Thousands throng Istanbul square week after Turkey’s failed coup
Tony Cross, RFI, Jul 23 2016
Turkey is under a state of emergency a week after the failed military coup that aimed to topple Erdogan. But thousands of people gather in towns and cities every night, encouraged by the government to celebrate the popular mobilisation that defeated the putschists and led to a purge of state institutions and private education. Stirring music booms out as the sun sets on Istanbul’s Taksim Square. The crowd, full of stocky men, women in headscarves and young couples with kids, wave Turkish flags and take selfies. Long queues form at food vans and flag sellers are doing a roaring trade. The crowd swells as night falls and is boosted by tourists who’ve come to take a look at the result of the latest shock to Turkish politics. I meet some from Libya and Algeria. Erdogan appears on the vast screens overlooking the square and delivers a speech that is being broadcast to similar gatherings across the country. His speech is long and often interrupted by applause from the audience he is addressing in front of the cameras. A week ago civilians faced down soldiers here on Taksim Square, on the bridges across the Bosphorus and in other cities, such as the capital Ankara, defeating the coup and in some cases dispatching the soldiers sent to carry it out. Since then Erdogan has appealed to the population to turn out every night and remain on their guard against further attempts. Mesut, a young IT engineer, does not believe there will be another one. He says:
We are very strong. We trust our government because we are supporting democracy, because we are living in 21 century. It shouldn’t be, this kind of thing … We are supporting our democracy. We are European country in Turkey, we are not Middle East any more.
Three years ago on Taksim Square, police used water cannon and tear gas to break up protests against Erdogan and last year saw two bitterly-fought elections. But all political parties opposed the coup and the popular opposition to it was massive. Songul, who is living and working in Belgium, has returned to show her opposition to military power. She comments:
I think that people have the strength to protect democracy. I think democracy has spoken now. The people have spoken, so I’m very glad that everybody’s together now and protected the country. It is over I think.
Songul thinks that concerns voiced by European leaders about the extent of the purge are misplaced. She insists:
I think people have now the knowledge that Erdogan is for democracy. He’s not a dictator, which is said by many countries. I think he is supporting democracy, and the people love him. It’s possible that he has more power, but he is not a dictator.
Erdogan has emerged from the coup strengthened on the street and, perhaps, within his own Justice and Development Party (AKP). It remains to be seen how he will use that power.