Millions of Turks continue taking a stand for democracy

Turkish Prime Minister declares July 15 an annual celebration. Celebrations continued two days after a failed military coup. People took to the streets of Turkey in a show of defiance against the failed putsch.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

People gather at pro-government rally at Taksim Square on Saturday evening.

Updated Jul 18, 2016

Millions of Turks continue to celebrate a failed insurrection by a faction of the army two days after the streets and bridges of Turkey were blocked by soldiers and tanks Friday evening.

At least 290 people, mostly civilians, died in the clashes and heavy firing by rogue elements of the army before the putsch was quelled.

For the past two days, thousands of people have been coming out on the streets in major cities to converge around key monuments and squares in a show of solidarity with the government and express their anger against the attempted coup. 

The crowds, which began assembling early Saturday morning, were encouraged to take to the streets by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.

On Saturday morning, Erdogan sent out an SMS to millions of mobile phone users across the nation asking them to “look after your nation and your people”.

The message read, “I am calling you to the streets against this action of a narrow cadre that has fallen against the Turkish nation. Claim the state, claim the nation,"

Democracy Day

In another bid to memorialise the actions taken by thousands of anti-coup Turks, media footage showed young men lying down in front of tanks to protest the potential military rule.

The government officially declared July 15 as Democracy Day.

By sunset, people cheering and waving Turkish flags had already started to gather at Istanbul’s iconic Taksim Square.

As the crowd, young and old continued to grow, with more flags and loud cheers, the demonstration turned into a celebration.

One group of young boys convinced the driver of a Caterpillar bulldozer to let them on the raised shovel.

Others climbed on to a few trees, while some even climbed on the Monument of Republic, which sits at the heart of the square.

In a remarkable turn, the events of the last two days have led to an increased public appreciation of the police, who only three years ago lobbed protesters gathered at the same square with tear gas.

Along Istiklal Avenue, one of the city’s most famous social and economic centres, two policemen were receiving people like celebrities, happily letting them take selfies with them.

Crowds take selfies with police who were part of efforts to rout soldiers attempting to overthrow the government. July 16, 2016.

A stranded tank left behind on the square by surrendered troops served as a kind of monument; it was the spot to take more selfies.

A lone policeman standing guard on top of a tank looked bored, busying himself with his mobile phone.

Massar Aydin, a tailor, was among the thousands gathered at Taksim Square.

"I'm here for my country. Whomever will try to damage to my country…I'll stand against all such elements."

Fatih Mustafa, a student at Marmara University, brought his entire family to join in the celebration.

“We are the masters of this country. We want to protect it from all evils,” Mustafa said of what drove him to the square.

Uzler, who would only provide her first name, said she came in a show of unity among Turkish people across the country.

“Some people attempted to separate Istanbul from Turkey. We will not let happen this. We will sacrifice anything for our beloved country."

Uzler, one of many anti-coup demonstrators at Taksim, Istanbul, Turkey. July 16, 2016.

Umar Farooq, an Istanbul-based freelance journalist, was at the Fatih neighbourhood of Istanbul. Farooq said the crowds there numbered in the thousands. "The entire street is full of cars, as thousands wave Turkish flags from the streets." 

Earlier, a group of Syrians at Vezneciler Metro station could be heard chanting in Arabic, "Wahed wahed Turkey Suriye" meaning "Turkey and Syria are one".

Government officials too, joined in the festivities.

Hayati Yazici, the minister for customs, was among the crowds in Taksim Square.

Yazici credited the Turkish people with the defeat of the coup.

He called Friday evening a “rebirth of freedom and democracy” that saw people taking charge of their own nation.

Yazici compared Saturday evening’s joyous gatherings with the confusion and fear around the country Friday night as the attempted coup was under way. “Last night was severe and it was brutal, tonight we see the people’s will is benevolent.”

Yazici added, “The attackers used people’s own money and guns against the people themselves.”

In Ankara, the capital, the streets were filled with music as the nation’s red-and-white flag waved in the hands of the thousands gathered there.

Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan stand on an abandoned tank during a demonstration outside parliament building in Ankara, Turkey, July 16, 2016.

In a bid to encourage continued gatherings over the week, Melih Gökçek, the city’s mayor, announced all bus travel in the city will be free for the next three days.

With explosions at several locations, Ankara witnessed some of the worst violence during the coup attempt, which lasted for nearly six hours from Friday evening into early Saturday morning.

Ankara was also where Turkish officials claimed to have arrested hundreds of soldiers whom they accused of involvement in the coup.

The joy and pride on display at the Saturday evening gathering was a stark contrast from the events of the previous night.

Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan wave Turkish flags during a demonstration outside parliament building in Ankara, Turkey, July 16, 2016.

Though Gaziantep, along the Syria-Turkey border, was largely shielded from the violence and confusion of the coup, the Anatolian City also teemed with people opposing the coup.

“My life is for my country!” the crowds could be heard shouting. Gaziantep has long been considered a stronghold of the AKP, the social conservative party to which Erdogan belongs.

But the gatherings weren’t just relegated to Turkey. In countries across the world, Turks and non-Turks also gathered in support of democracy.

Demonstrations were staged in Lebanon, Palestine, Bosnia and Somalia.

Authors: Azam Khan and Saad Hasan