Last month, as the world gathered to watch France and Croatia battle it out on the football pitch, sports bars and restaurants across certain districts of Istanbul remained deserted. For millions of Turkish people, the highlight of that Sunday was not the 2018 World Cup final.
July 15, 2018 marked the two-year anniversary of the failed coup attempt that sought to topple the government and overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. At least 241 people were killed and many more injured as scores of ordinary citizens took to the streets to join police forces and loyalist soldiers in thwarting a military coup that threatened the democratic process in Turkey. The 15th of July has since been declared ‘Democracy and National Unity Day’.
Amidst high security, ferries and buses transported masses of people from parts of Istanbul and neighbouring cities to Üsküdar, a densely-populated, largely-conservative suburb on the Anatolian shore of the Bosphorus. I got on one such ferry from Ortaköy, and followed the crowd from the ferry terminal to the July 15 Martyrs’ Memorial by the Bosphorus Bridge (since renamed the July 15 Martyrs Bridge).
At around 9 pm, President Erdoğan commenced his speech, addressing tens of thousands of people gathered at the scene.
In his speech, Erdoğan said, “We are both very sad and proud at the same time. Since, on the one hand 250 people lost their lives, but at the same time we are also proud to have displayed a great resistance which was unique in the world.”
He also stated that the “nation had closed the chapter of coups, never to be opened again.”
The coup attempt of July 15, 2016 and its subsequent events have remained controversial to date. The current government has accused US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen and the Gülen movement of orchestrating the bloody coup, while Erdoğan himself has drawn intense criticism worldwide for exploiting the situation in order to eliminate the opposition, carry out widespread purges across the country, and accumulate unprecedented power.
As far as ordinary citizens are concerned, sentiments regarding recent developments remain divided.
The crowd by the Bosphorus Bridge that night greeted their President with thunderous applause, having incorporated the events of that fateful night as a significant component of the broader narrative regarding Turkish nationalism and identity. While the majority chanted religious slogans, the events of the day united people across parties and included opposition leaders; however, leaders of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP) were excluded.
Although there exists a nationwide consensus regarding the foiled coup d’état, for many, the incidents that have since followed are cause for concern rather than celebration.