Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan marked the one-year anniversary of the attempt to overthrow him by dedicating a monument to those killed during the July 2016 coup and promising to “rip the heads off” the traitors who perpetrated it.
Erdogan made these remarks at the July 15 Martyrs Bridge, which was formerly known as the Bosphorus Bridge but was renamed to honor the 250 people killed during the coup. 32 civilians and two police officers were killed during a confrontation on the bridge. Erdogan dedicated what the UK Daily Mail describes as “a hollow, globe-shaped monument featuring the names of the victims near the foot of the bridge.” Another monument to the fallen was installed outside Erdogan’s presidential palace.
“We are able to come together again here today because of our 250 heroic martyrs, 2,193 heroic veterans, and the great Turkish people. Your country is grateful to you,” said Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, who was also present at the event.
In an address to Parliament earlier on Saturday, Yildirim said that, during the coup, Turkey’s “darkest and longest night was transformed into bright day” as an “enemy occupation turned into the people’s legend.”
Turkey’s Daily Sabah reports that public transportation was offered for free in Istanbul and Ankara during the new July 15 national holiday, and “bus destination signs displayed messages of congratulations” to the Turkish people for overcoming the coup. Mosques across the country staged a dramatic recitation of the message they issued on July 15, 2016, urging Turkish citizens to take to the streets and resist the coup, as well as reading a government-issued sermon which played up the heroic martyrdom of those who died during the coup.
The New York Times adds that Turkish cell phone companies helpfully sent out text messages reminding customers of the coup anniversary and even inserted recorded messages from Erdogan into the beginning of telephone calls.
“Exactly a year ago today, around this hour, a treacherous attempt took place,” Erdogan said in his fiery speech to participants in the national unity march on Saturday. “The July 15 coup attempt is not the first attack against our country, and it won’t be the last. For that reason, we’ll first rip the heads off of these traitors. Be sure that none of the traitors who betrayed this country will remain unpunished.”
Some observers have interpreted this remark as a metaphorical promise to defeat terrorist organizations by prosecuting their leadership, as in “cutting the head off a snake,” but Erdogan did explicitly promise to sign a bill reinstating the death penalty if the legislature puts one on his desk.
“I don’t care what Hans and George say. I look at what Ahmet, Mehmet, Hasan, Huseyin, Ayse, Fatma, and Hatice say,” Erdogan declared, dismissing European objections to Turkey reinstating the death penalty.
He also said he wants people on trial for plotting the coup to appear in court wearing orange jumpsuits, describing the outfits as “uniform suits like in Guantanamo.” Perhaps more to the point, such jumpsuits would resemble the way the Islamic State dresses victims in its beheading videos.
“People that night did not have guns, they had a flag and more importantly, they had their faith,” Erdogan said. “I am grateful to all members of my nation who defended their country.”
The turnout for the national unity march was undeniably impressive, with thousands filling the streets, walking across the former Bosphorus Bridge, and filling the courtyard outside Erdogan’s palace. However, the New York Times points out that Turkish opposition groups mustered a comparable huge turnout for a July 9 rally that criticized Erdogan for abusing his power and using the coup as an excuse to crack down on political dissent.
“This parliament, which withstood bombs, has been rendered obsolete and its authority removed,” opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu told a special session on Saturday. “In the past year, justice has been destroyed. Instead of rapid normalisation, a permanent state of emergency has been implemented.”
In the course of quoting Kilicardoglu, the BBC describes Turkey as roughly evenly divided between those who see July 2016 as the rebirth of Turkish national pride and those who believe “its aftermath is killing off what was left of Turkish democracy.”
The Daily Mail notes Erdogan described the coup as an opportunity for Turkey to learn who its true friends and foes are, but he played coy and declined to name the foes because he said it would cause a “serious international crisis.” His audience could easily refer to a list of the European countries Erdogan and his ministers have denounced as Nazis over the past year to guess who the “foes” are.
Both the United States and NATO issued statements denouncing the coup and honoring those who died resisting it.
“One year ago, Turkey’s brave and dedicated citizens of all backgrounds and political views defended their democracy against an attempted coup,” said the U.S. State Department. “We reaffirm the United States’ steadfast support for Turkey’s democracy and democratic institutions. We offer our condolences to the friends and loved ones of those injured or killed during the coup attempt.”
“Today, the United States commends the bravery of all of those who have taken to the streets to preserve the rights and freedoms of their democratic society. Their actions continue to remind us that the preservation of democracy requires perseverance, tolerance, dissent, and safeguards for fundamental freedoms. Persistent curbs on those fundamental freedoms erode the foundations of democratic society. More voices, not fewer, are necessary in challenging times,” the State Department continued, adding a jab at Erdogan’s political crackdown to its salute to those who resisted the coup.