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Stories from the women on the front lines of Turkey’s coup

PDuring the coup attempt on July 15, Turkey witnessed many heroic actions. People lay down in front of tanks. Others stood in front of them only to be shot down. Some disarmed members of the forces leading the coup. Others made futile attempts to show how angry they were, hurling stones at F16s flying overhead, dropping bombs.

Among them were many heroic women. The images that circulated in Western media showed an overwhelming number of men out on the streets, but these images don’t tell the whole story. Women rushed to the streets, to the airport, to the bridge—to wherever they were needed. They lost their sons. They lost their husbands. They also lost their own lives.

“I am woman, and I can thwart a coup attempt” #Turkey pic.twitter.com/3nX5AzOMRZ

— Şura Durmuş (@DurmusSura) July 20, 2016

Turkish women, especially older women, are considered to be leaders in society—people who do not flinch when faced with danger. To the people, it was not a choice between the president or the army. Instead, it was a fight for freedom, and freedom only has one possible victor: democracy.

The idea that the Turkish people would welcome a military coup to oust its democratically elected leader is as believable as the idea that the American public would cheer if tanks rolled down Pennsylvania Avenue in an attempt to oust Trump, or that the British public would welcome tanks rolling into Westminster to reverse the Brexit vote. The people turned out to support their democratic right to select or remove any leader not by force, but via the ballot box alone.

Below are the first-hand accounts of women who took to the streets on July 15. They include a member of parliament who was in the building as it was being bombed, a teacher, a technician, a student, and a city councilor. They may have issues with Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government—but it is their government.

Hülya Nergis, a member of parliament from Kayseri, in Ankara

A message was sent to the members of parliament that we should meet in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey in Ankara. When I went with my husband and advisor, the streets were empty. We were among the first to arrive at parliament, and when we walked inside the building, the lights were off and no one was around.

As more members of the parliament arrived, we searched for the light switches—we wanted to give the rebellion the message that we were there. Some people said that we shouldn’t turn them on, but we didn’t listen.

As more and more members of parliament began to arrive—including opposition members—we wanted to broadcast that we were here, so some of us started to film the scene with our mobile phones. We wanted to show that the people’s will was present and opposed to the coup.

As the minister of justice was giving a speech, a bomb fell. Naturally, we all started to panic. Someone said it would be safest to go down into the bomb shelters, so we did.

While we were down there, seven or eight more bombs were dropped. Members of parliament who came later said the militia was strafing the building, and two helicopters were covering the parliament with machine gunfire to stop people from leaving.

Everyone was very frightened. We were warned not to leave the parliament, so we followed the news like everyone else and waited until morning.

Finally, at 7am, we decided it was safe to surface. And when we did, all we saw was the carnage created by the bombs.

Tugba, a teacher, in Istanbul

My husband and brothers-in-laws wanted my sisters and I to stay while they ventured outside, but we refused to remain at home. And despite our protests, our older children insisted on going with us as well.

The president’s residence in Istanbul is located close to our house, so we decided to go to that region. As we set out, we went through a residential area, hoping it would be crowded and safer. There were quite a few other women who were on their own who joined us.

We were planning on blockading the front gate so that the militia would not be able to enter, but the police and people who had arrived there earlier told us it would be better to remain at the back gate, as there was a need for a strong crowd there as well.

The men and women waited side by side; some people were following the news on their phones, others were making phone calls, and some were praying or reading the Qur’an.

We were extremely worried. Some people wanted to go to Bosphorus Bridge, which had been occupied by tanks, but I thought it was important for us to stay where we were. I remembered that when some of the Prophet Muhammad’s forces left their posts, they opened the way to a great defeat. So I realized that we could not abandon our positions. When we heard that the people had liberated TRT, the state television channel, and that large crowds had gone to liberate the airport, we felt a bit more at ease.

However, when people started to come from a nearby region called Acıbadem with injuries, we began to get worried again. The gate where we were standing was not far away—the tanks could reach us at any moment. Then we heard that the Acıbadem muhtar [the neighborhood’s representative] had been killed. Everyone fell silent.

Trying to pray, I felt my throat growing dry. At the same time, I tried to comfort my young son, who was calling me on the phone and crying.

When the president came to the airport and made his announcement, the sense of relief in the crowd was amazing. The prayers continued, and when we finally heard that the Bosphorus Bridge had been liberated, everyone was relieved. We had heard that there were many casualties there, but we felt that things were mostly over.

I think we returned home before sunrise, but I cannot really remember. It still feels like a dream.

Betul, an X-ray technician, in Istanbul

Like everyone else, I learned that there were soldiers blocking the bridge. Although the pesident’s announcement gave us a bit of relief, it did not take long for the gravity of the situation to sink in.

People were told to go to their regional headquarters to protest. My mother tried to stop me, but I said, “I’m going. We are losing the nation. I want a nation for my children to grow up in.”

I went to the regional headquarters—it was very crowded. When we learned that the soldiers were trying to get into the city hall building, we ran there without hesitation. On our way there, we continued to listen to the president talking on the radio.

A lot of people told us not to go; they told us they were shooting at civilians and had already killed 17 of them. But we didn’t stop. We heard gunfire all the way there. Here, we could see the coup first hand. There were ambulance sirens and people lying in pools of blood. The only thing illuminating the dark night were the lights of the ambulances and fire engines.

I will never forget that moment that an F16 flew overhead, and the sonic boom had the effect of a bomb going off. Hundreds of people gathered in the square threw themselves on the ground thinking that a bomb had exploded. The noise! The fear! I hope I never have to relive such a night.

Merve, a student, in Istanbul

We heard that people dressed like soldiers had closed the road, that a coup was underway, and that a curfew had been imposed. My roommate stood up, and declared we should not recognize any curfew imposed by people who were merely dressed up as soldiers. So we left the house and went to defend our nation.

I left at about 1:25 am. Within five minutes, I had arrived at Medical Park Hospital, directly next to the city hall. As I arrived, they brought in three injured people, one after the other. They were all were covered in blood and were being carried by other people who had been standing in front of city hall.

The sound of gunfire got louder, but we were not afraid. I started walking toward the front of city hall, but people warned me that civilians were being shot there. My roommate found me and told me she had seen the soldiers shooting indiscriminately on civilians.

The sound of gunfire and F16s continued to rattle the windows until morning. Many innocent people had died. For both of us it was the first time that we had smelt gunfire or seen so much death and destruction.

Neslihan, a city councilor, in Istanbul

When I received the news of the coup, I was trying to put my nine-month old baby son to sleep; he had a high fever and was fussing. When the head of the Istanbul administration told everyone to go to their regional headquarters, I got dressed. Leaving the children with their father to care for them, I set out for the regional headquarters.

When we heard that more people were needed on the Bosphorus Bridge, we instructed people to go there. Many were saying that the men should go and the women should stay behind, but the women did not listen, and a large number of women went to the bridge. My friends—both men and women—walked over 15 kilometers from the Göztepe Bridge to the Bosphorus Bridge.

As I was getting ready to join them, my husband rang and said he was going to take our son to the hospital in Acıbadem; his fever was too high. But soldiers were still blocking the Göztepe Bridge. I wanted to join my husband, so we met near the Göztepe Bridge and started to try to get to the hospital via the back roads. This is when we saw the tanks. With great difficulty, we eventually got our son to the hospital where he finally got the medication he needed.

You can follow Zeynep on Twitter at @jlkandur. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com

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