The Night the Dominoes Started to Fall

Flag of Erdogan flying in the city centre.

If I had gone to bed before it started and slept through that Friday night I would not have known anything about the coup.

The streets were quiet the next day. If I had not known about it I’d have thought it was maybe a national holiday. After that is was as if nothing had happened.

Which made us certain claims that Erdogan instigated the coup are true. What kind of coup doesn’t arrest the head of the country and roll out from there, what kind of coup is over in eight hours, what kind of coup has the leader phone in his his address to the nation, literally on Facetime, what kind of coup is so fully prepared for that an authoritarian regime can be installed within hours? We all said, amongst ourselves.

The Syrian family I live with and I went to the beach on the third day, two of them are learning to swim. It’s a little fun, a simple fun where nothing else exists.

Three days later everything was different.

We’d all gone to a Syrian restaurant in Basmane to say goodbye to someone, it was a night for friends and friendship, and were walking home down the pedestrian street to the seafront. We do most evenings after working with refugees, we really appreciate the salty air after the heat and the work.

Every night Cumhuriyet Boulevard running along the seafront is full of cars, and drivers are always hooting their horns loudly; but it slowly caught our attention that every, single, car was hooting their horn that night. People were hanging out of their windows, standing up through their sunroofs and power-fisting the air, and hooting their horns.

We cut down the streets to go through Konak square, with its landmark clock tower in the middle of it an echo of its past Ottoman Empire days. As we rounded the corner we saw it was heaving with people; people screaming down megaphones that Erdogan was the true leader; people wearing the Turkish flag like superhero capes; people pumped up and cheering and police behind chest-high, blue, pop-up barriers, searching the pockets of everyone before they let them through.

My Syrian family was not certain what it would be like to walk through that so we decide to go back and around down along the front again. There is a building that we had to walk around to do this which takes up the entire block at this corner of the square, it’s got to be 10 stories high. As we rounded it we saw a huge red banner with the image of Erdogan on it hanging down. Just the image of him looking noble and powerful, looking off into the distance the future of Turkey in his charge.

It is so huge we stood looking at it incredulously, the car horns were ringing in my ears. Obviously, it looks like every autocratic icon I’ve ever seen, especially the red.

There are statues to Ataturk everywhere and you could think it is just part of the culture, but Ataturk founded Turkey as a secular republic, with a programme of revolutionary social and political reforms, including the emancipation and education of women, the abolition of all Islamic institutions and the introduction of Western legal codes, dress, and calendar and he replaced the Arabic script with a Latin one. I don’t know that much about him beyond a google, but Ataturk is revered.

Of course, that could be the point.

Erdogan’s image is draped on a block big building days after a coup. We stopped and starred, and while we were looking at it with our mouths hanging open, slightly ridiculing how blunt it was, we saw something that made us just go cold.

A car crossed slowly in front of us, as close as a car can get when you are standing on the pavement. A car that was the same as any of the other cars filling the road, There was nothing special about the people in it, they were ordinary.

Yet fluttering the length of the car out of the sunroof, was a huge black, ISIS flag.

I can’t explain the power of that image to you, the chilling, clear fear it instantly creates. I have seen it on videos, and news footage, but not here in real life. My brain fought to explain it away, it had to be something else, my ignorance? I turned to look at my friends, their faces told me they had seen it too.

Nobody else batted an eye, the police certainly didn’t react, as if it was normal.

I don’t know if that was worse? We couldn’t go straight home and clean our teeth and get a glass of water and just go to bed like normal. We sat on the harbour wall by the sea.

I saw in my Syrian family’s faces a realisation that everything they have been through could happen again; “When it happens in Turkey it will be bigger.”

They tell me it was two years before ISIS felt that confident to appear in public in Aleppo; which means they have been here for two years already.

There are no coincidences. First #Brexit, then the coup. If you ask the refugees what they think about Brexit they have no idea what you are talking about, it’s just not on the radar. If you ask the European volunteers they are focussed on the internal impact. The Americans are all “Don’t talk to me about Trump”. But ISIS does not look so distracted.

We know that Europe is funding Turkey to host refugees and dangling the Schengen visa agreement as leverage, we know that Turkey is helping prop up ISIS by buying their stolen oil. Who will get Erdogan’s icy totalitarian hand in a marriage?

From here it feels like the UK leaving Europe has destabilised Europe, it is no longer feels like a power with something to offer Turkey. It looks weak, or at least like it is going to be caught up in internal disputes for the coming years. The far right look like they are making the most of an opportunity to rise, I don’t think its too far fetched to see that ISIS will seize the opportunity to drive home their advantage.

There are street vendors everywhere selling Turkish flags of all sizes, Erdogan posters are everywhere now, people are wearing red armbands with the white crescent and star, and I’ve caught sight of black arms bands in the crowds.

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