Decatur residents describe Turkey on the night of a failed coup
Meaghan Flood and Carl Newton, from Decatur, were staying in the Ritz Carlton in Istanbul on July 15 enjoying the end of a belated European honeymoon.
Two jets flew by low over the city. At first she didn’t think anything of it.
Tom Lorre, a Decatur resident who is currently an English teacher living in Istanbul’s Kadıköy neighborhood, was walking home from work around 9 p.m.
“I heard a helicopter flying really low overhead,” Lorre recalled. “At the time I was like, whatever people do dumb shit all the time. I got home and hour later my girlfriend sent me a message saying something’s happening at the bridge.”
Flood and Newton said that’s how they learned what was happening as well. Newton told their Facebook friends, “We wouldn’t have known anything had it not been for all the messages.”
The military was attempting to overthrow the civilian government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Lorre, who asked that we not use his real last name, said it wasn’t a total surprise.
“People have been expecting a coup for a long time because it’s something that’s happened in Turkey,” he said.
There’ve been several coups or interventions since the 1960’s. The heart of the conflict is the Turkish military, which sees its mission as preserving Turkey’s secular culture in the face of the civilian government’s more Islamist tendencies.
While Lorre wasn’t completely surprised by the turn of events, Flood didn’t expect it. She said she caught grief from people who asked why she would travel to that region of the world. As far as the Middle East goes, Turkey is considered to be a stable country.
“One of the things is you really can’t predict a military coup,” she said. “That’s kind of the nature of a military coup.”
Flood and Newton are seasoned world travelers. Oddly enough, this isn’t the first member of Flood’s family to be caught in the middle of unrest. Her older brother was visiting Kenya during a coup in 1982.
“They were in a remote area and they came back and there were tanks rolling down the street,” Flood said.
Throughout the evening Flood and Newton watched the news in their hotel room as planes buzzed by the window and sporadic gunfire occurred outside.
Lorre said he got most of his information from a live thread on Reddit. For the most part, he says, he felt safe. But there was a moment where he wasn’t so sure.
“At one point around three or four in the morning as things were dying down and I was trying to fall asleep, I heard a jet, a F-16, maybe a couple of hundred meters above my apartment building,” he said. “It made this big loud sonic boom and it happened three, four or five times. It was really freaky because I had just read news stories about F-16’s shooting helicopters out of the sky in Ankara and I was thinking, ‘God they’re going to shoot down a helicopter and it’s going to land on my apartment building and I’m going to die in my sleep.'”
But the coup was over almost as soon as it began.
“It was over before it started,” Newton said.
The civilian government had regained control by the next morning.
“I was just happy that it ended quickly,” Lorre said. “The absolute worst thing that could’ve happened if it lasted for days, or weeks or months. Thankfully it ended quickly one way or another.”
For Flood and Newton, the coup ended up being more of a hassle than anything. They had originally planned to return to Atlanta on July 16. Due to the flight restrictions put in place after the coup, the couple got tickets on a flight to Frankfurt, Germany where they spent one night before returning home.
“It was really funny,” Flood said. “I made fast friends with a Saudi family while we were spending all day in the country together. We started discussing renting a car together.”
Newton, who is from the UK, said he was more surprised by the outside world’s reaction to the coup than the event itself. Generally speaking, Turkey is a safe bet for travel. People were telling him to do things like fill the hotel bathtub with water. He said he felt safe. It wasn’t like the military was storming the Ritz Carlton, he said.
“That was actually the weirdest part of the experience was trying to make everybody feel better that was genuinely concerned,” he said.
Flood said she worries that people will have the wrong impression about Turkey. The couple had actually altered its travel plans to spend more time in Istanbul, which she called “huge” and stunning.”
“Do I want to relive it? No,” Flood said. “Would I highly recommend it to anyone? Absolutely not, of course. But this is the world we live in. You can’t be safe going out for a night of dancing in Orlando. Don’t be so quick to paint Turkey with a broad brush.”
For Lorre and other people living in Turkey, the longer-term implications of the failed coup remain to be seen. Erdoğan has responded swiftly, purging the country’s judiciary and educational systems. Lorre said the latter might pose a problem if he seeks a job teaching at a university.
That said, he isn’t sure things would be better if the coup had succeeded.
“It’s like Alien versus Predator, ‘Whoever wins we lose’ kind of thing,” Lorre said. “We have this saying, if you go at the king you better not miss. They clearly flubbed the coup attempt very badly.”
When Flood and Newton returned to Decatur, they found a gift basket on their door step.
On top of the pile was a tee-shirt that said, “I spent my honeymoon in the Turkey coup … and all I got was this lousy shirt.”
“How epic is that tee-shirt? You have to love my friends for having food on my door when I came home,” she said.