Turkey will observe the anniversary of a failed coup attempt against Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with nationwide “Democracy Watch” marches beginning at midnight on July 15. The government has scheduled events to commemorate the occasion all week, however, including art exhibits, memorial debuts, and a speech from Erdogan.
The “Democracy Watch” walks will recreate instances in which civilians left their homes to attack soldiers in Ankara attempting to install themselves in power. During the coup attempt, Turkish soldiers released a statement asserting that their move to overthrow Erdogan was necessary for “the aim of reinstalling the constitutional order, democracy, human rights and freedoms, to make rule of law pervade again, to re-establish the ruined public order.”
At the time, Erdogan had been rapidly amassing power, with his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) stripping legislators of immunity and Erdogan himself calling for switching from a parliamentary to a presidential system. Such a system would grant Erdogan significantly more power without the constitutional safeguards found in other presidential regimes like the United States. Turkey voted to grant Erdogan that power this year:
The Democracy Watch rallies will take place across the country Saturday and feature, in addition to government officials, leaders of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in a sign of unity. Events to commemorate the occasion began on July 11, however. That day, the Turkish government debuted a photo exhibition of images from the day of the coup and subsequent rallies. Some photos included bodies of those who had died in conflict between the rogue military officials involved and Erdogan loyalists in the police and civilian AKP supporters:
The next day, in Istanbul, the government set up displays to prepare for this weekend’s events in Taksim Square, a major city center. Supporters of the government and relatives of those killed also helped decorate with images of those killed, flowers in their memory, and murals in their honor:
On Thursday, standing before a giant, dramatic mural meant to honor those killed during the coup attempt, Erdogan delivered a speech to the Turkish people. To Erdogan’s left, the mural displayed the image of a Turkish soldier in a red beret wielding a handgun.
In his speech, Erdogan announced the “Democracy Watch” marches would begin at midnight and decried the fact that many Western nations refused to allow Turkish government-sponsored marches in their own countries. The U.S. government also turned down an ad purchase for space in the Washington, DC, metro system:
During the July 15 events, 249 people died. The Turkish government has arrested nearly 50,000 people accused of playing a role in orchestrating the coup, many accused of supporting cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the Turkish government alleges organized the plot. Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, has denied the charges, and the U.S. government has refused to extradite him.