Turkish Police Who Fought Against Putschist Soldiers Purged

A Turkish police officer, center right, confronts a Turkish army officer, center left, that participated in the coup, after he was apprehended by civilians and handed over, in Istanbul's Taksim square, on July 16. Photo: AP

Two Turkish police vehicles suddenly turn left and right to block a highway that connects to the Governor’s Office in Izmir, a western Turkish province. The plan is to create a traffic congestion to stop a military convoy from advancing.

The police officers, A.G. and K.Y., whose only initials will be used to protect their identity, did not act based on a directive from their superiors. Their noble endeavor to confront the military convoy was a duty to the country they had been serving. They could intercept radio dialogues between putschist army officers, who were bound to occupy the Governor’s Office in Izmir.

According to their account, nearly 200 plotting soldiers mobilized 400 cadets and left Menteş military base. As they approached Urla’s Iskele neighborhood, the military convoy was stuck in the traffic jam for hours until the coup plot was over. Some of the plotting officers even came to talk to the police. But both A.G. and K.Y. were uncompromising. The police officers’ small yet smart tactical move halted the advance of a large military convoy. One of the police officers, K.Y., was suspended this week in connection to the coup.

He is among 12,801 police officers who were put on an indefinite leave this week in connection with the failed coup attempt on July 15. The police are believed to play a vital role in thwarting the military coup attempt on that night. But their ranks, already badly bruised over a massive purge in the past two years, are not immune to the post-coup crackdown.

***

When M.S., a police officer, took over the duty in Vatan, headquarters of the Istanbul police, it was an ordinary July night. Shortly after his shift started, he heard rumors of tanks occupying the Istanbul bridge. While the carnage started in the Bosphorus Bridge, a tank approached the police headquarters he was guarding. The outer gate of the building is at least 100 yards away, heavily secured with three-layer inner gates. In front of the outdoor entrance, M.S. was guarding behind a police barricade while the tank parked on the roadside.

It was an infuriating moment for the officer, a development he has not witnessed during his entire life. But he knew that whatever was up with the military activity, their place was behind the barracks. While people flocked to the streets to confront the military, M.S. asked civilians to build a barricade in front of the tank. He handed out small Turkish flags to the protesting people, some of whom climbed onto the tank. Inside the tank was a former police chief who was accused of being part of the coup plot on July 15. Officer M.S. quickly pulled the police chief out of the tank and handcuffed him.

M.S. was suspended from duty as part of the massive purge on Oct. 3, 2016, accused of being part of the coup. A hero cast aside as a villain.

***

Officer F.Z. had been watching the coup plot unfolding that night with an extra unease. His colleagues were key in thwarting the putsch across the country, especially in metropolitan areas. As the coup plot fell apart and darkness of the night gave way to dawn, his unit was radioed in for duty. He was called to the Bosphorus Bridge, an area where most of the blood was shed.

The bridge was the first place to be occupied by the putschist soldiers. As the people walked against the tanks, the army officers showered them with bullets. The carnage continued until early in the morning when it was somewhat clear that the coup attempt was a failure.

F.Z. and his colleagues surrounded the military unit. In a small skirmish, one of the bullets hit his police car. While he was trying to convince the army officers to surrender, there was a sudden roar behind the police lines. Hundreds of civilians stormed a group of privates, who later said had no idea why they were ordered to show up there. F.Z. and his colleagues knew that the confrontation could end with more bloodshed. While he handcuffed the soldiers, he also pushed back angry civilians.

F.Z. was a hero. An officer on duty who fought to save Turkey’s civilian politics. But also someone who prevented a dangerous escalation between privates and civilians.

As Turkey’s tremendous purge widens, he was among the police officers suspended on Oct. 3.

***
They were seven brothers in arms. They ate together. They joked together. They served their country together. And they were going to die together. Their heroic actions on July 15 perhaps were one of the essential efforts in halting the military dominance in Istanbul’s heart.

Plotting soldiers first fixed their gaze on a police post in Istanbul’s Cengelkoy. A police chief on duty on that night called the Anti-Terrorism Unit to report about an incoming group of soldiers and asked for directions. In turn, police officials in the Anti-Terrorism Unit called Istanbul police chief Mustafa Caliskan, who ordered them to resist.

Anti-Terrorism Unit officials opened the gates of the storage at the station, doling out vests and automatic rifles. The units were dispatched Istanbul Police Headquarters in Vatan. As they neared the police headquarters, they asked drivers of several trucks to park on the road to prevent additional military convoy from coming.

These seven police officers asked any civilian they could find to gather outside the police headquarters. They quickly mobilized enough number of people to adequately confront the military.

Y.N., who was among these seven brothers, was suspended on Oct. 3 as part of the post-coup crackdown. He is accused of being part of the July 15 coup.

***

Whooshing bullets that passed over their heads were something they never expected to come from their compatriot soldiers. Police officers G.D. and H.S., who are usually patrolling Batikent in Ankara, were dispatched to observe the military activity in the Army Aviation School on that night of the coup plot.

It was an unusual night for the capital. Low-flying F-16s caused sonic booms that sounded like air strikes. In some places, they did drop their bombs. They pounded Ankara Police Headquarters as well as Golbasi Special Forces.

The police officers who were tasked with observing the school were now a target of the putschist soldiers. Thankfully, they survived the shooting spree.

But H.S. was not that lucky. He was suspended on Oct. 4 in connection to the failed coup.

These are stories of only a few police officers who fought against the military encroachment over the civilian politics. Not only are they now suspended from their duties, but also insulted for being accused of the military coup.

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