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News of Turkish uprising resonates in Boston

Shaban Catalbas, 63, of Methuen, is seen here in Istanbul last year.handout

As some members of Turkey’s military launched an operation Friday to overthrow that country’s government, Somerville restaurant owner Huseyin Akgun struggled to reach his family who are vacationing in Istanbul.

But soon, Akgun said his two children visiting Turkey called with news that they were safe and were joining the throngs in the streets protesting the failed attempt to overthrow their country’s democratically elected government.

“At the beginning, they were kind of scared,” said Akgun, who owns Istanbul’lu in Teele Square. “But later, they were on the street with millions of people. Nobody was scared.”

For some Massachusetts residents with ties to Turkey, the deadly uprising quashed by forces loyal to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey evoked feelings of horror and pride — horror at the violence and pride because of the demonstrators who turned out in droves to support democracy.


Akgun said his son sent a photo of himself waving a Turkish flag in front of a tank that had been seized by civilians who opposed the coup.

“They don’t want the military to take over,” he said.

Ömür Budak, consul general of Turkey in Boston, said in a phone interview that he was proud of the thousands of people who defied the coup.

“They showed great solidarity with the government and the state, and I was proud of that,” he said.

The plot was carried out by a faction within the Turkish military, but not top commanders, who condemned the action, Turkish officials said. More than 260 people died, and more than 1,400 others were injured.

“They shot their own people. They bombed their own institutions, their own parliament,” Budak said.

About 8,000 to 10,000 Turkish citizens and Turkish-Americans live in Massachusetts, Budak said.

Turkish Airlines flights were canceled Saturday but are expected to resume Sunday, said Matthew Brelis, a spokesman for Massport, which runs Logan. The airline has offered nonstop flights to Istanbul from Boston Logan International Airport since 2014.


On Thursday, a meeting of representatives from businesses, universities, and governments at Harvard University for the US-Turkey Innovation Summit, organized by the American-Turkish Council in Washington, will go on as planned. It is unclear, however, whether one keynote speaker, Minister of Science and Technology Faruk Özlü of Turkey, will be able to attend, a council spokesman said.

Shaban Catalbas, 63, of Methuen said his wife heard gunfire throughout the night in Adapazarı, where she is on vacation.

“She said they couldn’t sleep all night because of the gunfire,” said Catalbas, who owns Shaban’s of Andover, a men’s clothing store.

Catalbas said he moved to the United States in 1983, three years after another military coup in Turkey that left some of his friends jailed, tortured, and executed.

“It’s sad,” he said. “I don’t see a reason to kill the people, innocent people.”

Erkut Gomulu, president of the Turkish American Cultural Society of New England, said his mother, brother, and sister are in Ankara, Turkey’s capital.

The turmoil in the streets and the noise from fighter jets crossing the city skyline at low altitudes blew out windows and doors and shook buildings, Gomulu said. His brother also heard bombs detonating.

“The parliament was bombed. It was the first time the parliament was bombed,” said Gomulu, who lives in Back Bay. “It was kind of shocking.”

He said he wants “full democracy” for his homeland.


“I support the rule of law in Turkey,” Gomulu said. “It’s an elected government. Any [coup] attempt from the military is not acceptable.”

Government officials blamed the uprising on Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Islamist cleric who lives in exile in Pennsylvania.

Erdogan has long accused the cleric and his supporters of attempting to overthrow the government. Gulen promotes a philosophy that blends a mystical form of Islam with staunch advocacy of democracy, education, science, and interfaith dialogue.

At a news conference Saturday in Saylorsburg, Pa., Gulen denied that he is responsible for the unrest or has any knowledge of who is.

Gulen has supporters in Boston, including a chapter of the Peace Islands Institute and Turkish Cultural Center Boston, which published statements on their websites highlighting his “commitment to peace and democracy.” Both organizations have offices on Commonwealth Avenue.

“We have consistently denounced military interventions in domestic politics. . . . We condemn any military intervention in domestic politics of Turkey,” said the statement, which was issued by the Alliance for Shared Values, a nonprofit inspired by Gulen’s teachings.

The statement called comments from Erdogan supporters “highly irresponsible.”

“Events on the ground are moving quickly and it would be irresponsible for us to speculate on them,” the statement said. “We remain concerned about the safety and security of Turkish citizens and those in Turkey right now.”

No one answered the door Saturday at the Turkish Cultural Center Boston. A man at the offices of the Peace Islands Institute declined to comment.


Alperen Alsan, manager of Ali Baba, a Turkish restaurant in the South End, said his brother is a college student in Istanbul and survived the upheaval.

“It’s sad because we’re all from the same country, and they’re just fighting each other because of the higher-ups,” said Alsan, who has been in the United States for about five years.

Catalbas, of Methuen, said he plans to travel to Turkey in a month.

“I feel sorry for my country. . . . I don’t understand why the army is trying to take over,” he said. “We want democracy.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report and Globe correspondent Reis Thebault contributed to it. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi. Vivian Wang can be reached at vivian.wang@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @vwang3.