World Bulletin / News Desk
Can Cumurcu stands up a lot. It is partly because of his job: He is the muhtar, or elected headman, of a small neighborhood on the Asian side of Istanbul, and his role involves dealing with the administrative concerns of local residents.
When I visited his office for an hour recently, he rose every few minutes to greet the latest local to pop by for a signature or permission slip. One wanted to know where he could buy a boiler.
“Just hang on!” Mr. Cumurcu said to me after another interruption, a telephone earbuddangling from his ear. “One more phone call!”
But there is another reason Mr. Cumurcu stands. During last summer’s coup attempt, the muhtar, a loyalist to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, led the resistance against rebel soldiers in his neighborhood. As the troops tried to storm the area, a bullet tore through his upper-right thigh.
The wound has not properly healed. “I have to stand to avoid the pain,” he said.
Mr. Cumurcu took me on a tour of the area, Cengelkoy, and when he wasn’t embracing or chatting with residents, he showed me how events unfolded that night.
We passed the spot where a group of breathless locals first told him that troops were on the move, shortly after 10 p.m. on July 15. He said that around an hour after that, a pro-coup army colonel approached him with a rifle and told him to go indoors. “Are you high?” Mr. Cumurcu recounted saying. “What have you drunk?”
The colonel was chased away. In his absence, Mr. Cumurcu organized a series of barricades, on this spot outside the local police station.
As we strolled, I wondered if Mr. Cumurcu had any qualms about what his heroism later led to: the erosion of wider democratic values and the arrest of thousands of dissidents in a postcoup crackdown — including dozens of journalists like Mr. Gursel.
But when I raise this, Mr. Cumurcu claims that none of the latter are actually journalists. All of them, he argues, have in some way tried to undermine the state, which is not the role of the media. “In Britain,” he asks, referring to my home country, “are you not first for the state, and then communist or right wing after that?”
It is a question that hints at a particular conception of the individual’s role in a society, and one that helps explain why a man like Mr. Cumurcu might prioritize political loyalty over personal safety on a night like the coup.
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