ANKARA: Turkey on Saturday marked one year since the defeat of the failed coup bid with mass nationwide rallies seeking to showcase national unity and a stern warning by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to “chop off the heads” of traitors.
The authorities declared July 15 an annual national holiday of “democracy and unity”, billing the foiling of the putsch as a historic victory of Turkish democracy.
In an intense programme aiming to hammer home the anniversary’s importance, Erdogan attended a special session of parliament in Ankara, spoke to a mass rally in Istanbul and then flew back to the capital for a rally outside parliament and a special event at the presidential palace in the early hours of the morning.
Speaking to hundreds of thousands by the bridge across the Bosphorus in Istanbul that was a fighting flashpoint, Erdogan warned Turkey could reintroduce capital punishment. “First of all we will chop off the heads of those traitors,” Erdogan said, reaffirming he would sign any passed by parliament bill on resuming executions.
Any move to restore capital punishment – which Turkey abolished in 2004 – would effectively end Ankara’s European Union membership ambitions.
Erdogan also said the suspects being tried over the failed coup should wear uniform clothing like the notorious orange jumpsuits used at US military prison at Guantanamo Bay. “When they appear in court, let’s make them appear in uniform suits like in Guantanamo,” Erdogan said to cheers.
Supporters chanted “we are soldiers of Tayyip [Erdogan]”, with some even brandishing nooses in a symbol of their support for the death penalty.
In the later speech to thousands outside parliament in Ankara which was bombed by warplanes that night, Erdogan declaimed “our nation showed the whole world what a nation we are on July 15.”
The crowds later made their way to the palace where dozens had camped outside for the final official event during which Erdogan inaugurated a monument to the victims which has people hold up the crescent and star symbols of the Turkish flag.
Two hundred and forty nine people, not including the plotters, were killed when a disgruntled faction of the army sent tanks into the streets and war planes into the sky in a bid to overthrow Erdogan after one-and-a-half decades in power. But they were thwarted within hours as the authorities regrouped and people poured into the streets in support of Erdogan, who blamed followers of his ally-turned-nemesis, the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen.
“Did my citizens have weapons? They had their flags like today but they had a more efficient weapon: their faith,” Erdogan said in Istanbul.
Murat, an Erdogan supporter at the Ankara rally, said: “If that happened once more, I would stay out again. That night, it was like a war. We take ownership of this country and this people.”
In the wake of the failed coup bid, authorities embarked on the biggest purge in Turkey’s history, arresting 50,000 people and sacking almost three times as many. Erdogan also shored up his position by winning a referendum on enhancing his powers earlier this year.
In the latest dismissals, another 7,563 police, soldiers and other state employees were fired late Friday under the state of emergency that has been in place since July 20 last year. Erdogan said a decision would be made on Monday over whether to recommend extending the emergency by another three months.
Turkey’s opposition had put political disputes aside on the night of the putsch but the scale of the purge has intensified political divisions.
The celebrations come less than a week after the head of the Republican People’s Party [CHP] Kemal Kilicdaroglu held the largest opposition rally in Turkey in years, pushing for ‘justice’ in a move that irked Erdogan.
“Over the last year, the judicial proceedings… moved outside the framework of the law,” Kilicdaroglu told the special session of parliament. He also called for full clarity over what happened on the night of July 15, with questions still remaining over when the authorities first found out an uprising was afoot.
But Erdogan angrily slammed as an ‘immorality’ opposition claims of a “controlled coup” which the authorities had known about in advance and then taken advantage of.
Gulen has always denied involvement and in a new statement Friday said the accusations were “baseless, politically motivated slanders” and slammed a “witch hunt” of Erdogan’s critics.
The scale of Saturday’s nationwide commemorations is aimed at etching July 15, 2016 into the minds of Turks as a key date in the history of the modern state. Giant posters designed by the presidency have sprung up across billboards in Istanbul and Ankara showing gaudy paintings that portray the key events of the coup night with the slogan “the epic of July 15”.
Illuminated anti-coup slogans were hung between the minarets of some of Istanbul’s greatest Ottoman mosques.
Meanwhile mobile phone users in Turkey were surprised to hear a voice message by Erdogan himself when placing a call, congratulating them on the defeat of the coup.