World·CBC in Turkey

'We are living in a scary moment': Lengthy state of emergency follows failed coup in Turkey

It was men in uniform who took to their tanks and fighter jets and upended Turkey a week ago when a faction of the military tried to wrest control of the government in what turned out to be a failed coup. It may come as a surprise, then, that special forces police officers were the most popular men in Istanbul's central Taksim Square on Thursday — Day 1 of a three-month national "state of emergency."

Nearly 70,000 people have been arrested or suspended from their jobs since last week's revolt

Three special forces police on patrol in Taksim Square in Istanbul. (Derek Stoffel/CBC News)

It was men in uniform who took to their tanks and fighter jets and upended Turkey a week ago when a faction of the military tried to wrest control of the government in what turned out to be a failed coup.

It may come as a surprise, then, that the most popular men in Istanbul's central Taksim Square on Thursday afternoon were a half dozen special forces police officers decked out in green camouflage, guns slung over their shoulder, with the Ray-Ban aviator shades adding just a little extra dash of cool.
Mustafa Kocyigit takes a selfie in front of several special forces police officers in Taksim Square. (Derek Stoffel/CBC News)

"They're our forces, and we always have loved them," said Mustafa Kocyigit, who posed for at least a dozen selfies with the officers behind him.

The impromptu photo session in the square highlights the important and divisive role Turkey's military and police force play in society here.

In a country that's no stranger to military coups (the last successful one was back in 1980), many Turks continue to see the army as the institution that upholds the secular values of the modern Turkish state, founded in 1923 by Kemal Ataturk, whose statue provided the backdrop for the selfies. 

But more conservative Muslim Turks have grown suspicious of their armed forces over the last decade, as the country's prime minister turned president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, removed elements from the military that he felt opposed him.

Some here say that's turned into a witch hunt in the week since the attempted coup.

Nearly 70,000 members of Turkey's military, police officers, judges and civil servants have either been arrested or suspended from their jobs since the revolt last Friday night, which the government estimates killed 246 people and wounded more than 1,500 others.

No. 1 enemy

More than 600 private schools have been shut and many academics from Turkish universities have been barred from leaving the country.

President Erdogan has blamed the coup attempt on a former ally who's become his No. 1 enemy, Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric now living in self-imposed exile in the United States.

Gulen has strenuously denied any involvement in the plot. The United States has asked Turkey to provide evidence of Gulen's involvement before it considers Ankara's request for extradition.

Erdogan's latest response following the revolt was to impose a three-month state of emergency that grants his government extraordinary powers, including the right to pass new laws without submitting them to parliament first and to extend the detention of suspects.

Members of parliament overwhelmingly approved the formal motion establishing the state of emergency on Thursday.

When Erdogan announced the decree the night before, crowds of his supporters in Taksim Square cheered.
Supporters of Erdogan wave Turkish flags during a pro-government demonstration in Taksim Square on Wednesday night. (Reuters)

"I am fine with these emergency powers," said 19-year-old student Furkan Meral. "If they bring in a curfew, I will stay home. Whatever helps to clean out those who were behind the coup attempt from our government."

'Arbitrary purge'

But Gonul Esmek, a recently retired civil servant, worries that freedom of expression and other rights will be trampled.

"We are living in a scary moment right now. We know that we are into darkness and we don't know how it will end," she told CBC News while visiting Taksim Square. "On the outside we are smiling right now, but we are feeling sad on the inside."
Retired civil servant Gonul Esmek is concerned freedom of expression and other rights will get trampled. (Derek Stoffel/CBC News)

Canada joined a host of other Western nations expressing concern about the aftermath of the coup attempt.

"Canada supports a democratic Turkey and respects the need for thorough investigations and prosecutions against the perpetrators of the recent attempted coup," Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion said in a statement. "This must be done in accordance with Turkish and international law. Given this imperative, Canada is concerned by the state of emergency declared by President Erdogan today."

Amnesty International said it's worried Turkey's government is already "abusing the state of emergency powers."

"With nearly 10,000 people detained, 60,000 people suspended from their positions in state institutions, this is much more reminiscent of a discriminatory, arbitrary purge of government critics than any legitimate measures taken for national security," Amnesty's Turkey researcher Andrew Gardner told CBC News in Istanbul.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Derek Stoffel

World News Editor

Derek Stoffel is a former Middle East correspondent, who covered the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and reported from Syria during the ongoing civil war. Based in Jerusalem for many years, he covered the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. He has also worked throughout Europe and the U.S., and reported on Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.

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