By Tuvan Gumrukcu
ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan and members of the opposition came together on Saturday to mark the anniversary of last year’s failed coup, in a moment of ceremonial unity all but overshadowed by the sweeping purges that have shaken society since.
The gathering in parliament was one of the first in a string of events planned through the weekend to commemorate the night of July 15, when thousands of unarmed civilians took to the streets to defy rogue soldiers who commandeered tanks and warplanes and bombed parliament in an attempt to seize power.
More than 240 people died before the coup was put down, a show of popular defiance that has likely ended decades of military interference in Turkish politics.
But along with a groundswell of nationalism, the coup’s greatest legacy has been the far-reaching crackdown.
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 another 7,000 police, civil servants and academics for suspected links to the Muslim cleric it blames for the putsch.
“Our people did not leave sovereignty to their enemies and took hold of democracy to the death,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said, as Erdogan and members of opposition parties looked on. “These monsters will surely receive the heaviest punishment they can within the law.”
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 pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) was represented by its deputy chairman as the party’s two co-leaders are in jail – as are local members of rights group Amnesty International and nearly 160 journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
At the parliamentary ceremony, the head of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) decried what he said was the erosion of democracy following the coup.
“This parliament, which withstood bombs, has been rendered obsolete and its authority removed,” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, in a reference to an April referendum that Erdogan narrowly won, giving him sweeping executive powers.
“In the past year, justice has been destroyed. Instead of rapid normalization, a permanent state of emergency has been implemented.”
Kilicdaroglu this month finished a 25-day, 425 km (265 mile) “justice march” from Ankara to Istanbul, to protest the detention of a CHP lawmaker. The march, although largely ignored by the pro-government media, culminated in a massive rally in Istanbul against the crackdown.
In the run-up to the anniversary of July 15, Turkish media has been saturated by coverage from last year’s coup, with some channels showing almost constant footage of young men and even headscarved mothers facing down armed soldiers and tanks in Istanbul.
One man, 20-year-old Ismet Dogan, said he and his friends took to the streets of Istanbul the night of the coup after they heard the call from Erdogan to defy the soldiers. He was shot in both legs by soldiers, he told the website of broadcaster TRT Haber.
“My friends and I said, ‘We have one nation, if we are to die, let’s do it like men’,” he said. “Everyone who was there with me had come there to die. Nobody was afraid of death.”
(Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Hugh Lawson)