Millions mark first anniversary of failed coup attempt in Turkey
ISTANBUL / ANKARA
Millions of people took the streets across Turkey on July 15 and early July 16 to mark the anniversary of last year’s failed coup attempt, blamed on the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), commemorating the 250 people killed and more than 2,000 others injured by the coup soldiers.
Hundreds of thousands of people waving Turkish flags and chanting anti-coup slogans began to pour into the streets to attend the “July 15 Democracy and National Unity Day” event in Istanbul at the July 15 Martyrs Bridge in the early hours of the morning amid tight security.
The July 15 Martyrs Bridge, previously called Bosphorus Bridge, was closed to traffic in the afternoon hours ahead of the program. It had been blocked by coup plotters during the failed coup attempt and 34 people were killed by soldiers there.
Accompanied by high-level government officials, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım began to march toward the bridge from the Çengelköy neighborhood while President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan marched from his residence in the Kısıklı neighborhood with families of the coup victims in the evening hours.
The commemoration ceremony on the bridge began with the national anthem and followed by a recitation of the Holy Quran. The names of the coup victims were also read aloud and their pictures were displayed on large screens erected at the venue.
The premier was the first to take the stage where he gave messages of unity and solidarity.
“No one will be able to destroy our unity and solidarity. No one will be able to prevent Turkey’s rise,” Yıldırım said, adding that “the coup plotters won’t achieve anything from the pain they made us go through.”
“They will endure a painful end. They will diminish in their own swamps. We never surrendered or will surrender to violence,” he said.
Later addressing the crowd on the bridge, Erdoğan called the bridge “the scene of the bloodiest and fiercest resistance” during the coup attempt.
He said the victims had nothing more than their flags and faith as they resisted the coup.
“What did my people have? They had their flags, just as they do today, and something much more important: They had their faith,” Erdoğan said, calling the coup soldiers “nonbelievers.”
“They showed no mercy when they pointed their guns at my people,” he said.
The president also criticized main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu for “watching the incidents on TV at a house in Istanbul” and describing the attempt as a “controlled coup.”
“I would not have called him to the Yenikapı rally if I had known,” Erdoğan said, referring to the Aug. 9, 2016 rally, which was attended by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the CHP, and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
“If you have noticed, two groups use this term [controlled coup]. First, FETÖ followers and foreigners who support them. Second, the leader of the main opposition party,” Erdoğan said.
Erdoğan once again reiterated his previous remarks on reinstating the death penalty, stating that he would approve such move if the parliament passes it.
“Nobody who betrays this nation can remain unpunished,” he said.
Separately, he suggested that the arrested FETÖ suspects might wear uniforms when appearing before judges.
“These are the good days of the FETÖ members. Recently, I spoke with Mr. Prime Minister. They should wear uniforms like they do at Guantanamo [prison] while appearing before a court,” he said in remarks that came after a suspect tried to appear before a judge with a t-shirt reading “Hero” in English.
Following the ceremony on the bridge, Erdoğan unveiled the Monument of Martyrs near the July 15 Martyrs’ Bridge to honor those who lost their lives resisting against the coup.
The second part of the anniversary program was held in parliament in the capital Ankara at 2:32 a.m., the exact time parliament was attacked, with the national anthem, followed by a recitation of the Quran.
Prior to that, Parliament Speaker İsmail Kahraman addressed the crowds that marched from the Ulus neighborhood of the capital city to the courtyard of the parliament.
“We are again in streets to show the FETÖ traitors and their foreign supporters that we are one heart and invincible,” he said.
“No one will dare attempt another coup in Turkey,” Kahraman said.
“Our country has not been divided like Syria and Iraq. We owe this to our martyrs and veterans,” he added.
Erdoğan also recalled that the country achieved a new victory by “disrupting the 40-year plan of traitors in less than 20 hours.”
“Did my nation take up arms? Did my nation march against the scoundrels and traitors with weapons in their hands? My nation marched with their faith and flag. There is no other example of this. There is no other nation that stopped bullets by their chests. There is no other nation that stopped tanks with a punch,” he said.
He said Turkey struggled against a “militarized gang of betrayal with faith in their hearts and bare hands.”
The president also said the coup plotters intended to destroy the state and civilization by enslaving the country and the nation.
“July 15 showed us that we have to be powerful as a state and a nation. There are so many enemies waiting in ambush that will not give us the right to live even a single day if we are not powerful that if I attempt to name them one by one, we will face a very serious international crisis,” he said.
He noted that the National Security Council (MGK) would discuss extending the current state of emergency enacted following the coup bid and send its recommendation to the government Monday in favor of an extension.
The coup plotters targeted symbols of the Turkish democracy, Erdoğan said, citing the bomb attack on parliament on July 16, 2016, while lawmakers were inside.
“So, they mainly targeted the parliament building and it became the place of a major bomb attack,” he said, while praising the parliament’s bravery during the coup attempt.
“The coup soldiers disgraced themselves when bombing the parliament as our lawmakers stood higher,” Erdoğan said.
“We will now work harder not to touch parliament again,” he added.
Following the morning prayers at the Beştepe Millet (National) Mosque inside the presidential complex, Erdoğan inaugurated another monument called the “Martyrs’ Memorial” - depicting people standing on top of four slanted columns, carrying a moon and crescent - situated opposite the presidential complex.
“Be sure that none of the traitors who point a gun at our country, nation, freedom and future will ever see the light of day again,” Erdoğan said in his address to thousands attending the ceremony.
“Even if we have buried our martyrs in the ground, they will always live in our hearts. [The coup-plotters] will die over and over again every day while they fester behind prison walls,” he said.
The celebrations in Istanbul and Ankara were also watched on wide screens at city centers across the country.
Separately, on the first anniversary, citizens also took to the streets in all 81 provinces to honor the victims, and highlight the resistance they led to suppress the coup bid, including “democracy vigils” where demonstrators continued to protests for days.
The hotel where Erdoğan narrowly escaped an assassination plot in an attempted government overthrow was the site where demonstrators gathered to remember the martyrs of the defeated coup one year later.
Demonstrators waved Turkish flags and Erdoğan posters outside the Grand Yazıcı Marmaris Hotel in the Marmaris district of the southern province of Muğla as the names of the victims were read out loud.
In the Aegean province of İzmir, a public race was organized. People aged between nine to 60 years ran on a 2,000-meter racing track. Almost 90,000 salah prayers were recited in the memory of July 15 martyrs throughout the country.
People also gathered in the city centers and held marches in Van, Sinop, Tokat, Kastamonu and Amasya, chanting slogans against FETÖ.
Citizens living abroad also marked the first anniversary of the coup attempt with demonstrations in New York and Berlin.