Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says those behind last year’s failed coup in Turkey are “traitors” who should be beheaded.
Erdogan spoke as Turkey celebrated the anniversary with a national holiday, unveiling a “Martyrs Memorial” on the iconic Bosporus Bridge in Istanbul to commemorate the estimated 250 people who died in clashes opposing the coup. The bridge, renamed Saturday as Martyrs Bridge, was the scene of clashes between civilians and military tanks.
In a speech later in the day, Erdogan said the perpetrators of the coup should be killed or imprisoned in a facility like the United States’ Guantanamo Bay prison. He said if Turkey’s parliament passed a law authorizing the death penalty for those instigators, he would sign it.
“They showed no mercy when they pointed their guns at my people,” Erdogan said, referring to the coup leaders. “What did my people have? They had their flags — just as they do today — and something much more important: They had their faith.”
Saturday’s marchers waved hundreds of red Turkish flags emblazoned with the star and crescent. Thousands marched through the streets of Istanbul in an act of unity, converging at the bridge where Turkish citizens clashed with tanks and members of the military who were trying to assume control. Some of the marchers carried photographs of those who died in the fighting, which included a bomb attack on parliament.
Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu made a statement Saturday, too. His recalled the changes in Turkey since the coup attempt that culminated in a referendum in April that awarded Erdogan sweeping executive powers.
“This parliament, which withstood bombs, has been rendered obsolete and its authority removed,” Kilicdaroglu said. “In the past year, justice has been destroyed. Instead of rapid normalization, a permanent state of emergency has been implemented.”
The Turkish government also marked the anniversary by firing nearly 7,400 additional civil servants.
Erdogan had previously dismissed at least 100,000 civil servants he characterized as supporters of the aborted coup and arrested another 50,000 people. The scale of the purge has widened political divisions in Turkey, with government opponents denouncing it as an attempt to silence Erdogan’s detractors.
At a special parliamentary session Saturday, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim described the aborted coup as “Turkey’s darkest and longest night,” which was “transformed into a bright day.”
Giant posters designed by the Erdogan administration have been placed on billboards in Istanbul displaying images portraying significant events such as the surrender of opposition troops.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement Friday applauding Turkish people “of all backgrounds and political views” who “took 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,” the statement added.
The celebrations are occurring less than one week after the opposition leader, Kilicdaroglu, organized the largest opposition rally in Turkey in years.
Kilicdaroglu called for a full explanation of what happened on the night of the July 15, 2016, coup attempt, including when government authorities first learned the uprising was afoot.
The Turkish opposition says that Erdogan’s government is moving toward authoritarianism, while the Turkish leader says that the crackdown on rights is necessary to thwart security threats to the ruling government.
Erdogan claims the coup was led by a cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who has been living in self-imposed exile in the United States for nearly two decades. Gulen denies any involvement.
In a statement released Saturday, Gulen said the Turkish government’s “treatment of innocent citizens during the past year is dragging Turkey into the category of the countries with the worst record of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental freedoms in the world.” Gulen’s statement also said the Turkish people “are being rallied en masse around hate messages.”
About 250 people were killed and more than 2,000 others injured last year when a disgruntled army faction commandeered tanks and warplanes in a bid to overthrow Erdogan after 1½ decades in power. Thirty-five coup organizers were also killed.