A southern suburbs family is still struggling to come to terms with being caught in the middle of the failed coup attempt in Turkey at the weekend, during which rebel government forces stormed Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport only minutes after the family arrived from Athens.
Well-known Cape Town music producer Marc Algranti, who operates from his studio in Woodstock, his wife, Lindy, and the couple’s children Luca, 9, and Sophie, 7, arrived back in the city on Sunday July 17, but they’re still shaken by the events that unfolded late on Friday night.
“My wife and I are very down about what happened, and we have been a bit weepy,” Mr Algranti told the Tatler this week. “When we got back, the kids were happy to see the dogs and were looking forward to seeing their friends at school, but we have liaised with their teachers to keep a close eye on them. I don’t think they really understand the extent of what happened.”
The family, who live in Constantia, arrived at Ataturk Airport just before midnight on Friday, but it was not until Mr Algranti turned on his cellphone after landing that he learnt something was happening.
“My dad had WhatsApped me to tell me that there was a coup in Turkey, and that we shouldn’t go there.
“We had decided to spend the day in Istanbul before flying home on Saturday night, as we had never been there before,” he said.
“After receiving the message, I asked the air hostess what was going on, but she wasn’t sure. When we eventually entered the airport, people were freaking out. An Australian girl asked me if she could use my phone to tell her parents that she was safe. But we still weren’t sure what was going on. There was zero information from anyone and no annoucements made.”
As the family reached the front of the line at passport control, between 50 and 60 armed rebels from the Turkish army entered the area.
“The soldiers didn’t say anything but were carrying their guns around.
“We were at the front of the queue when the soldiers arrived, and the people who had been in front of us had now passed through passport control. They were hiding in the immigration booths on the other side. People were shouting, but the soldiers did not say anything. We lay on the ground as they walked around.”
Mr Algranti said the soldiers appeared to be “looking for something”.
“Then, after about 15 minutes, they left. That was when we decided we would move through to the baggage-claim section. Again we saw people running, but then they stopped. We still didn’t know what was going on.
“Very few Turks spoke English, but eventually one or two people explained the situation to us.”
The family and other passengers were urged to stay in the airport, and for the next hour and a half they settled around the carousels.
“Some people were hiding in the bathrooms, where they were trying to charge their phones in the shaving sockets. We were obviously very thirsty, so we asked if the water from the taps was safe to drink. Fortunately a very nice Turkish man gave us a bottle of water.
“While we were there, a number of civilians brandishing red flags came in, and we assumed these were pro-government supporters.
“At that stage, we decided to go to the arrivals hall, where there was a coffee shop, which had running water. The proprietor was very nice, and let us take what we wanted. All he asked was for us to make a small cash donation, whatever we could afford.”
The Algrantis bedded down their children on arrivals hall couches. However, the relative calm proved to be short-lived.
“There was a huge blast, and people started screaming and running. We picked up the kids and started running as well. We didn’t know what it was.
“It could have been a a suicide bomb or tanks shooting – we just didn’t know. It was only later that we learnt it was a sonic boom caused by military jets flying overhead.”
The family hunkered down at the airport until daybreak, when Mr Algranti decided to book accommodation at a hotel close to the airport. But the roads around the airport were completely blocked by traffic at this time.
“At about 9am, the airport started coming back to life, and after finding a hotel, we went outside to wait for our taxi. But when we got into the taxi and the driver heard where we were going, he started shouting, ‘Trouble, trouble, trouble’. He refused to go on, and we were forced to get out and walk back to the airport.”
It became obvious that they needed to book a flight out the country as quickly as possible.
“However, there was no one manning the ticket offices. There were no staff anywhere. Eventually we managed to find another hotel, and this time we had a really nice taxi driver who took us there.
“By now the roads were empty, although there were tanks on the road. When we got to the hotel we had breakfast and a shower and tried to get some rest.
“The only way we could find out what was going on was through a Facebook group a friend had set up and by monitoring Twitter. Friends were posting the latest news. It was very useful.”
Given that lack of communication and information available, the family was convinced their scheduled flight on Saturday night would be cancelled, but to their surprise it was among the 10 percent of flights that went ahead.
“Obviously we were extremely frightened to go back to the airport, but when we arrived it was calm.
“There were a lot of people sleeping on the floor. We saw representatives from the German consulate asking people if they were from Germany. From that point on, every step we took was a relief. Getting through passport control was a relief, and getting on the plane was definitely a relief.”
Mr Algranti said most of people on the Turkish Airlines flight were South African, including his brother and sister-in-law who had been visiting another part of Turkey at the time.
“I was so exhausted, and it was such a relief to be among family.”
He added that he would not advise anyone to visit Turkey at the moment, as the situation was simply too volatile.
“My mom has actually been visiting Greece, and was due to fly back to Cape Town via Istanbul, but I’ve bought her another ticket so she can come back through Dubai instead. We won’t be going back.”
The Algranti family were not the only southern suburbs residents affected by the failed coup last weekend.
Robyn Fabian, 17, a pupil at Westerford High School in Newlands, had been returning to Cape Town via Istanbul when both army rebels and pro-government supporters stormed the building.
Since the events of last weekend, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has embarked on a massive crackdown campaign against alleged dissidents.
To date, the government has arrested 6 000 military personnel, fired 9 000 police officers and suspended 3 000 judges. In addition, it has suspended 15 000 education staff, accusing them of having ties to Fethullah Gulen, the US-based cleric the Turkish government insists was behind Friday’s uprising.