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Turkey coup: Father who died defying rebel troops

Photo of Sema and Akin, from album

One of the most dramatic moments of the failed coup on 15 July was when Turkish troops fired at protesters on Istanbul’s famous Bosphorus Bridge.

Among those shot dead was a 41-year-old taxi driver, whose wife spoke to the BBC’s Rengin Arslan. This is her story.

“The telephone rang non-stop. His mother was calling. He jumped out of bed and turned on the TV.

“He saw our president’s call to people to take to the streets. He asked for a Turkish flag, which he then hung outside, then he walked away, still in his pyjamas. He didn’t even get dressed, but took his telephone.”

That was the last time Sema Sertcelik saw her husband Akin.

He walked to the Bosphorus Bridge, where the plotters had deployed tanks that night. It was only 15 minutes from his house, where he left his family.

Now along with Akin’s flag there are other Turkish flags all around his house, to let people see that “a martyr” who opposed the coup lived there.

Photo of Sema and Akin, from album

Photo of Sema and Akin, from album

I met Sema Sertcelik at her flat, with her 17-year-old daughter Irmak and 10-year-old son Hamza.

Her husband was among 179 civilians who died when they stood against the tanks and soldiers. The violence that night also claimed the lives of 67 soldiers and police.

Akin was among tens of thousands who heeded President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s appeal to confront the troops in the streets.

The bridge connecting Europe and Asia was a focal point of resistance to the coup – and the clash was watched live on TV.

Several protesters were shot dead when they tried to reach the tanks.

President Erdogan accused a Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, of masterminding the coup, by inciting supporters in the army and other state institutions.

The cleric – a former ally of Mr Erdogan who now lives in self-imposed exile in the US – strongly denied the claim.

Sema showed me text messages that she sent one after another to her husband. Then she recalled their last conversation.

“He said there was lots of blood on the ground. He said there were many wounded people around him and soldiers were shooting.

“I told him to be careful. He was shouting at people to get down. He told me to read the Koran, to pray to God. So I prayed. Then I dozed off. When I woke up again it was 07:26 in the morning. I checked my mobile and called him, but there was no answer. I kept calling – still no answer.”

Irmak and Hamza listened to their mother in silence – I could not guess their thoughts.

Turkish troops open fire, 16 July '16

Turkish troops open fire, 16 July ’16

Sema told me Hamza had not cried yet. It was so difficult and painful to tell them that their father was dead, she said.

The day after the coup attempt, Sema searched several hospitals and finally found her husband in a morgue, where unidentified victims had been sent.

“I got home and Irmak came to me. She asked where her father was. I told her that I had found him asleep. She hugged me, kissed me – and I told her to go to bed. She went, but then came back. Eventually I managed to tell her.”

‘We were equal’

Sema says she is “very proud” because her husband “became a martyr”. She wishes she could have died with him.

“When I went with my brother to collect his body I saw a 20-year-old man and a very old man who had died that night. There were women among the dead too.”

Sema’s children smiled as she described a happy and harmonious family life.

“We were equal. He supported me at home in every possible way.”

She brought the family albums. One picture showed Akin holding his baby boy for the first time. I looked at Hamza, and he avoided my gaze.

Family photo

Now the family just have their memories of happier times with Akin

Then Irmak looked frantically for a picture of all four of them together.

When I asked Sema how she remembered Akin she described her last vision of him. “He was smiling, there was a light on his face. When I saw him for the last time, I thought he was in a beautiful place.”

She strongly believes there will be revenge for Akin and the others who died opposing the coup.

“The people who did this won’t get away with it.”

Like many others, I have to cross that bridge nearly every day – and its romantic symbolism, connecting two continents, has been damaged forever.

I will always remember the tanks on it, the people killed by their own army, and the woman and two kids who were left behind.

Pro-Erdogan rally against coup plotters in Istanbul, 23 Jul 16

Pro-Erdogan rally against coup plotters in Istanbul, 23 Jul 16

  • Rengin Arslan


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About the author

Sydney Chesterfield

Poet, Playwright, Philosopher, Humanitarian, mad lover of children and unflinching fighter for equality on all grounds viz. Women's rights, child rights, sine die.

Twitter: @syd_field