public confusion about the extent of the support within the military for the takeover.
Turkish police under Erdogan have routinely cracked down on protests ― most recently a peaceful gay pride demonstration in Istanbul ― using water cannons, batons and tear gas. Nonetheless, in the wake of Erdogan’s appeal, crowds of people flooded the city of Istanbul and blocked the streets with their cars, HuffPost Arabi reported. Mosques broadcast appeals calling on people to protest the coup.
Images on social media showed people congregating in public squares in Istanbul and Ankara, some clambering on tanks, others waving Turkish flags.
Micah Hughes, a 26-year-old University of North Carolina student who is studying in Istanbul, told The WorldPost that his street was full of demonstrators who tried to block the passage of military vehicles and tanks deployed to the neighborhood.
“Protesters were on top of all of them waving flags and blocking their movement. Slowly the soldiers emerged and the protesters were clapping and allowing them safe passage out, hugging them as the soldiers waved some flags,” Hughes said.
Long lines of people chanting slogans and vehicles honking horns proceeded down a highway in Istanbul, according to a video from HuffPost Arabi.
Earlier on Friday, the prime minister had acknowledged the attempted military uprising during a broadcast on NTV television. Turkey would never allow any “initiative that would interrupt democracy,” Yildirim vowed.
“Some people illegally undertook an illegal action outside of the chain of command,” he said. “The government elected by the people remains in charge. This government will only go when the people say so.”
Military jets and helicopters buzzed over the cities of Istanbul and Ankara, sending car alarms wailing, as forces closed Istanbul’s two main bridges across the Bosphorus strait.
Witnesses reported the sound of shots and explosions in the capital, and images and footage shared on social media appeared to show flashes of gunfire in Ankara’s night sky.
People shared images of tanks rolling through the streets of Istanbul and Ankara. Tanks pulled into the entrance of Ataturk airport ― the largest in the country ― according to Turkish television news reports.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported early Saturday morning that 17 police officers were killed when a helicopter attacked the police special forces headquarters on the outskirts of Ankara. Meanwhile, the presidential source told The WorldPost that an F16 fighter jet shot down a helicopter, which he said had been hijacked by the coup plotters.
Turkish state media said the Turkish parliament in Ankara was hit by a bomb, and the Turkish news site Odatv published photos purporting to show the debris inside the building.
Amidst the chaos, the country’s interior minister, Efkan Ala, argued early Saturday that Turkish police and most of the military, including the top ranks, would counter the coup attempt, which he described as being perpetrated by “gangs.” He urged Turkish citizens to “fearlessly go out and support our security forces.”
Government officials blamed supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a popular Islamic cleric from Turkey now based in Pennsylvania, for the coup ― a charge his followers in the U.S. strongly denied. “Comments by pro-Erdogan circles about the movement are highly irresponsible,” the Alliance for Shared Values said in a statement.
“It’s possible that this is only a faction of the military,” Henri Barkey, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told The WorldPost Friday evening. “The fact that they did not arrest Erdogan means they don’t have things totally under control.”
“My guess is that this is not an army working in unison. They are looking for allies. They are trying to convince other units to join them. Once they have momentum, they think other units will join them. It’s a very risky operation,” Barkey continued.
The U.S. Embassy urged American citizens to seek shelter. “Do not go to the U.S. Embassy or Consulates at this time,” a statement read. The U.S. State Department similarly had an emergency message for Americans in Turkey on Saturday morning:
An excerpt released from a phone call between President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed hope that all parties in Turkey would “support the democratically-elected Government of Turkey, show restraint, and avoid any violence or bloodshed.”
Opposition parties, including the Kurdish-led People’s Democratic Party (HDP), also spoke out against the coup effort.
“HDP is under all circumstances and as a matter of principle against all kinds of coup,” the party leaders said in a statement.
“This country had suffered a lot from the coups. We do not [want] these difficulties to be repeated,” said Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, head of the Republican People’s Party, according to Hurriyet Daily News.
Access to Twitter and Facebook appeared to have been slowed and blocked, even with a virtual private network, in some parts of the country. The Turkish government frequently throttles the internet after major events like terrorist attacks.
An employee of Turkish state-owned media outlet TRT World in Istanbul told The WorldPost that their office was forcibly cleared by armed men on Friday and that the staff’s phones were taken.
Just after midnight Saturday morning, Lucas Thorpe, an assistant professor of philosophy at Bogazici University in Istanbul, tweeted that at least 50 people were lined up at an ATM in hopes of withdrawing money following the coup announcement.
Turkey joined NATO in 1952 and had a string of military coups in the following decades, the last of which took place in 1980. Erdogan has ruled Turkey since 2003, first as prime minister before assuming the presidency in 2014.
“We urge the world to stand in solidarity with the Turkish people,” a presidential source said Friday. “Those who perpetrated this attack against Turkish democracy will be swiftly brought to justice.”
As the sun rose in Turkey Saturday morning, it was still too early to say conclusively that the coup effort had failed, but there were early indications that ousting Erdogan would be hard. This latest uprising differed from past military coups in Turkey in that it was never clear that the top military brass was behind the effort.
“If you look at Turkey’s history of military coups, right after the coup you usually hear top generals on TV explaining to the public why a coup is necessary. That has not happened yet,” Gönül Tol, director of the Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies, told The WorldPost as events unfolded Friday evening.
If Erdogan defeats these opponents, Tol predicted that he will use the episode to further consolidate his own power and push for a full presidential system of governance ― an effort that was already underway when Erdogan forced Ahmet Davutoglu out as prime minister earlier this year.
“He will play off of fears, warn of the dark years of the 1970s and 1980s, and use the coup to push forward his own agenda,” Tol said.
Listen to President Erdogan’s statement (in Turkish) below:
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.