From Coups That Silence Ezan-S to Ezan-S That Silence Coups!: Sonic Resistance to the 2016 Turkish Military Coup

By Koymen, Erol | Current Musicology, Fall 2017 | Go to article overview

From Coups That Silence Ezan-S to Ezan-S That Silence Coups!: Sonic Resistance to the 2016 Turkish Military Coup


Koymen, Erol, Current Musicology


At around 1 a.m. Turkish time on July 16, 2016, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan joined a live CNNTurk broadcast via the anchor's smartphone, FaceTiming in from an unknown location. During the preceding hours, a military faction calling itself the "Peace at Home Council" had initiated a coup, taking control of strategic sites in Istanbul, sonically blasting cities with low-flying jets, and issuing an announcement over the state media outlet TRT (ABC haber 2016). From the smartphone screen, Erdogan denounced the coup, insisting that the coup plotters would "pay dearly" (cok agir odeyecekler) and issuing a call to viewers to resist the coup: "I am making a call to my nation: I invite our entire Turkish nation to our city squares and airports, and as a nation let's gather at the squares and airports" (Just Watch 2016).

Some 6000 miles away, in Texas, I heard Erdogan's call in real time. Switching anxiously between Turkish and international media outlets, I watched the forced abandonment of the CNNTurk news desk, heard bombs hit the Turkish Parliament during an interview given from inside the building, and listened to Turkish officials try to reassure the public that the government was still in control. Over the course of his five-minute FaceTime call, President Erdogan had forcefully repeated several times his vow to punish the coup plotters and his call for Turkish citizens to take to the streets, but from my vantage point--and as most Turks would likely agree--he appeared a leader rapidly losing his grip on power.

Within three hours, however, President Erdogan had landed at Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport and addressed the world in a televised speech, effectively signaling that the coup attempt had failed (Arango and Yeginsu 2016). How was such a dramatic shift possible? Following ethnomusicologists Denis Gill (2016) and Evrim Hikmet Ogut (2016), I contend that sound profoundly shaped the course of the coup attempt. After President Erdogan issued his call via FaceTime for the Turkish nation to take to the squares, imams and muezzins in mosques all over Turkey powerfully echoed his words with Islamic calls to prayer--specifically the ezan and sela calls--and spoken directions urging Turkish citizens to take to the squares and "defend democracy." These calls prompted Turkish citizens to pour out of their homes and resist the coup attempt, with 290 people killed and more than 1,400 injured over the course of the ultimately successful resistance to the coup during the early hours of July 16 (McKenzie and Sanchez 2016). I argue that during the early hours of July 16 Islamic calls to prayer sonically forged Turkish citizens into a collectivized body politic that asserted its opposition to the coup by taking control of urban streets and squares.

My first goal in this article is to draw on ethnomusicological theories of collectivized music making to examine the process by which Islamic calls to prayer helped forge that body politic. I turn to YouTube videos and journalistic accounts in order to hone in on the coup resistance as it unfolded in real time. In so doing, I consider the ways in which online platforms themselves become sites for ongoing resistance and political subject formation. At the same time, these platforms open up a space for voices of skepticism amidst overwhelming public denunciation of the coup and support for President Erdogan, and thus offer a glimpse of alternative reactions to the coup and its resistance.

The occupation of urban streets and squares inspired by calls to prayer continued over the weeks following the coup attempt through nightly "Democracy Vigils" (Demokrasi Nobetleri) held in urban squares leading up to a massive August 7 "Democracy and Martyrs Meeting" (Demokrasi ve Sehitler Mitingi) in Istanbul. My second goal is to demonstrate that these nightly gatherings harnessed and extended the sonically forged collective effervescence of the immediate coup aftermath (Durkheim 1995), embedding the sounds and collective experience of a new, transformed Turkey into the stone and concrete of urban streets and squares. …

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