ReutersANKARA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) — Hundreds of thousands of Turks rallied to mark the anniversary of last year’s failed coup on Saturday, in an outpouring of mass support for President Tayyip Erdogan that lay bare the divisions of a society riven by widespread purges.
A sea of rapturous, flag-waving crowds gathered in Istanbul to listen as a defiant Erdogan promised to punish his enemies and praised the unarmed civilians who last year stood up to the rogue soldiers and their tanks.
“They showed no mercy when they pointed their guns at my people,” Erdogan said. “What did my people have? They had their flags - just as they do today - and something much more important: They had their faith.”
Some 250 people were killed and parliament was bombed before the coup was put down. The show of popular defiance has likely ended decades of military interference in Turkish politics.
But along with a groundswell of nationalism, the coup’s greatest legacy has been a far-reaching crackdown that has deepened the divide between Western-facing, secular Turks and the pious millions who back Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted politics.
Some 150,000 people have been sacked or suspended from jobs in the civil service and private sector and more than 50,000 detained for alleged links to the putsch. On Friday, the government said it had dismissed 7,000 more police, civil servants and academics for suspected links to the Muslim cleric it blames for the attempted coup.
“Nobody who betrays this nation can remain unpunished,” Erdogan said, promising again to restore the death penalty if parliament votes to bring it back - a move that would all but end Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.
Critics, including rights groups and some Western governments, say that Erdogan is using the state of emergency introduced after the coup to target opposition figures including rights activists, pro-Kurdish politicians and journalists.
The two co-leaders of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) are in jail - as are local members of rights group Amnesty International and nearly 160 journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
U.S.: More voices necessary
The U.S. State Department lauded Turks for defending their democracy, but cautioned about the need to preserve basic freedoms.
“More voices, not fewer, are necessary in challenging times,” it said in a statement.