“Please Mr President, we are listening to you…”
“Good evening!” “Good evening, sir, please…”
And so began what is possibly the most famous telephone call in Turkish history when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan phoned into the private channel CNN-Turk on the night of the July 15 coup.
His face peering out from the mobile phone of CNN-Turk correspondent and anchorwoman Hande Firat, Erdogan denounced the putsch and called his supporters out into the streets to defeat it.
His call through the Apple app FaceTime is seen as a crucial turning point in the coup, when the plotters began to lose momentum in the bid to unseat him.
The call made Firat — CNN Turk’s Ankara bureau chief and already a hugely prominent journalist — a national celebrity and an icon of the coup night.
And it also made her mobile phone hot property with reports of gigantic offers made for the device.
“I haven’t sold my telephone,” she told AFP in an interview in Istanbul.
“It is at present safe and sound in my drawer. I am not using it but keep it in my drawer in case I drop and break it.”
Firat said businessmen from Saudi Arabia, Qatar as well as Turkey wanted to buy her phone, as it had played a critical role in reversing the coup.
On the night of July 15, Turkey’s state-run media had been raided by rebel soldiers, with the anchorwoman of TRT channel Tijen Karas forced to read out a statement by the group claiming to have taken over the country.
In the early hours of the coup, there was uncertainty over the whereabouts of Erdogan, who had been holidaying with his family on the Aegean Sea.
But it was to CNN Turk — a channel owned by the private Dogan Media Group with whom Erdogan has had sometimes uneasy relations — that he chose to make his first call.
Firat said that when the call came through she only focused on the interview without thinking about the potential aftermath.
“When I was live, I was very nervous and very worried. You focus on your work in that moment,” she said.
“Rather than think about the aftermath, you focus on the president who is alive and can be seen on the screen of that phone.
“I stayed focused on my job and hoped that, God willing, the connection would not be lost.
“My hand was trembling and I was worried whether the camera showed him (Erdogan) in full screen, whether I should ask this question or that question.”
Firat said she was concerned about the chaos Turkey was being drawn into, with parliament in the capital bombed, jets patrolling the sky and clashes on army bases.
“I said, my God, are we becoming another country? A civil war is breaking out? What kind of a morning will we wake up to?”
Erdogan’s defiant call to CNN Turk dramatically ended any uncertainty about his fate. Shortly afterwards, he flew back to Istanbul and by the morning the coup was defeated.
After the interview, CNN Turk’s Istanbul premises were raided by rebel soldiers, with television showing an empty screen punctuated from time to time with the sound of gunfire and brawls.
However as the coup was defeated, the channel triumphantly returned to air and would replay Firat’s interview with Erdogan repeatedly in the days to come.
The Turkish strongman rapidly regained full control, declaring a state of emergency and overseeing a hugely controversial post-coup crackdown that so far has seen 37,000 people arrested.
Firat said she realised the impact of the call overnight and the next day through messages sent from Turkey and elsewhere.
“I received messages from the Arab world on my Twitter account saying ‘thank you’, ‘that is a phone of freedom’ and ‘you changed the destiny of this region’.”
Asked if she was worried that too much publicity could overshadow her job, Firat said: “I think about it occasionally… but I know that it is my job to tell the reality and tell about that night.”