ANKARA: Turkey on Monday marked the third anniversary of a bloody attempt to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan against a backdrop of growing tensions with the West.
Nearly 250 people were killed — excluding the coup plotters — and over 2,000 were injured after a rogue military faction tried to wrest power from the president, but thousands took to the streets in response to Erdogan’s call to defeat the uprising.
The anniversary comes at a difficult moment for Erdogan, faced with a weakened economy, worsening relations with NATO ally the US, and a loss for his party in the recent Istanbul local election to a more unified opposition.
After laying flowers at a monument for coup victims at his presidential palace complex in Ankara, Erdogan took part in a tense ceremony at Parliament, which was bombed during the attempted putsch.
Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Twitter that Turkey “sends a powerful message of unity and solidarity to the world: We will die but never let traitors and putschists destroy our country, our freedom and our dignity.”
The day, known as “15 July” in Turkey, has become a national holiday.
Relations with the West deteriorated after the coup bid, with Turkish officials accusing the West of not giving Ankara sufficient support.
At the same time, Erdogan has grown ever closer to Russian President Vladimir Putin, raising concerns in Europe and the US. Adding to the tension, Ankara has bought Russia’s S-400 missile defense system, and has drilled for gas and oil off Cyprus despite EU warnings.
Ankara accuses former ally-turned-foe Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric exiled in the United States, of having ordered the attempted coup and lists his movement as a “terrorist” organization. Some 8,000 military personnel took part in the bid to overthrow Erdogan, backed by 35 fighter jets, three boats, 37 helicopters and 74 tanks, according to state news agency Anadolu.
Since 2016, tens of thousands of people have been detained while 150,000 public sector employees have been suspended or sacked over alleged links to Gulen.
Anadolu reported Sunday that 110 suspected Gulen movement members have been extradited to Turkey from more than 20 countries.
Hundreds of life sentences have been handed down against accused putschists.
There are still almost daily police raids to capture suspects accused of ties to Gulen.