Turkish military officers announced on Friday night that they had taken control of the country. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government refused to stand down, denouncing an attempted coup—though Erdogan was nowhere to be seen initially, and rumors flew that he was fleeing the country for asylum abroad. What followed was an volatile power struggle and a surreal night of violence in the streets of some of Turkey’s major cities, with an estimated 200 people killed in clashes between Turkish military forces and their fellow citizens.
Only on Saturday did order begin to reassert itself, as Erdogan returned to Istanbul and his acting military commander and prime minister each said the coup had been suppressed. Deputy Chief of Staff Umit Dundar said in televised remarks the coup had been “rejected by the chain of command.” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, appearing on television said “all leaders of the uprising are now under arrest,” calling it a “black stain for Turkish democracy.”
The extraordinary events began around 10 pm local time, when reports emerged that military forces had blocked two bridges spanning the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul, the body of water that runs through the city and divides Asia and Europe. Around 10:30 a faction military officers announced they had taken power. Yet soon after, President Erdogan appeared on television—albeit via a video chat on a TV anchor’s phone—and urged the public to take to the streets to resist the coup attempt. “I am also on my way,” he said.
He boarded a flight for Istanbul. The contradictory statements from the president and the plotters opened a moment of genuine foreboding and uncertainty. For those in Istanbul—including myself—it was impossible to tell who was actually in control of Turkey, a NATO member and a military power. And it was impossible to know what would come next.