How defiance turned to panic in coup-hit Istanbul

As residents struggled to process the evening's unexpected events, the mood on the streets turned darker

Published: Updated:

At first, the young men stayed defiantly in their seats, saying they would not leave their table or their drinks. No Turkish military coup would stop them enjoying a Friday night in Besiktas, a popular hangout on the European side of Istanbul.

But then the pub owner ran out shouting that the state-run TRT broadcaster "has declared it's a coup -- there's martial law" and within seconds, chairs were folded up and people scattered.

Tensions had been steadily rising all evening and by then there were just a few tables still filled with friends arguing over the military's coup attempt, which if successful would mark the fifth overthrow of the government by Turkish soldiers since 1960.

Minutes before the pub owner's warning, Ali, from Istanbul and a proud Besiktas resident, said he did not want another putsch as helicopters flew above and everyone's eyes darted nervously upwards.

"This country has seen so many coups, I am against them. It will not work," he said as he showed off his Ataturk tattoo, expressing his love for the founder of modern Turkey.

"Look, everyone is going home because of the coup. How many people can you see here? This place should be filled with thousands of people.

"This coup is not good, it will set us back 20 years. Brothers should not spill blood."

His friend Basak agreed. "This country has seen many coups and we are not ready for another."

ATM queues

All around Ali, other cafes and restaurants had already pulled their shutters down after the military took control late on Friday night, stopping traffic on the two Istanbul bridges while in the capital Ankara F-16 fighter jets flew low over the city.

The two bridges that connect the European and Asian sides of the Bosphorus -- usually packed with cars at all hours -- were devoid of traffic and parts of the city began to resemble a ghost town.

When Ali moved to leave, his friends gave the ominous warning: "Just wait until tomorrow morning."

While Ali and his four palls fled the area, urging everyone else to go home too, dozens of others queued at ATMs to get money, worried about what the next days might bring.

In the nearby streets of Sisli, another bustling part of Turkey's largest city, people were panic-buying water before disappearing into their homes, from where the loud sounds of live news broadcasts rang out across the neighbourhood.

As residents struggled to process the evening's unexpected events, the mood on the streets turned darker.

Soon after Ali and his friends headed home, an AFP photographer reported soldiers opening fire on crowds near one of the Bosphorus bridges, and saw wounded people being rushed into ambulances.