CONSTANTINOPLE (AP) — With prayers and other events, Turkey on Sunday commemorated the second anniversary of thwarting a coup against the Turkish president and the government that left nearly 290 people dead and hundreds wounded.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey has “cut off the arms of the octopus the cursed in Pennsylvania grew with hypocrisy, tricks, lies and within big secrecy.” He was referring to Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric Turkey blames for the coup, and said the government has brought down Gulen’s network within the public and private sector.
Erdogan, who won re-election last month and sworn into office July 9 under a new executive government system that concentrates power in the president’s hands, addressed tens of thousands of people gathered Sunday night on an Istanbul bridge that was renamed as the July 15 Martyrs’ Bridge.
On July 15, 2016, factions within the Turkish military used tanks, warplanes and helicopters in an attempt to overthrow Erdogan. Clashes took place in Istanbul, Ankara and Marmaris, where Erdogan was on holiday and reportedly barely escaped capture. Fighter jets bombed parliament and other spots in Turkey’s capital. Heeding a call by the president, thousands took to the streets to stop the coup.
This was the second year the government organized a massive memorial ceremony on the bridge. The names of the 251 people killed resisting the attempted overthrow were read on the bridge as crowds waved Turkish flags and lit up the bridge with their mobile phones. At least 35 alleged coup-plotters were also killed.
The event has functioned as a pro-Erdogan rally where the president reiterates Turkey’s fight against Muslim cleric Gulen’s network, the Islamic State group and outlawed Kurdish militants and slams opposition parties.
Gulen rejects the accusation that he was behind the failed insurrection. He was once a close ally to Erdogan, but his network was declared a terror organization after the two had a falling out in 2013.
The day kicked off with prayers at a mosque in Ankara. Ali Erbas, the head of religious affairs, prayed Sunday for the killed and nearly 2,200 wounded in the coup attempt, saying they stood against “traitors who are the pawns of foreign powers.” Erdogan recited verses in Arabic.
Since the failed coup, over 75,000 people have been arrested for alleged ties to Gulen and 130,000 civil servants have been dismissed from their jobs for purported links to terror organizations. Among them are judges, prosecutors, police and military officers, teachers and academics. Many have repeatedly declared their innocence.
Critics say the government purge has been arbitrary and used to crack down on all dissent. Opposition lawmakers, journalists and political activists are among the thousands of Turks behind bars.
Erdogan said more than 80 alleged top-ranking members of Gulen’s network were brought to Turkey from various countries to stand trial.
According to the state-run Anadolu news agency, nearly 2,400 people have been convicted for links to the coup attempt and 1,624 have received life sentences. More cases are pending.
In the past two years, Erdogan has tightened his grip on power through a state of emergency and elections. With a referendum last year and early presidential and parliamentary elections in June, Erdogan has transformed Turkey’s ruling system into the executive presidency with limited checks and balances.
He says the defeat of the coup and his election win are testaments to Turkey’s commitment to democracy.
On Sunday, the Turkish presidency issued seven new decrees further revamping the government. The new system, having abolished the post of the prime minister, ties all state institutions to the president.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement the United States stood by its NATO ally. She called the coup attempt “an attack on democracy and a stark reminder that the preservation of democracy requires perseverance and safeguards for fundamental freedoms.”
Turkey has demanded that the United States extradite Gulen and his legal status has tested relations between the two countries.
By ZEYNEP BILGINSOY , Associated Press