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Turkey marks failed coup that changed country

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Istanbul, Turkey | AFP | Turkey marks one year on July 15 since a coup attempt aiming to topple President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that failed within hours but etched far-reaching consequences into its society and politics.

The country is in the throes of the biggest purge in its history against alleged coup supporters while Erdogan has seen his grip on power tightened rather than weakened.

But Turkey is also facing some isolation on the diplomatic stage, experiencing tense relations with the European Union and the United States, and now trying to limit the damage from an explosive crisis over its ally Qatar in the Gulf.

“One year on from the coup bid, President Erdogan is stronger than ever,” said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

But he added the crackdown has “unavoidably weakened Turkey’s international standing particularly vis-a-vis Europe and the United States.”

– ‘Martyrs of July 15’ –

On the night of July 15, 2016, an army faction disgruntled with Erdogan’s one-and-a-half decades of domination sought to seize power, closing the bridges in Istanbul, bombing parliament in Ankara and deploying tanks in the streets.

But the coup bid unravelled as Erdogan returned in triumph to Istanbul from holiday and tens of thousands of ordinary Turks poured into the streets to oppose the plotters.

Two hundred and forty nine innocent people died in the coup and are regarded as “sehitler” (martyrs for Islam).

The authorities see the coup bid’s defeat as a victory for democracy and have renamed the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul that was a centre of the fighting the “Bridge of the 15 of July Martyrs”.

Extensive commemorations are planned for Saturday including a speech by Erdogan on the bridge, with July 15 now declared an annual holiday, the Democracy and National Unity Day.

– ‘Absolute control’ –

Turkey’s longest night left a litany of images engraved into the memory — the tear-stained face of the state TV presenter forced to make a statement by the coup plotters, or Erdogan peering out through the FaceTime app as he made a live appeal to supporters.

Erdogan swiftly said that the coup bid was masterminded by his one time ally turned nemesis, the US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen who over decades assiduously built up influence in the judiciary, police and the army.

From his secluded base in Pennsylvania, Gulen denied the charges. But Erdogan vowed to wipe out the “virus” of Gulen from Turkish institutions.

Turkey subsequently embarked on the most extensive crackdown in its modern history, arresting over 50,000 people and sacking 100,000 more from their jobs.

Critics say the state of emergency imposed last July 20 — which remains in place — has been used to go after all opponents of Erdogan, including critical journalists, activists and pro-Kurdish politicians who opposed the putsch bid.

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