A Failed Coup in Turkey, as It Unfolded

With the country’s president out of town, elements of the Turkish military moved to secure power.

A tank moves into position as Turkish people attempt to stop them, in Ankara, Turkey, early Saturday, July 16, 2016. Turkey's armed forces said it "fully seized control" of the country Friday and its president responded by calling on Turks to take to the streets in a show of support for the government. A loud explosion was heard in the capital, Ankara, fighter jets buzzed overhead, gunfire erupted outside military headquarters and vehicles blocked two major bridges in Istanbul. (AP Photo)

Photographer: STR/AP

The first indication of something untoward was the sound of low-flying jets in the capital, Ankara, and reports the army blocked traffic across Istanbul's intercontinental bridges. 

Turkey has long experience of military coups, so the possibility one was unfolding was at least plausible, if a little outlandish; President Erdogan's AKP government spent much of the last decade curtailing the political influence of the military. The rumors were eventually confirmed by recently appointed Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, who said an "uprising" was occurring within army ranks, and that the rebel faction had sieged some institutions. 

A newsreader was soon forced to announce that the "Council for Peace in the Homeland" was now in charge. The name is an oblique reference to a well-known maxim of Ataturk, the secular founder of the Turkish nation, whose principles the army has traditionally sought to uphold. At around midnight, the group declared martial law until further notice. 

The show of might was countered by government officials, who made a series of statements to the press vowing to resist the attempted overthrow. 

On the financial markets the lira plummeted past 3 to the dollar, its sharpest drop in almost a decade, a move that indicated the size of the surprise that was taking place.

President Erdogan, the country's longtime leader, is the man Turks normally look to for strong leadership, but in the first hours of the action he was nowhere to be seen. Finally he appeared, not by traditional video link to a TV network, but via a FaceTime interview streamed live from an iPhone. "They will pay a heavy price for this," he said, inviting supporters to congregate in city squares as a show of defiance.

Many heeded his call, with people taking the the streets to clash against the soldiers. 

Some of the largest anti-junta crowds gathered in Taksim, in central Istanbul. Only three years ago the area was the site of enduring anti-government protests. As in Ankara, the night was punctuated by F16 jets flying overhead. 

Alongside jets and gunfire, the call to prayer began to ring out from Istanbul's minarets some time after midnight – not a usual hour for visits to the mosque. In some cases the music continued through morning, with muezzins calling on people to join the fightback.

 As thousands of Erdogan's supporters greeted him triumphantly on his landing in Istanbul airport, things became much more violent in Ankara.

Explosions rocked the capital late into the night, and images began to emerge of damage inside Turkey's parliament building.

While the unfolding plot was most visible in Ankara and Istanbul, there were more good-natured pro-government protests in other cities. Turkey's chief economic official, Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek, posted this from the southeastern town of Gaziantep. 

Back in Istanbul the junta faction stormed into CNNTurk, an independent news outlet where several journalists were reportedly taken hostage.

Sporadic violence persisted, by dawn the soldiers occupying Istanbul's Bosphorus bridge had surrendered.

While the death toll from the night's violence mounted through Saturday morning, Prime Minister Yildirim announced thousands of arrests. One key to the coup's failure to take root was the fact that major political parties had joined the ruling AKP to condemn the plotters. That opprobrium was echoed by Turkey's allies abroad.

As parliament prepared to gather for an extraordinary session, many shops in Istanbul and Ankara remained closed, and people are left wondering: who is responsible?