The 2016 failed coup attempt marks an important victory for the people of Turkey as it was the first time in the country’s history that a military takeover failed and democracy triumphed.
It has been five years since military tanks rolled across the bridges over the Bosphorus Strait and fighter jets fired on Turkish civilians. July 15 marks the fifth anniversary of a failed coup attempt that has left a permanent mark on the collective psyche of Turkey, its politics and diplomacy.
Around 250 people, many of them civilians, were killed and at least 2,000 wounded, as they stood up to a renegade group of armed soldiers loyal to the FETO terror group. They came in armoured vehicles, unleashing machine guns against their fellow countrymen.
Anyone who was in Istanbul, Turkey’s biggest city and home to grandiose Ottoman palaces and beautiful mosques, will talk about the fear low-flying F-16 jets struck in their hearts as they zoomed past breaking the sound barrier.
But despite those fears, thousands poured out onto the streets of major cities, including the capital Ankara, because they would have none of it.
As it became apparent that a group of soldiers wanted to dislodge a democratically elected government, tens of thousands of Turkish people came out of their homes around midnight to protest against the coup attempt.
They fought at key locations of Istanbul and Ankara, confronting the putschists on bridges, outside the parliament building, and other significant locations. The protesters resisted with whatever they could get their hands on — rocks, sign-poles and even shoes. Shocking mobile phone recordings made rounds on social media: a civilian man was run over by a tank as he stood in front of it; a woman was shot dead in cold blood; police commandos including many female officers lost their lives defending their posts and headquarters.
The coup plotters bombed the parliament building in Ankara and made an attempt on the life of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who barely managed to survive what many consider was either an assassination or kidnapping plot.
In subsequent weeks after the coup failed, Turkish prosecutors gathered evidence confirming that the treason was instigated by the cult leader Fethullah Gulen, the head of FETO terror group.
Turkey’s politics and history have been marred by multiple coups. Its first democratically elected leader, the former Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, was executed by the junta in 1961 — after the country’s first military coup.
By 2016, it was a different people a faction of the military was up against. The Turkish public had struggled hard for democracy and had seen its benefits in the shape of rapid economic development, infrastructure expansion, construction of subways and improvement in public transportation. The country had a lot at stake on the night of July 15.
Yet Turkey’s defiance in the face of adversity was not appreciated by some of its closest friends — governments that never tire of commemorating the Tank Man of Tiananmen Square conveniently ignored the sacrifice of Turkish civilians.
Turkey’s western allies, including its NATO partners, were too slow in condemning the coup — a fact that Joe Biden, who back then was US vice president, acknowledged during his visit to Turkey a month after the coup.
For Ankara, which played an important role in the fight against Daesh (ISIS) and took upon itself the daunting task of housing millions of Syrian refugees, the silence over the failed coup was nothing short of a betrayal.
In the months following the failed coup attempt as Turkish prosecutors and courts began charging the putschists, some European lawmakers started raising concerns regarding the rights of the accused. This further infuriated the Turkish leadership.
It was around that time Turkey recalibrated its foreign policy and Ankara began to rebalance its ties with Moscow.
The US, which is Turkey’s traditional ally since the end of World War II, did little to investigate Gulen, who continues to live in the state of Pennsylvania, his vast network of businesses in the US undeterred.
On its part, Turkey says it has provided all the needed evidence to Washington to start legal proceedings against the FETO leader.
Despite the lack of support from Western allies, the Turkish people displayed a remarkable resolve in defending their democracy.
For millions of Turks to rise up in such an unprecedented manner against mutinous soldiers meant they have collectively sent out a message: one that says never again!