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Turkish President Appears On State Television Amid Coup Attempt

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Turkish television is carrying comments from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after hours of uncertainty which began with a declaration by armed forces that they were taking over the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Foreign language spoken).

SHAPIRO: His comments are being broadcast by Turkey's Fox TV apparently recorded earlier in the evening. Erdogan says the uprising was carried out by a minority within the military who can't stomach the country's unity. He also said tonight's events will be a reason to clean up the army. He says he will stay with his people, that he isn't going anywhere. And he said those responsible will pay a heavy price for their treason.

Dion Nissenbaum is a Wall Street Journal correspondent based in Istanbul. Welcome to the program.

DION NISSENBAUM: Thanks, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Before these latest comments were broadcast, President Erdogan landed in Istanbul, got in a vehicle, came out and greeted supporters. What did he say, and what kind of reception did he receive?

NISSENBAUM: He's been greeted by thousands of supporters who flooded the airport to welcome him. They heeded his call early in the coup attempt to head to the streets and defy the military, and they did. In remarkable scenes, they swarmed over tanks. They headed to the airport. They were wrestling in the streets with soldiers - amazing scenes both in support of the president but also in opposition to the military coup.

SHAPIRO: The government clearly seems to be asserting its control. And yet at the same time, there are reports of explosions in the parliament building in the capital, Ankara, and apparently President Erdogan has said his general secretary was abducted by the people behind the coup. He has no information on the chief of the military staff. It does not sound like this is over by any stretch.

NISSENBAUM: No, this definitely is not over. It seems at this hour that President Erdogan has the support of the military chief of staff and the majority of the military. But the coup plotters are not going to give up without a fight. This is going to literally be a fight for their lives. They will be tried for treason for this, and there's no reason for them to give up without a fight. And we are hearing explosions and jet fighters overhead, and this is not over.

SHAPIRO: Is this a fight for their lives in the streets or in the courtroom? Are you talking about something that resembles a civil war or merely a dissenting faction?

NISSENBAUM: Those are the questions that are going to be answered in the coming hours, Ari. I think if you're a military coup leader and you see that you're failing. You have to realize that you'll either have to fight for your lives when the - when Erdogan's allies come for you, or you'll be hanged as a traitor by the government after a court proceeding. So it is a fight for their lives one way or another.

And you know, there was an interesting comment made to President Erdogan at the press conference today as he was speaking. It was a - guy got up and said, I'm a Kurd, and I'm standing with you. And the Kurds are his enemies out there, you know? The Kurds could stand to lose a lot from this at the end because Erdogan sees their political leaders as terrorists. So you're seeing a remarkable unity here in support of Turkey's democracy as much as in support of President Erdogan.

SHAPIRO: And yet does Turkey's democracy emerge with a more authoritarian sheen if this coup attempt does in fact fail?

NISSENBAUM: Right. I think that's the - sort of the tragedy of this now, is that it frees President Erdogan to crack down even further on his dissidents, on the Kurds, on the secularists, on journalists who report on his actions. It gives him a free hand to do much more. And he basically said tonight that this is the beginning of an even tougher crackdown on the people that are his opponents.

SHAPIRO: It seems as though the media has been a pawn all night long with the state broadcaster first being seized by the military then reclaimed by the government forces. And CNN Turk at one point was broadcasting President Erdogan via FaceTime on a cell phone. And then at one point the network went dark. What is happening there?

NISSENBAUM: Yeah, it's remarkable, remarkable scenes here. CNN Turk was just broadcasting an empty studio for what seemed like an eternity. And you could hear the journalists fighting, arguing with the coup plotters off the set. Apparently someone was even - one of the journalists was even injured in those arguments. But you just had a gripping scene of an empty CNN Turk set, and you could hear the argument going on over Turkey's democracy off to the side. It's things I've never seen myself. It's incredible.

SHAPIRO: Well, what's the sense in Istanbul at this moment where you are? Are you still hearing any gunfire or explosions?

NISSENBAUM: So I'm not far from Taksim Square, which was the main center of the Gezi Park protest against President Erdogan in 2013. And the streets here are deserted. This is a part of the city that would be lively into the evening. There's very few cars in the streets. There have been F-16s overhead carrying out massive, jarring sonic booms. But right now it is quiet, and I think we're in the - you know, I think everybody wants to see where this is headed when the sun comes up.

SHAPIRO: Turkey's obviously such an important country, a member of NATO and more. What are the implications for American interests?

NISSENBAUM: Right, well, if President Erdogan emerges unscathed and things sort of return to normal, this this will sort of stabilize for the U.S. government. This is of course this site of Incirlik Air Base, which is the main hub for U.S. coalition air strikes against Islamic State in neighboring Syria and Iraq. And that's an important ally in the fight against Islamic State. This is at the epicenter of the efforts to contain the global refugee crisis. So it - we'll have to see how things end up. It's going to be shaky for a while.

But the leader of the military has backed President Erdogan. He is seen as pro-Western. And it does seem at this point that it is a minority within the military that has carried this out. And so the military itself as an institution may retain its stature.

SHAPIRO: We should note that the White House, the Obama administration have expressed support for Turkey's democratically elected government. Secretary of State - former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the same thing. Donald Trump earlier this evening tweeted that people were taking their country back as they may soon do in the United States - obviously a lot of interest in what is happening but also a tremendous amount at stake not just in Turkey but around the world.

NISSENBAUM: Yeah, it's a gripping time. We're not going to know where things are headed until morning. This is not what the U.S. needs.

SHAPIRO: So many of the reports we've heard tonight have been from Istanbul and the capital, Ankara. Do you have a sense of what else is happening in other parts of the country? This is a country of 75 million people.

NISSENBAUM: Yeah, it's - we don't know a lot, you know? We've been a bit consumed by what's been happening in Ankara and Istanbul. There was a sense that there was not much of a move in other parts of the country as there was in Ankara and Istanbul. But like any country, there's - you know, the major cities are where things are turned, and that's what we saw today.

SHAPIRO: Dion Nissenbaum with the Wall Street Journal speaking with us from Istanbul, thank you very much.

NISSENBAUM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: July 14, 2016 at 10:00 PM MDT
This story incorrectly attributes a tweet to GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump. The tweet was sent by a parody account.
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