A year on, families of ‘martyrs’ who resisted Turkey coup count cost | World news

0
3


The last time Gülzerin Kılıç saw her son was exactly a year ago – when he walked out of the house on the night of 15 July as tanks rolled on to the streets of Istanbul during the attempted military coup.

Mehmet, 22, died from a sniper’s bullet at the Bosphorus bridge as he marched to challenge the soldiers who had blockaded the thoroughfare, answering the call – along with thousands of his fellow citizens who took to the streets – to challenge the plotters and protect the democratically elected government.

“Every day the pain is the same, it doesn’t get any better,” Kılıç said, sitting alongside mothers and wives of victims of the coup attempt. “I gave my son as a martyr for my country. He is now in a better place, waiting for us in paradise, waiting for his family.

“He sacrificed his life for his people and made us proud, but of course we miss him so much. We cannot enjoy life any more because the light of our life was put out.”

During the coup attempt, fighter jets took to the skies above Istanbul and Ankara, soldiers seized the state TV network and deployed tanks on the streets in an attempt to overthrow the administration of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In total, 250 people were killed and more than 2,000 wounded.

A year later, the country remains polarised, and has yet to come to terms with the traumatic putsch that is widely believed to have been orchestrated by followers of Fethullah Gülen, an ally-turned-rival of the president who leads a vast grassroots network from exile in the United States.

For the families of the sehitler – the Turkish word for martyrs – the trauma remains close at hand.

Many lost their loved ones when the coup soldiers opened fire on civilians protesting at their attempt to seize power – some at the iconic bridge that has been renamed in their honour and some at Ataturk international airport and in other hotspots around Istanbul.

The families are now taken care of by the government, which provides them with a monthly pension and free schooling for their children and makes frequent phone calls to check up on them.

The families gathered outside the imposing Fatih mosque in Istanbul had just visited the graveyards of loved ones with the president. Their trauma encapsulates why many Turks feel alienated by the country’s allies in the west, arguing that they ignored their suffering while instead focusing on the post-coup crackdown that has seen tens of thousands of people dismissed from their jobs or arrested over alleged links to Gülen’s network.

How they made sense of their loved ones’ sacrifice also highlights the deep divisions around religion and country in Turkey.

The last time Kılıç heard her son’s voice, he told her he was at the bridge. She told him to come home.

“He said there are thousands of children and women, like you with a veil and without, and I’m responsible for them,” she said. “If I leave them, tomorrow I cannot look anybody in the face. They will call me a coward.”

Sevda Karaaslan’s husband also died near the bridge. Driving on his way from the Anatolian side of the city, he stepped out of his car when he realised the road had been blocked by tanks and was shot as he marched towards them, leaving behind three children aged nine, 13 and 17.

“We went out the other day so they could lighten up, but the four of us sat in the car and started to cry,” she said. “They don’t want to see other families around; they don’t want to see a father with his children. They cannot enjoy life. It all seems so empty. Those who killed my husband are not Muslims.”

But, she said, if she could go back in time, she would march in the streets with him to defend her country and her religion and was grateful that God had granted her husband his life-long wish of being a martyr.

The literature of martyrdom is extensive in Islam and the sayings of the prophet Muhammad: those who die in the cause of defending the faith are accorded the highest honour in the afterlife and their sacrifice allows them to intercede with God so their families also join them in paradise.

For many observant Muslims, death by martyrdom is a cause of celebration rather than mourning, so tears are often mixed with ululations at funerals.

A man stands in front of a tank, part of the coup forces, at the entrance to Istanbul’s Ataturk airport



A man stands in front of a tank, part of the coup forces, at the entrance to Istanbul’s Ataturk airport Photograph: Ismail Coskun/AP

Some of the families of the coup’s victims see their loved ones as having died in service of both God and country, a defence of both Turkey and Islam. They bristle at the country’s divisions, sometimes seeing the attacks against the state after the coup as a serious betrayal.

“We condemn the divisions,” said Kılıç. “I hope God will show them the way, but, if they do not, I hope God will punish them. After the coup, the Muslims are now joined more strongly, but there are so many people fighting against the state.”

That sentiment belies a deeper fear that many of the president’s more conservative supporters have – that his downfall would usher in an era of oppression for the country’s Muslims in a nation whose founding principles are explicitly secular.

Many admire Erdoğan for his piety and see his rise as a rebuke of White Turks, the secular elite who occupied the upper echelons of the state and barred practices such as wearing the headscarf in public institutions, shutting out many conservative Muslims.

“We can wear the hijab and pray in this mosque because of him,” said Kılıç. “If he was not our leader, we would not be free to practise our religion. That is why we love him. He is protecting us from all these foreign countries.”

“We are afraid that if he’s gone, we are going to lose everything,” said Karaaslan, the widow.

Inside the Fatih mosque, the noon prayers were called. A sermon by the imam condemned the coup plotters and asked God for help in fighting the enemies of Islam and Turkey, and for protecting “the country that opened the doors to the refugees”.

Zehra Ayabak took refuge from the scorching July sun, alongside other families of victims, in a tent in the mosque’s courtyard. The divisions in the country were far from her mind as she recalled her 16-year-old brother, Mahir, who was killed near Ataturk airport the night of the coup.

The pair were inseparable, born just 11 months apart. That night, he told his family that he would stay at the shop where he worked part-time, but instead he rode with his neighbours to the airport to seize it back from the putschists.

Now, whenever the pain of losing him reemerges, she plays the songs they used to listen to together when he was alive. “Every time I listen to those songs, I always hear his voice, because he always used to sing them,” she said. “I just miss him.”

Additional reporting by Zeyneb Varol



Source link

قالب وردپرس

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here