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In Ankara, Erdogan is celebrated, denounced

Diego CupoloJuly 16, 2016

Emotions in the Turkish capital have ranged from euphoric to distressed, with residents still picking up the pieces in the wake of last night's failed coup attempt. Diego Cupolo reports from Ankara.

Türkei Nach dem Militärcoup Erdogan-Anhänger protestieren in Ankara
Image: DW/D. Cupolo

The air in Ankara was a mix of celebration and eerie silence after a failed military coup on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government.

Supporters of Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP), gathered in euphoria, waving flags, honking horns and singing songs throughout the capital city's central districts, as opposition areas remained vacant, with restaurants and bars either closed or empty.

“It was like war,” said Axni, a 31-year-old Kurdish journalist living near the Parliament building, which was bombed during the coup attempt. “I was in Diyarbakir during military operations there, and last night reminded me of those experiences.”

Axni, who gave a pseudonym for safety concerns, said she heard gunshots and at least eight large explosions coming from the parliament building as military personnel tried to wrest power from Turkey's governing party.

“Nothing was clear, and everything was possible [when the attacks started],” she said. “I stayed inside and read the news, trying to understand what was happening. I didn't know if I was supposed to be worried, if I was supposed to worry about my family.”

Türkei Nach dem Militärcoup Erdogan-Anhänger protestieren in Ankara
Erdogan supporters rally in central Ankara on Saturday afternoon after a failed coup attemptImage: DW/D. Cupolo

After a sleepless night, Axni, like many Ankara residents toured the city streets to observe damage left over from a night of heavy fighting between coup-plotters and Turkish police, who back Erdogan's AKP party.

At least 265 fatalities have been documented throughout the country, with more than 1100 injured after tens of thousands of Erdogan supporters filled the streets to disrupt the coup by blocking military vehicles and attacking, sometimes lynching, military personnel.

The efforts proved successful, allowing Erdogan to hold office for the time being, and celebrations were held in the city's Kizilay district where AKP supporters rejoiced in their triumph.

'Greatest leader since Suleiman'

“I was never afraid that they would arrest him or assassinate him,” said Naci Demir, a 72-year-old Ankara resident who took part in the celebrations today. “Erdogan is too strong for him to fall this way and the military should've known that.”

Demir said he supports Erdogan because he upholds the principles of Turkish society and “he is the greatest leader we have had since Suleiman the Magnificent,” referring to the Ottoman emperor who led the empire through its most prosperous era.

Türkei Nach dem Militärcoup Zerstörung in Ankara
Ankara residents survey damage from the previous night's fighting in the ctiy's Kizilay districtImage: DW/D. Cupolo

References to the Ottoman glory days were prevalent among crowds in Ankara today, as thousands waved not just the red, single-crescent Turkish flags, but also the green, triple-crescent flags of Ottoman caliphate. One man donned a traditional Ottoman fez cap, officially banned after the creation of the Turkish republic to sever the nation from its fallen imperial roots.

When asked why he was wearing a fez, the man simply said, “Because the fez is our hat,” before walking away.

For many of those present at the rally, Erdogan seems to have restored a sense of pride that Turks had lost with the fall of the Ottoman Empire. He is seen as someone who stands up to the west and acts more like an imperial leader rather than a colonial servant.

Furkan Demirel, a 17-year-old Ankara resident, said he had been marching in the streets through the night and into the evening because he had to “support his country.”

“We won't give up on Erdogan,” Demirel said. “He is the best man to lead Turkey and if we follow him, our country will succeed again … I think he is the best leader in the world.”

Türkei Nach dem Militärcoup Erdogan-Anhänger protestieren in Ankara
Erdogan supporters in central AnkaraImage: DW/D. Cupolo

But in more affluent areas, such as the Tunali area of the Cankaya district, residents shared vastly contrasting opinions, saying Erdogan's authoritarian leanings, approach to religious affairs, and efforts to consolidate power left them concerned. While no one expressed support for the military coup, few could see a positive outcome to the current crisis.

“Erdogan supporters are ignorant,” said Izzet Can Asarkaya, a 24-year-old student living in Ankara. “His supporters have Stockholm Syndrome … They are people that fall in love with their killer.”

Growing authoritarianism

Burcu, a 33-year-old who didn't want to give her surname, agreed as she cleaned up shards of glass in her Tunali apartment from three windows that had been shattered by multiple explosions the previous night.

“After this, the state will only become more authoritarian with its attitude,” Burcu said.

Türkei Nach dem Militärcoup Restaurant
A restaurant in the central Cankara district of Ankara is empty on Saturday afternoon following a failed military coupImage: DW/D. Cupolo

Still, the dust has yet to settle on recent developments in Turkey. Rumors of a second coup attempt on Saturday night dominated discussions in Ankara, causing Axni to take shelter in a friend's apartment, further away from the parliament building.

“It was hard to predict what would happen after the coup was announced,” Axni said. “We didn't know if the plotters were organized or if they would succeed, but it was also hard to predict the reaction of Erdogan's supporters. Everything was just blurry.”

When asked if anything was less “blurry” at this point, Axni laughed and said:

“Of course not, but if you look at what's happened recently, it's easy to see where we are going. This country is going to become more fascist, more dangerous, more helpless, unfortunately.”