On Foreign Correspondent Sally Sara explores Turkey’s identity crisis after a failed coup and a sweeping purge set the country on a dangerous and unpredictable path.
At first she was just “the woman in the head scarf”, a diminutive figure captured on mobile phone footage, singlehandedly confronting and scolding armed rebel soldiers who had suddenly seized Istanbul’s main bridge.
Why did you close my Bosphorous Bridge? Why are you doing this? she demanded, arms waving.
The woman was 34-year-old Safiye Bayat. She took a bullet in the leg from those soldiers. When the coup was put down, the crazy-brave mother-of-two became an instant national heroine – a symbol of how people power helped rescue Turkey’s brittle democracy.
Safiye Bayat is still recovering from her wounds from that midsummer night. Her country remains in turmoil.
Within hours of the coup attempt President Erdogan’s forces began rounding up tens of thousands of his suspected opponents – jurists, journalists, civil servants, artists, musicians.
They stand accused as “Gulenists” – followers of US-based Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally-turned-rival.
We had a sort of cancer within our body… and now we are getting rid of the cancer cells – Government official Yasin Aktay
Erdogan’s purge has deepened the gulf between two distinct strands of Turkish society – conservative Muslims and western-leaning secularists. Many secular activists, it’s claimed, are being unfairly tarred as Gulenists.
We have this extraordinary sense of paranoia and fear – Gareth Jenkins, Istanbul -based British author
As I’m walking I can feel the people around me looking at each other, weighing up one another – young man in Istanbul street
Safiye Bayat, the woman on the bridge, is a devout Muslim and Erdogan loyalist. As reporter Sally Sara discovers, Erdogan’s purge has only stiffened Bayat’s faith in him.
He is our dearest, a piece of ourselves, our commander-in-chief, our general – Safiye Bayat
Actor and activist Levent Uzumcu got sacked from Istanbul’s theatre company for his public criticisms of the government. How, he wonders, can his own secular outlook co-exist with the Islamic conservatism represented by the heroic Safiye Bayat?
We speak the same language, we eat the same food, we walk the same street, but we have hundreds and hundreds of years between us. This is the problem – how can we live together? – Levent Uzumcu
9.30pm on Tuesday October 4 on ABC.