Coup ‘mar­tyrs’ be­come new he­roes of Er­do­gan’s Tur­key

Hal­is­demir prob­a­bly the most cel­e­brated vic­tim

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Peo­ple have come from far and wide to this sleepy Ana­to­lian vil­lage in cen­tral Tur­key to re­cite prayers, take self­ies or just think qui­etly. The pur­pose of their visit is sim­ple - to pay their re­spects at the grave of Sergeant Omer Hal­is­demir, prob­a­bly the most cel­e­brated vic­tim of the July 15 coup aimed at oust­ing Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan. The 249 peo­ple who died at the hands of the coup plot­ters are re­mem­bered in Tur­key as “se­hitler” - mar­tyrs for Is­lam - and the sub­ject of in­tense ven­er­a­tion on the first an­niver­sary of the failed putsch.

But none has re­ceived the at­ten­tion of Hal­is­demir, who be­came an im­me­di­ate na­tional hero by shoot­ing two bul­lets into the head of Gen­eral Semih Terzi on the night of July 15. Terzi is sus­pected of be­ing one of the key plot­ters who was lead­ing the as­sault on the head­quar­ters of spe­cial forces in Ankara. Anti-coup spe­cial forces com­man­der Zekai Ak­sakalli had or­dered Hal­is­demir by tele­phone to shoot dead Terzi to break the chain of com­mand. The sergeant replied sim­ply “Yes Sir!”.

Af­ter car­ry­ing out his com­man­der’s in­struc­tions to the let­ter, Hal­is­demir was him­self im­me­di­ately shot dead by Terzi’s en­tourage. The ul­ti­mate sacri­fice made by Hal­is­demir, mar­ried with two chil­dren, was hailed by Turk­ish lead­ers as the turn­ing point of the night and turned his home vil­lage of Cukurkuyu in cen­tral Ana­to­lia into a place of pil­grim­age.

‘One of the great­est he­roes’

Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple have al­ready made the jour­ney to the ceme­tery in Cukurkuyu to visit the grave of Hal­is­demir, lo­cated at the end of an al­ley lined with pine trees and flanked by a gi­gan­tic Turk­ish flag. “One of the great­est he­roes of the night of the putsch is buried there,” said Ay­din, 23, a stu­dent who had come to Hal­is­demir’s grave with his fam­ily from Ankara. “When he fell as a martyr, Omer Hal­is­demir be­came the brother of 80 mil­lion Turks,” he added. In the prov­ince of Nigde, where Cukurkuyu is lo­cated, Hal­is­demir’s im­age is om­nipresent - stuck to the win­dows of lor­ries, on the lo­cal univer­sity that is now named af­ter him, on scarves sold in the street. A statue of him now oc­cu­pies pride of place in cen­tral Nigde.

‘A whole mythol­ogy’

The he­roes of the coup night like Hal­is­demir have been given an im­por­tance of his­tor­i­cal mag­ni­tude by the gov­ern­ment. “A whole mythol­ogy is be­ing built around” the failed putsch, said a Euro­pean diplo­mat. “In the of­fi­cial dis­course, July 15 has be­come some kind of sec­ond War of In­de­pen­dence,” the diplo­mat added, re­fer­ring to the strug­gle that led to the found­ing of mod­ern Tur­key in 1923. This is made clear in the large num­ber of roads, schools and parks named af­ter the mar­tyrs of the putsch. The first bridge across the Bospho­rus in Is­tan­bul is now called the bridge of the Mar­tyrs of July 15.

“On July 15, th­ese peo­ple be­came he­roes,” said Abudur­rah­man Tarik Se­bik, pres­i­dent of the Foun­da­tion for the Mar­tyrs of July 15 estab­lished af­ter the coup. “But what were they do­ing on the 14th? One was a taxi driver, an­other a ship cap­tain and some­one else was an aca­demic.”

‘Nor­mal kind of guy’

The cult of mar­tyrs has aroused the greed of busi­ness­men who have shown no hes­i­ta­tion in ex­ploit­ing their names to make a fast buck. Hal­is­demir’s widow re­cently even in­scribed her hus­band’s name in Tur­key’s patents reg­is­ter to pro­tect it from mis­use. In the wake of the failed putsch, prom­ises flooded into the author­i­ties in Cukurkuyu to help with de­vel­op­ment. “At the start, ev­ery­one wanted to build some­thing here,” said Ah­met Ozer, the mukhtar (se­nior lo­cal of­fi­cial) of the vil­lage. “But al­most no-one kept their prom­ises,” he added bit­terly, with only the cities of Ko­caeli and Ankara fork­ing out to build a park and a wall around the ceme­tery.

At the ceme­tery, the gar­dener Ah­met Ye­sil, a child­hood friend of Hal­is­demir, rum­mages around in his mem­ory as he digs into the ground. “Omer had the look of a sol­dier, he had that sharp look. He of­ten said - ‘I am not scared of any­thing, just of God’.” They met for the last time just a week be­fore his death, dur­ing a fu­neral of a friend in the same ceme­tery. “I liked Omer a lot,” said Ye­sil. “He was a nor­mal kind of guy.” — AFP

NIGDE, Tur­key: Peo­ple walk past the mon­u­ment of Omer Hal­is­demir, who was killed last year dur­ing the coup at­tempt. —AFP

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