TURKEY

Ankara's ambassadors speak out 1 year after July 15 coup

ANKARAS AMBASSADORS SPEAK OUT 1 YEAR AFTER JULY 15 COUP

Last year's July 15 coup attempt was a life-changing experience not only for the Turkish people but also for ambassadors who represent their countries in Ankara.

Daily Sabah got in touch with some of the foreign ambassadors, who were in Ankara on July 15 as well as those who attended a special Parliamentary session on July 16 last year, asking them about their experience on the night of the coup attempt and in its wake over the past year.

Charles Fries, Ambassador of France: ''I salute the courage of the Turkish people in defending Turkey's constitutional order and democratic institutions.''

The coup attempt happened at the end of a particularly intense and dramatic week for me. First, I had to take the difficult decision to cancel our National Day celebrations in Turkey, for security reasons. Then, on the 14th of July, France was hit by a horrendous terrorist attack in Nice. Therefore, on the 15th, I was organizing the commemoration of this tragic event, to be held on the 18th. When I heard and saw the jets in the sky above the Embassy building around 10 pm, I immediately realized that something very serious and dramatic was happening. Given the circumstances, I decided to set up a crisis unit in the Embassy and in our Consulate general in Istanbul in order to issue warning messages to the French community and answer the calls of worried French citizens. I spent all the night in my office and kept constantly informed the French authorities of the latest developments. As you certainly remember, our President and our Foreign minister quickly reacted to condemn the coup attempt, express their condolences and salute the courage of the Turkish people in defending Turkey's constitutional order and democratic institutions.

The decision to hold an extraordinary meeting in the Parliament, just a few hours after it had been so severely hit, showed the strength of Turkish democratic institutions. As the other Ambassadors, I had been deeply shocked by this heinous attack on one of the most prominent symbols of the Republic of Turkey. Therefore, attending such a meeting was for me a very moving experience.

It will certainly take more than one year to heal the deep wounds of July 15. As the Ambassador of a country which is a historical friend and a strategic partner of Turkey, I wish that the situation will soon normalize, because ensuring both the return to a less polarized political climate and the respect of fundamental rights are key elements for Turkey's future as well as for the vitality of the relation between Turkey and the European Union.

Maria Rowena Mendoza Sanchez, Ambassador of Philippines: ''I felt a deep admiration and respect Turkish people for their conviction and courage as they confronted the tanks and guns''

I was at home watching the news when I noticed unusual sounds of helicopters circling over the area. As the Ataturk Airport incident had happened only two weeks before that, our team had taken extra precautions and were sensitive to unusual occurrences. A little time later, there was breaking news that a coup attempt was on-going. My officers and I then took steps to inform the rest of our team and our community leaders about the situation and issued guidelines for their safety. We monitored the situation of our countrymen in both Ankara and Istanbul who thankfully were all safe. We responded to calls throughout the night and until the next day from our Home Office and Philippine media about the status of our community and the situation in Turkey. There was a lot of confusion and of course the violence, the gun shots, the explosions, the fighter jets zooming above, were causes for concern.. Later on, as masses of people responded to the call of the President to go out on the streets to protect democracy, I felt a deep admiration and respect for their conviction and courage as they confronted the tanks and guns, and deep sadness for the loss of lives.

When I was on the way to Parliament, I was struck by the number of people waving Turkish flags on the streets and at the entrance and doing their share to protect Parliament. The dedication and courage shown by the GNAT and security officials and personnel and the strong, unequivocal, common statements of all party leaders denouncing the coup attempt all manifested the nation's and its people's democratic values and principles and their resolve to protect it all costs. The extraordinary session was held despite the heavy damage to the premises but it clearly showed that the government and the parliament were in control and that order was being restored.

It has been an intense year of focused efforts from all sectors of government and society to overcome the negatives brought about by the coup attempt and the terrorist acts of 2016 and bring normalcy to the country. These efforts have brought about desired goals as reflected in Turkey's improving economy and development.

The Philippines and Turkey enjoy warm and friendly relations that have deepened due to shared values and adherence to democratic principles. The Philippines stands with Turkey, and other nations, in the global fight against terrorism in all its forms.

Danilo Vucetic, Ambassador of Serbia: ''The period after the coup attempt I consider to be very complicated in the aspect of the remediation of the damage made by the coup attempt.''

In the moment of the beginning of the coup I was in my residence. I heard the planes. It sounded weird and I opened the window to look out at what was going on. I saw three military aircrafts far above in the sky. Unexpectedly one of them separated from the group and descended very low and very quickly disappeared between the buildings. It was a sign to me that there was something going on. Right away I telephoned to my counsellor and told him that I thought that most probably that was the beginning of a military coup. After that I went straight to the Embassy, during the night I attentively followed the developments of the event. I was on a constant line with Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs since there was a vivid interest for the events in Turkey at that moment.

I was together with the other Ambassadors in the Parliament. I saw that session as an expression of solidarity of all political powers in Turkey in order to overcome the difficult situation after the coup attempt.

The period after the coup attempt I consider to be very complicated in the aspect of the remediation of the damage made by the coup attempt. The efforts of President Erdogan and Premier Yildirim to explain the background of the coup and to get a wider international support, were more than obvious. The measures undertaken by Turkish authorities were not always received well worldwide that the reason for the worsening of some relations, especially ones with EU.

Serbia handed immediately its straightforward support and condemned the coup attempt as an unacceptable method of overthrowing the legally elected government in the country. I was glad to see that such firm Serbia`s attitude was very much appreciated by the Turkish government.

Sohail Mahmood, Ambassador of Pakistan: ''The leadership and people of Pakistan were deeply concerned and prayed for the brotherly Turkey's stability and continued progress''

While we were at the Residence preparing for family dinner, we were struck by the intense sounds of low flying fighter jets. The frequency and timing of these flights seemed highly unusual. Then, the news emerged that the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul had been blocked. In due course, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim informed the media about an illegal coup attempt underway and expressed the resolve that it will be defeated. That entire night we spent hearing sounds of combat aircraft and helicopters attacking various places and we also saw remarkable images of the common people heroically resisting the coup attempt. Of course, the most critical turning point that night was the address to the nation by President Erdoğan on FaceTime -- urging the people to come to the airports, public squares and streets and resist the coup attempt. The whole world witnessed that within minutes these public spaces filled up with millions. In revival of a historic tradition in Turkey, azans echoed in the length and breadth of the country. Unarmed men and women stopped rolling tanks and silenced roaring guns. It was an unforgettable experience.

I was in constant contact with Islamabad throughout the night. Obviously, the leadership and people of Pakistan were deeply concerned and prayed for the brotherly Turkey's stability and continued progress. As you know, Pakistan was among the first countries to unequivocally condemn the heinous coup attempt and express its strong support and solidarity for President Erdoğan, the elected government, and the democratic institutions of Turkey.

I had the honour of visiting the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) and witnessing the proceedings of the Extraordinary Session in Parliament. After the Session, we saw the extensive damage caused to various parts of the building due to fighter jets and helicopter attacks. The night before, the members of Parliament, under the heroic leadership of Speaker Ismail Kahraman, had demonstrated exemplary courage by continuing their meeting despite repeated bombings. That the citadel of Turkish democracy remained fully functional in defiance of the illegal attempt to derail democracy that night was of great symbolic and historic significance. Of course, the most important aspect of this Extraordinary Session was the unanimity with which all the political forces rejected the coup attempt and reaffirmed their faith in and commitment to democracy. This Parliament has appropriately been called the "Gazi Majlis."

The last one year can be described as the year of great transformation. Turkey has made major strides in successfully combating terrorism emanating from multiple sources; strengthened stability in the post-15 July period; achieved a far-reaching Constitutional amendment; and taken steps to regain the momentum in the national economic growth process. Admittedly, 2016 was a difficult year. The prospects for 2017 and beyond are clearly brighter.

I wish to remember the 250 brave men, women and youth who made the ultimate sacrifice, and the 2,200 who were wounded, on that fateful night. Our best prayers are with the martyrs and their families. The heinous coup attempt of 15 July was defeated with the collective will and strength of the people of Turkey. The unity of the political parties and of Turkish armed forces was reinforced by an extremely positive role played by the Turkish media. In essence, the grit and resilience of the Turkish people and institutions carried the day. The same attributes would help Turkey continue on its journey of peace, stability and progress in the future. A strong Turkey remains critically important for the region, for the Muslim Ummah, and for the world at large. Like always, Pakistan will be shoulder-to-shoulder with Turkey, no matter what!

Jonathan Curr, Ambassador of New Zealand : Hopefully the next 12 months can also be a time of healing and reconciliation

On the evening 15 July 2016 I was in Tunali listening to a music band made up of diplomats living in Ankara. I received a call from the Australian Ambassador asking me if I knew why F16s were circling over the city. I went outside to take a look. Many others joined me. Then I started receiving reports that bridges in Istanbul had been blocked off by the military, and later that there had been gunfire in the vicinity of TGS headquarters. I realised that something serious was happening and that I needed to return to the Embassy. We started checking on the welfare and whereabouts of all our staff. As I drove back to the Embassy it flashed through my mind that this might have been a coup attempt, but it was not until I saw Prime Minister Yildirim on TV that I was sure about what was happening. It was a harrowing night for all of us.

The significance of July 16 parliamentary session was that members of parliament from all political parties were united against the coup attempt, and in protecting Turkey's democracy. It was a moving and inspiring display of national unity in a time of crisis, and it symbolised the unity of the Turkish people with its government and political representatives.

In the last 12 months we have witnessed some turbulence in Turkish politics and society. While the Turkish people secured a great victory on the night of 15 July, and demonstrated remarkable resilience with daily and economic life quickly returning to normal for the majority of citizens, there have been major security and political issues to grapple with. A state of emergency is still in place. It has been sad to see the re-emergence of divisions in Turkish society over this time, and there remain many democratic and justice challenges for Turkey to face. Hopefully the next 12 months can also be a time of healing and reconciliation, where diversity, dialogue and inclusiveness are valued and seen as sources of strength in a democracy.

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