Glen Johnson

In Ankara, a night of fear as battling Turkish jets screamed through the skies

July 16, 2016 Los Angeles Times

ANKARA, Turkey — It is dawn and the streets of Ankara’s Kizilay district are empty, strewn with rubbish and glass. A man casts a solitary figure, sweeping shards into piles after a night of bracing violence. Little else moves.

On Ankara’s main boulevard, mangled cars sit at intervals. Some trees have been uprooted and shattered by the force of the previous night’s brutality.

There is the vague howl of a jet high above. Gunfire occasionally rattles.

Only a few hours earlier, fighter jets were screaming at supersonic speeds through Ankara’s skies in aerial dogfights that shook the city with sonic booms. Police and dissident soldiers were locked in gunfights around key state institutions.

But by morning, an eerie quiet hung over this city of 4.6 million people. The normally bustling streets in Kizilay slowly came back to life, people returning to its broad boulevards dotted with cafes and bars.

More than 160 people were killed overnight, many of them civilians, according to the semi-state Anadolu Agency, in a bloody conflict of a magnitude not seen during Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s 14 years of rule.

Military dissidents, staging the country’s first coup in 19 years, repeatedly fired on crowds of protesters. Helicopter gunships carved through the skies. Warplanes launched airstrikes on the parliament and areas around Erdogan’s presidential palace.

The dissidents, primarily drawn from the ranks of the air and land forces, said they were seeking to reverse an erosion of Turkey’s secular institutions under the Erdogan government’s increasingly Islamist and authoritarian rule.
In a country beset by crises, the overnight violence shook the country to its core.

“I’m a total wreck,” said one Kizilay resident, who asked not to be named. “I’m really afraid to go outside.”

Many hundreds of Erdogan’s party faithful gathered in Ankara’s Milli Egemenlik Park on Saturday, with Turkish flags draped across their shoulders. They set up booming chants cried by Ottoman armies of an epoch past: “We resign ourselves to the Greatest God.”

One man sat in a ruined van, now draped in Turkish flags, dabbing his eyes with a tissue and listening to a senior police official announce the restoration of democracy.

The same streets had erupted in chaos overnight. Gunfire boomed, much of it high-caliber. Explosions shook buildings, shattering windows and sending demonstrators scurrying in a stampede.

A man hastened from an apartment block carrying an infant and clutching a young girl’s hand. They rounded a corner, onto a calmer street, and disappeared into the night.

Video shared on social media showed government supporters facing off with tanks, in most cases, unarmed men confronting machine gun-toting soldiers. Some footage depicted mobs beating soldiers bloody.

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