Alan Carter of astralunity.com, caught up in Turkey gun battle!
We arrived in Turkey at Dalaman airport, and took the transfer drive to Marmaris of about 2 hours duration. This found us arriving at the ‘Casa de Maris” Hotel in the early hours of the morning, at around 01:00 am local time on Saturday 16th July 2016.
The scene that met us from the balcony of our room was quite confused! People were gathered in small groups, on several street corners, with a larger group of around 200 people (that were within our field of view), about 500 yards away in a square, which was facing our hotel room located at the west side of the hotel. The group were chanting and more were joining the crowd from adjacent streets. This suggested something serious was afoot and it was then we received a message from my son Stephen, that we had landed at the same time as a Military Coup was in progress. Not being sure what the status of this situation could be, we tuned our TV into any News we could find on the subject. This came courtesy of Al Jazeera in English.
Yvonne concentrated upon the news reports, whilst I remained on the balcony. The fact that news reports were focusing upon dramatic events unfolding in the East of the country, made it all the more surprising for us, when a large and very noisy Military Helicopter was heard, circling around our Hotel. Looking on, I wondered if it may be for security purposes, as it seemed to hover in one place at a time, for prolonged periods. Its pattern of movement, then suggested that it may actually be searching for somebody, similar indeed, to the regular and sequential movements of a Police Helicopter.
The noise from the Helicopter was immense and it was very disturbing to see it following people, whilst at the same time kicking up great amounts of soil, dust and debris. This helicopter was then joined by another very large and similar helicopter, which flew in from the East and seemed to hover low, or land on the beachfront. I perceived it to be dropping troops off, as at this point as many as 20 to 30 Soldiers appeared and ran through the streets amongst the fleeing and dispersing crowds. We were later informed by locals that three helicopters in total, had been seen around our hotel.
I returned to the room to study the News reports and Yvonne viewed further activities from the Balcony. Yvonne witnessed a man running into the hotel (the entrance being underneath our glass balcony) and shortly after, two men ran out of the Hotel, looked up at the helicopter and then held their hands up in submission. Yvonne then heard shots from the helicopter and the men scrambled to the floor and crawled away on their stomachs in panic. After this event, a plain black car appeared and parked up to the North West of the Hotel, and four men dressed in dark or black clothing, jumped out and ran separate ways. The men adopted a pistol-gripping approach, however the weapons they held were of a strange design, being long barrelled and almost luminous. Yvonne remarked to me on this, as events unfolded and it was at this moment I shouted her to leave the balcony. I sensed that matters were taking a dramatic turn and after she entered the room, we then heard ‘pops’ of small arms fire.
Unsure what to do next we laid on the bed and, with the news playing in the background and saying the Coup had failed and normal order was restored, we considered what to do next. As we discussed the contradictions of the news reports versus our own witnessing of events, I heard a loud bang and crack and instinctively knew some heavier fire, had been deployed against the glass frontage of our hotel room. I quickly rolled Yvonne to the floor, at the bedside, furthest from the window and jumped on top of her, covering both of us with the mattress and pillows as best I could. It was only afterwards that we realised, how fortunate our quick reactions had been, as the glass balcony was ripped apart and the patio doors were riddled with bullet holes at body level. This and the ensuing hail of heavy fire over what seemed like an eternity, was the scariest moment of the whole eight-hours, to which we were under siege. It was also the point when Yvonne called her daughter to say her goodbyes and I sent a simple message to my son, to look after his sisters.
There was a lull in the fighting, after that awful and poignant moment. Sobs and cries filled the corridor and Yvonne’s Daughter relayed the news from her boyfriend, who had phoned the Foreign Office whilst she was talking with her mother, with the FO advising us to keep ourselves hidden and not to make a sound. During this lull, I sneaked a peak through the spy hole in the hotel door and saw people laying in the corridor, women and children, frightened and confused. This was one of the most heart rending and desperate scenes I have probably ever witnessed.
As we considered what to do, and debated whether to join the refugees camped outside our door, the whole place erupted again. The machine gun fire recommenced outside of our apartment balcony, but this time it was accompanied by small arms fire from within the hotel corridor itself. Rekindling the horror of the situation, myself and Yvonne automatically fell into our makeshift hiding place again, beside the bed. This was when we both expected our door to be blasted open and we either be shot or taken as hostage. That was also when I decided to record the sounds of gunfire, thinking, If we are going to die, then I am going to catalogue the event such that others should know how we met our end. Whilst on reflection, the recording did not capture the ferocity of the original onslaught. It did at least provide a testimony to the firing of weapons both inside and outside our hotel, with the sounds of panic from innocent victims, as a backdrop throughout. We later learned that Soldiers had entered our hotel through the rear of the property, allegedly in order to storm an adjacent hotel to the West of ours, with an intention to kill the Turkish President. Whilst this may be a possible explanation, the results of the firefight, was more suggestive of the President being in our hotel, if not an occupant of our room even, given the damage inflicted upon it!
After that second major incursion, all went quiet again. The anticipated storming of our room did not happen. A period of some hours elapsed, throughout which there were several bangs and random cries. Shouting, as heavy footsteps fell upon the corridor and dragging sounds Above and around us. We again, debated our position and the time then was about 07:30 am. Creeping stealthily to look through the spy hole in our door, we both saw a man resting with his back upon it. A rough looking man dressed in black talking to others that we could not see! This spooked us badly, as this man fitted the description of one of those seen by Yvonne earlier, with the strange firearms. In the absence of any apparent help or rescue, or any reassurances or support from hotel staff, we decided to return to the floor and maintain our position of silence. Visiting the spy hole a couple of times more, during the ensuing hour and a half, it was around 08:45am when I finally noticed there were children and parents daring to venture out, taking photographs of the hotel damage with their mobile phones. I did not see any westerners, but we decided if children had surfaced, then perhaps it would be safe to leave the room. As one last ‘test’ I decided to call reception. Both myself and Yvonne took time out to discuss and collectively agree to this option, fully aware that if the reception phone was manned by anyone, other than a member of the hotel staff, then we were potentially giving away our position to the hostile force. What happened next surprised us. A male receptionist announced calmly, that ‘breakfast would be served as usual, in the hotel restaurant’!
Leaving our room, we were encouraged by the restaurant manager (Who was apparently lodged next door to us) to take some tea, with the same line that ‘breakfast was being served as usual, in the hotel restaurant’! Bemused but shaken, we acceded to the request, but oh my goodness, we could not for the life of us understand how anyone could eat after such a traumatic night! What met us in the restaurant, did little to restore our faith in human nature, as an English couple, when approached by us on the night’s drama, announced that they had “heard something but just turned their ipad up louder”. This was surreal!
This apathetic mood was reflected throughout the staff of the hotel. They neither admitted to, nor showed, any acknowledgement of the fact, that the hotel resembled a building in a war zone. Merely reinforcing a statement, applied as a mantra collectively by all Turkish people thereafter (Staff and Public), that “everything would be OK now”. It was quite clear as time went on, that the Turkish people relied so heavily upon tourism for their respective livelihoods, that they would have to perpetuate such rhetoric if their future in tourism was to be maintained. Whilst it seemed on the surface, that the public supported a coup, the reality of the situation was that they were clearly and simply ‘relying’ upon tourism, and feared that ‘rocking any political boat’ would be enough to finish many of them. It also emerged from discussions with locals, that there was a disparity between the interests of the Police Force, the Armed Forces and the Government. This underlying instability, being enough to convince us at least, that we needed to vacate the Country as quickly as possible, before the fragile infrastructure crumbled further. Until such situation was resolved, we would certainly not even consider a return to Turkey.
On presenting ourselves to reception, we were advised that no taxi would come near the hotel, due to the fighting of the early hours. We were also advised that there were road blocks throughout the route, between the hotel and Dalaman Airport, which was around two hours drive away. On discussing options with a package tour representative, we were further advised that Marmaris Airport was in ‘Lockdown’ and therefore, there would be no flights leaving that day. In between enquiring with locals about the Ferry and possible boat trips to Rhodes, (to reach the relative security of Europe) and exploring other travel options, it became clear that the staff of the hotel were distancing themselves from us. The reason for this became evident, when a Brit explained that our room had been shot up the worst and the hotel staff had seemingly thought, that we should not have survived such an onslaught. That explained why the staff of the hotel looked at us as if we were ghosts, when we emerged from our room, but it does not explain why they offered no courtesy or assistance to us thereafter. In fact when challenged on this, more than one hotel representative said they thought we had checked out. This was a strange thing to suggest, when we had only just checked in, during the early hours of that morning? We think they expected us to have perished when our room was so badly shot out and it also seemed that, for all they cared, our bodies should just be left for the police to deal with.
On the basis of the general apathy of the hotel staff and Turkish people, towards us, we would advise anybody thinking of going to Turkey or who has a holiday planned, to think again. If such a trip were to be undertaken and problems encountered locally, then they would be on their own. Nobody would give them assistance and certainly, nobody would help them escape any trouble. We were only able to flee Turkey ourselves, by arranging the booking of any available flights from Marmaris via the UK through my friend and business partner, and then only after convincing a taxi driver to take us to the airport, using his skills as such, to negotiate the various Police checkpoints and roadblocks, on the way. Arriving back in the UK to London Stansted Airport and the adjacent Radisson Blu Hotel, was a liberating experience and only then could we relax and unburden ourselves of the trauma we had encountered from the trip.
What surprises us, having been through this ordeal, is that the Foreign Office, and travel companies, still maintain that Turkey is safe enough for Holidays. It horrifies us that families are still being encouraged to enter this Country given its present instabilities. Even now, news reports suggest the troubles are not over, with more protests to come, yet in the same sentence, those reporters also irresponsibly specify that it is ‘business as usual’ For holidays. It is unimaginable to think that one should have to entertain, the added responsibility of Children, if attempting to protect them during a fire-fight and then later flee the Country. We made this point, through our attendance on ‘This Morning’ as guests of Eamon Holmes and Ruth Langsford but with little Immediate effect. Whilst we understand that it is difficult, under the impartiality rules of media coverage, to negotiate an unbiased line of enquiry with such matters. I think Eamon and Ruth and their support team managed to find and maintain the balance rather well. However, the foreign travel representative who appeared on the show via satellite, whom incidentally was notably safe in Canada many miles away, did not do himself any favours with his easy comments, that played down the seriousness of the situation in turkey. The point I guess is that we (myself and Yvonne) can speak freely and honestly on a matter of experience, whereas such a representative must bow to his masters and is forced to toe a political line, thereby misleading others and not being true to himself! People considering travel to Turkey, must be made aware of the hazards that could face them and make an appropriate risk assessment for themselves, as those that are responsible for convincing them to go to Turkey, clearly only have their own interests at heart.
We have heard that there are other facebook accounts from a man, who witnessed shootings at our hotel, from a hotel opposite. Apparently he was also under gunfire in his room, terrified and stuck with a family that included children. We pray for his safe return home and encourage him to publicise his plight, as we have, in order to raise awareness and protect others.
The efforts of the “This Morning” show on ITV, has raised awareness of the public to such an extent, that Marmaris is now also mentioned in news reports. Well done to them.
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Copyright 2016. Alan Carter and Yvonne Wickes. All rights reserved.