Istanbul rally marks milestone in Turkish history

Istanbul rally marks milestone in Turkish history

According to estimates, more than 3 million people gathered in the Yenikapı area of Istanbul on Aug. 7 in order to demonstrate their unity against the military coup attempt of July 15.

That is a record participation at a political rally in Turkey. It equals almost 4 percent of the country’s population and more than the entire populations of a number of European countries.

It is also a first regarding the degree of the participation. The leaders of three big parties in parliament, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım of the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of the social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Devlet Bahçeli of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) were there responding to the call by President Tayyip Erdoğan. No party flags and banners were carried except Turkish flags; there were a few flags of Azerbaijan and Turkish Cyprus, but many Turks do not consider them foreign flags anyway. 

It was not a picture which the perpetrators of the failed coup attempt had expected.

The political polarization in Turkey reached a maximum before July 15. The country was under terrorist attacks by two notorious organizations, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL). Perhaps that picture had whetted the appetite of those who staged the coup attempt; it was thwarted with the resistance of the leadership in the presidency and in parliament, the government and the opposition and on the streets – especially on the streets. It was also thwarted especially when parties, government and opposition, started to point the finger at Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish Islamist preacher living in the U.S., as the mastermind of the coup plotters. Gen. Hulusi Akar who was kidnapped by the officers in his own military brass that night, directly accused Gülen as being the leader of the terrorist group behind the attempt in a speech he delivered at the Istanbul rally.

This picture of unity against the coup attempt and demand for a democratic system do not mean that the opposition parties have abandoned their criticism of Erdoğan and the AK Parti, but it means they want to solve the problems of Turkish democracy by staying within democracy, not by destroying it with a military coup.

It was not just Turkey’s religious affairs director, Mehmet Görmez, who recited prayers for the 240 people killed by the pro-coup soldiers during the attempt, who called the rally the “birth” of a new period for Turkey. 

It is not clear yet whether this spirit of unity and understanding in politics will continue during the talks to amend the constitution for the restructuring of the Turkish state. But the Istanbul rally of Aug. 7 marked a milestone in Turkish politics – hopefully toward a better democracy and a stronger economy in the country.