Turkish Canadians unite outside Toronto consulate after coup attempt
'This is our country and we need to stand by it'
Hundreds of Turkish Canadians gathered at the Turkish consulate in Toronto on Friday as elements of Turkey's military attempted a coup in that country, plunging it into a state of unrest.
"We are in Canada but our heart beats with Turkey," Sami Ellialti told CBC News. "As Turkish citizens, we came to support our democratic country."
Two years ago, Elliati and friend Ahmet Dereci made their way to the the consulate on Spadina Avenue to cast ballots in Turkey's presidential election.
On Friday, they gathered there again in support of the man they maintain was democratically elected.
"Recep Tayyip Erdogan was chosen by the Turkish people. We voted for him and we want him to be our president," Dereci said.
Turkish President Erdogan was quick to blame Friday's attempted coup on the U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen. That group has denied any involvement in the attacks.
"I think you can't bring democracy through dictatorship," Aysunar Ince said at the demonstration."In this situation, unity is what's best. You need to stay by your country, regardless of your government or your identity as a Muslim, Christian or a Jew ... This is our country and we need to stand by it."
But others worry that Erdogan, whose government has come under international criticism for restrictions of journalistic freedoms and has a track record for suing his critics, could seize on the coup attempt to justify a crackdown on civil liberties.
"The actions right now are acts pf betrayal. They will pay dearly for these acts of betrayal" - Erdogan <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Turkey?src=hash">#Turkey</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/coup?src=hash">#coup</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/turkeycoup?src=hash">#turkeycoup</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/cbc?src=hash">#cbc</a>—@nilkoksalcbc
That is definitely a concern.Already signs of that. It is a pivotal moment. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TurkeyCoupAttempt?src=hash">#TurkeyCoupAttempt</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Turkey?src=hash">#Turkey</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/cbc?src=hash">#cbc</a> <a href="https://t.co/Ru9p25HraI">https://t.co/Ru9p25HraI</a>—@nilkoksalcbc
Amid the coup, two internet monitoring groups,Turkey Blocks and Dyn, reported that access to social media services such as Facebook or YouTube in Turkey was difficult or impossible.
On Friday, a Toronto virtual private network service called TunnelBear announced it was offering free service to people in Turkey for the duration of the unrest.
To our friends in <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Turkey?src=hash">#Turkey</a>, you now have unlimited data to stay connected with <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TunnelBear?src=hash">#TunnelBear</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/coup?src=hash">#coup</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TurkeyCoup?src=hash">#TurkeyCoup</a> <a href="https://t.co/nSZn9gxEk8">https://t.co/nSZn9gxEk8</a>—@theTunnelBear
The service allows users to get around blocked sites by allowing them to be on the internet as if they were in another country. The company's co-founder, Ryan Dochuk, explained how TunnelBear first began helping Turks get online during the Gezi Park protests of 2014.
"When you have users reaching out to you directly saying, 'My kids are here or my wife is here or someone is in Turkey and I want to reconnect with them' ... or see some of these situations and the videos that are posted; it's heartbreaking to see what's going on there and really just shocking to see a war or a coup in real time," Dochuk said.
By Friday evening, TunnelBear's site appeared to have slowed to a halt.
While not all at the Toronto demonstration had been able to confirm that friends and family in Turkey are safe, those who had been reassured were relieved.
"Everything is going to be OK," said Ayse Ayen. "I believe that."
With files from Morgan Dunlop and The Associated Press