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Night of gunfire in Turkey

Cupolo, Diego
July 16, 2016

An attempted coup in Turkey led to a night of gunfire and explosions, with residents waking up to an uncertain future. DW correspondent Diego Cupolo reports from Ankara.

Türkei Putschversuch Tausende von Menschen reagieren gegen Aufstand Versuch
Image: picture alliance/abaca/AA

Heavy gunfire lasted through the night and into an unnerving dawn in Ankara, before shots died down gradually as the sun rose higher into a sky that had been filled with smoke clouds, military helicopters and fighter jets only hours earlier.

Scenes of mass causalities, civilians shot through their torsos lying in pools of blood, continued to pour through social media streams as residents of the capital city woke up to an uncertain fate following an apparently failed attempt to remove President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from office.

Tanks on the streets of Ankara
Tanks on the streets of AnkaraImage: Reuters/Stringer

Fighter jets

At around 10 pm local time, two fighter jets began circling Ankara, performing high-speed aerial acrobatics and flying disturbingly low over the metropolitan city of 4.6 million inhabitants, creating sonic shockwaves that set off car alarms and broke windows in the central the Kizilay and Cankaya districts.

Only when military tanks and vehicles occupied the city center did it become clear that a military coup was underway. Military personnel moved swiftly to disarm Turkish police officers, who tend to back Erdogan's government, before occupying the TRT Turkish national television station to announce martial law and declare the coup a success.


But the night would not end so easily. Gunfights broke out between coup plotters and police officers who were called on duty to defend the state, while supporters of the AKP, Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, filled the streets heeding Erdogan's call to protest the coup.

Heavy artillery fire could be heard as helicopters circled the city and shot down at police positions and possibly civilians, pumping bright yellow streaks of light down into the city streets. Meanwhile, two to four jets circled the city allegedly bombing the Turkish parliament building while state officials were inside, as well as, causing damage to Erdogan's presidential palace.

The Grand National Assembly in Ankara was severely damaged
The Grand National Assembly building in Ankara was severely damagedImage: picture-alliance/dpa/B.Uzun

Whether or not the jets were used for aerial bombing remains unclear, but scenes of destruction from the parliament confirm heavy artillery was used on the building, injuring some of the MPs inside. Helicopter fire, though, was widely documented on social media and witnessed by the author of this article, who counted nearly 18 large explosions from his location in Cankaya.

As the fighting continued, mosques in Ankara sounded an extraordinary call to prayer throughout the night, infusing the violence with surreal if not apocalyptical chants that served to calm some, while compelling others to join the protests. Men with megaphones walked the streets demanding residents leave their apartments to join the mass protests that would eventually foster the first cracks in the coup attempts.

As graphic scenes of carnage unfolded in both Ankara and Istanbul, Erdogan was believed to be in his presidential plane circling above Turkey to avoid possible arrest or assassination attempts.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan with General Hulusi Akar
General Hulusi Akar with President Tayyip ErdoganImage: Reuters/U.Bektas

Coup begins to falter

After 8 hours of ongoing fighting, the military coup attempt began to falter. Erdogan landed at Ataturk airport, where he delivered a speech to reassure supporters. Soon afterwards, police officials began arresting plotters and posting videos on social media of military personnel in handcuffs, and some of them being lynched by angry mobs.

When the sun began to rise, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announced fully armed military jets had been dispatched from Eskisehir air base to down pro-coup aircraft, highlighting that only a faction of the Turkish military had staged the coup and not all members of the armed forces were backing their actions.

The bombings and heavy artillery fire soon subsided in Ankara as a result and the coup collapsed in the early morning hours on Saturday. Occasional gun battles could be heard in the central district, but their brevity signaled the violent events were coming to an end for the time of writing.

Media reports estimate about 90 people were killed through the night and more than a thousand injured. The streets in Ankara are now lined with broken windows and the sound of residents sweeping shards of glass into wastebaskets accompanies the overwhelming sense that no one knows what to expect next.

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