Omer Halisdemir: The story of courage and self-sacrifice

Eric Sof

Omer Halisdemir and his grave

On the evening of July 15, 2016, Omer Halisdemir held the position of officer in charge at the headquarters of the Special Forces Command in Ankara. The evening initially seemed calm and uneventful, much like any other night. However, unusual occurrences and military movements began to unfold in various parts of the country. Turkey was engulfed in chaos as elements within the military attempted a coup. This endeavor proved disastrous for them, as they encountered fierce resistance from the public, police, and loyalist military forces.

Who was Omer Halisdemir?

In his private life, Omer Halisdemir was an ordinary man, a beloved husband, and a father of two children. He was married to Hatice Halisdemir, and together, they welcomed two children into the world: a daughter named Elifnur and a son named Doğan Ertuğrul. Omer was born on February 20, 1974, in Çukurkuyu town in the Bor district of Niğde Province in central Turkey. He was one of seven children in the family of Hasan Hüseyin Halisdemir and his wife, Fadimeana. His childhood was spent in his hometown.

Omer Halisdemir is national hero in Turkey
Omer Halisdemir is a national hero in Turkey (Photo: XY)

During his free time after school hours, he worked as a shepherd. After completing his primary and middle school education, he attended and successfully graduated from the Industrial Vocational High School in Niğde. Although he initially passed the entrance exam for the Police Academy, he chose not to pursue that path as his lifelong dream had always been to become a soldier. Guided by this dream, a relative took him to Ankara for an entrance exam at a non-commissioned officer school. Omer’s childhood dream became a reality when he passed the exam.

Military career

In 1999, Omer Halisdemir joined the Turkish Armed Forces as a non-commissioned infantry officer. He served in various locations, including southeastern Turkey in Şırnak and Silopi and outside the country in Northern Iraq and Afghanistan. Throughout his career, he achieved the rank of senior sergeant major, demonstrating his excellence in fulfilling critical tasks and earning multiple military decorations.

“He always desired to be a soldier. While brave and fearless on the battlefield, he wouldn’t hurt a fly on normal days. When defending his nation, nothing would intimidate him, and his martyrdom proved it.”

Ibrahim Ayhan, a childhood friend of Halisdemir.

Eventually, he was assigned to a crucial position within the Turkish Army’s elite Special Forces Command, based at the headquarters in Ankara, where he served as the staff sergeant for the commander, Major General Zekai Aksakallı. He dedicated a substantial career as an aide to General Aksakallı.

Failed 2016 coup d’état attempt

A telephone call rang out at one pivotal moment within the Special Forces Command. Halisdemir promptly answered, finding his commander, Major General Zekai Aksakalli, on the other end of the line. Aksakalli urgently conveyed the dire situation: the nation was in peril, and a violent coup was underway. He further disclosed that Brigadier General Semih Terzi, a supporter of the coup, would imminently arrive at the headquarters with rebel forces in an attempt to capture it.

It was imperative to prevent Terzi’s takeover, as doing so would deal a significant blow to the coup plotters. In response, Halisdemir swiftly and resolutely affirmed, ‘Aye, Aye, sir, give your blessing.’

2016 Turkey's failed coup attempt
Aftermath of the 2016 Turkey’s failed coup attempt (Photo: XY)

Mere minutes later, at 02:16 AM, Brigadier General Semih Terzi, accompanied by ten heavily armed troops and officers, arrived via helicopter from a military base in Diyarbakır and landed just outside the headquarters. They entered the Special Forces Command compound while Halisdemir remained in the front yard. As soon as he spotted Terzi, Halisdemir fired a fatal shot at point-blank range, ending Terzi’s life.

“My son served five years with Gen. Terzi in Afghanistan and Terzi thought he could easily take over the headquarters from him.”

Halisdemir’s father

After he had eliminated Terzi, a crucial figure in the coup attempt and associated with the FETO organization, Halisdemir attempted to seek cover. However, he was unexpectedly shot from behind by Major Fatih Sahin, who was part of Terzi’s escort. Halisdemir sustained severe injuries due to the hail of bullets unleashed by Major Sahin. In his weakened state, Halisdemir was approached by another soldier loyal to Terzi, Mihrali Atmaca, who callously executed the incapacitated and already defeated man. This incident, captured by security cameras, marked a turning point during the coup.

Aftermath

The death of Brigadier General Semih Terzi marked a pivotal turning point in the coup attempt, as the coup plotters were left without effective leadership, rendering their efforts futile. They were destined for failure without control over crucial infrastructure and a clear chain of command. Later that same night, lacking a coherent leadership structure and encircled by ordinary citizens, police officers, and loyal soldiers to the Turkish government, the coup plotters were ultimately defeated.

The entire coup attempt was quashed in the early hours of July 16. The military personnel who had participated in the coup attempt, including those who tried to capture the Special Forces Command, were responsible for Sgt. Halisdemir’s death was arrested. The trial of the seventeen officers began on February 20, 2017, and all of them were sentenced to life in prison. Ömer Halisdemir was laid to rest in his hometown of Çukurkuyu on July 17, 2016, with high-ranking local officials and thousands of others attending his funeral.

When CCTV footage of Omer Halisdemir’s heroic actions became public, it deeply moved ordinary Turks. His courage inspired them to face a heavily armed group of coup plotters, eliminate their main leader, and mourn his tragic loss. For the Turkish people, it was a profound sorrow to lose such a fearless soldier who willingly followed orders from his commander, even when the odds of survival were exceedingly low.

Legacy

A monument was erected to commemorate Halisdemir and his extraordinary bravery in the front yard of the Special Forces Command headquarters, where he made the ultimate sacrifice, and it stands alongside a place that preserves his bloodstain. Halisdemir’s memory has garnered a heartfelt outpouring of sympathy, and his gravesite is visited by numerous individuals who come to pay their respects.

Omer Halisdemir - Modern Turkish hero
Omer Halisdemir is the modern Turkish hero who gave everything he had for his country (Photo: XY)

Several schools, parks, and public spaces have been named after him to honor his legacy. Notably, Niğde University, a high school in Etimesgut, Ankara, a middle school in Yunusemre, Manisa, a primary school in Kahramanmaraş, the library of Kütahya Dumlupınar University, a conference hall in Malatya, İmam Hatip high schools in İzmir, Yenimahalle, Ankara, and Çekmeköy, Istanbul proudly bear his name.

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