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My parents coached me through my first coup

When I heard the jets overhead, I knew it was real.

Growing up as a Turkish American, I’m familiar with Turkey’s national narrative of fractionalized politics and military coups. Last Friday was a bizarre plot twist. On the unseasonably warm night in Burgaz, a quiet Istanbul island in the Marmara Sea, my parents went to bed early as I lazily scrolled through Twitter in the dark for fear of attack by mosquito.

Social media suddenly went abuzz as the country tried to make sense of an unusual and unannounced deployment of army personnel and fighter jets in Istanbul and Ankara. The question echoing in the Twittersphere: Massive terror alert or coup? Both seemed plausible, reflecting the morbid reality of Turkey today.

While I was raised in California, I had moved to Istanbul in January, and since then I’ve become uncomfortably comfortable with the post-terror-attack choreography in Turkey: turn on VPN to circumvent social media blockage, numbly watch casualty numbers rise, respond to “Are you OK?” texts from friends. Cue debate: is the culprit ISIS or radical Kurdish separatists?

But a coup?

This was surreal. It felt like a plot line from the soap opera on love and politics in contemporary Turkey that I had watched to improve my Turkish before coming to Turkey.

I woke my parents, who had come from California to visit. I’d been researching and reporting on refugees, education and women’s issues in Turkey while immersing myself in the life of the city where my parents grew up. My parents lived through times of heightened political polarization, including three military coups. As I frenetically checked Twitter, my in-house experts took the lead.

“If this is serious, there will be an announcement by the military on TV,” they said. I dismissed them, arguing that social media would trump TV today.

But they were right.

Within minutes, a tense correspondent declared a military takeover on state TV. She was the only woman in the drama of the night.

The immediate reaction was less predictable. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — safe from capture — was speaking live on CNN from the clutches of a reporter’s iPhone. Using FaceTime, he denounced the coup and urged the Turkish people to convene in public spaces in defiance. “There is no power higher than the power of the people!”

Those were forceful demands coming from the screen many just used to catch a Pokemon.

And with more zeal than PokemonGo could harness, thousands of Turks flooded the streets of Istanbul. My parents and I watched on TV, horrified as panicked soldiers shot indiscriminately into crowds, killing civilians. In response, mobs manhandled soldiers, assaulting them — a bewildering sight for my parents, who had grown up in a Turkish society that revered its conscripted military sons and brothers.

This is not like past coups, my parents said.

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