First Published: 2017-07-14

Coup 'martyrs' are new heroes of Erdogan's Turkey
249 people who died at hands of Turkish coup plotters are being remembered in Turkey as "sehitler" (martyrs for Islam).
Middle East Online

Workers put the finishing touches at a memorial to honour the victims of the failed coup attempt

ANKARA - 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."

 

US, Iranian top diplomats confront each other for first time

Moscow accuses US of hitting Syrian regime forces

Turkey, Iran and Iraq make joint threat against Kurd vote

Thousands of Huthi supporters mark 3 years since Sanaa takeover

Gemstone purchase essential for Najaf pilgrims

UN sets up probe of IS war crimes in Iraq

Air strikes kill 22 civilians in northwest Syria in 48 hours

Iranian supreme leader lashes out at Trump UN speech

Iraq attacks all remaining IS territory at once

Turkey jails lawyers representing hunger striking teachers

Syrian Kurds to hold first local elections in federal push

Qatari expats lauded as statesmen by Arab critics

Shipwreck off Libyan coast leaves over 100 migrants missing

Will Turkey’s opposition to Kurdish state translate into action?

US ups the ante on Iraq Kurds

Macron: Iran nuclear deal no longer enough

Trump’s mind made up on Iran but refuses to divulge

Scores of Iraqis missing during war against ISIS

Netanyahu rejects calls for mixed gender worship at Western Wall

Russia accuses US of missile treaty breach

Iran TV translator mocked for watering down Trump speech

Saudi Arabia hopes Kurdish referendum will not take place

Saudi invites women to sports stadium for first time

Saudi set to create $2.7 billion investment company

Humanitarian disaster grips Yemen three years since Houthi takeover

What will become of Iraq’s Hawija after ISIS?

Multi-ethnic Kirkuk tense ahead of referendum

UN awaits Iran’s defence against Trump nuclear deal threats

US-backed SDF seizes 90% of Syria's Raqa

Man hanged in Iran for rape, murder of child

Saudi to lift ban on internet phone calls

Sisi calls for peace, co-existence in Mideast

Erdogan demands Iraqi Kurds call off referendum

US looking to revisit Iran nuclear deal

Trump expects Gulf dispute to be resolved quickly

Bashir calls on Darfur displaced to return

Saudi Aramco could release accounts in early 2018

Saudi-led coalition says rebels hindering Yemen food imports

Jihadist activity prompts regime, Russian air strikes in Syria safe zone

Two prominent rights activists arrested in Saudi Arabia

Israel shoots down Hezbollah drone over Golan Heights

Iraqi forces launch assault on IS in western Anbar province

Families of the missing, the forgotten victims of war in Lebanon

25 killed in South Sudan clashes

Suicide attack on Iraq restaurant kills three