A year ago, I reported the aftermath from Istanbul. In a country known for its profoundly polarized politics, the events of July 15 had ushered in a remarkable period of unity. After decades of military interference in political life, Turks across the political spectrum seemed galvanized by their fellow citizens' defense of democracy. On Aug. 7, Erdogan even appeared at a gigantic rally with prominent figures of the opposition — including his biggest challenger, secularist Kemal Kilicdaroglu — in an unprecedented show of solidarity.
Today, whatever unity once existed is long gone. At events in Istanbul and Ankara commemorating the "martyrs" who perished, Erdogan thundered against his opponents at home and abroad.
"You should be ashamed of yourself," Erdogan said. "This nation is not a coward like you. This nation has a heart."
Turkish authorities pinned the attempted coup on Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric who founded a global network of influential schools and charities but who is widely seen in Turkey as the mastermind of a subversive fifth column seeking to control the Turkish state. In an interview with NPR last week, Gulen again denied any involvement in the attempted coup.
The murky origins and circumstances of the putsch are still the subject of fevered debate, and Gulen's mooted extradition to his homeland seems nowhere in sight. Erdogan railed at Western governments for supposedly taking the side of his enemies and seeking to undermine Turkey.
Erdogan's government certainly has set about "sorting things out." Just days after he survived the coup attempt, Erdogan declared it "a gift from God" that would usher in "a new Turkey."
Around 150,000 people were suspended or fired from their jobs in state institutions or universities. On Friday alone, news came of 7,000 more people dismissed from their posts, including 2,303 police officers and hundreds of academics. At least 50,000 people from the military, police, judiciary and other branches of government have been arrested. More than 100 journalists are behind bars. Dozens of newspapers and TV stations have been shut down.
"Those who turned their weapons against innocent civilians on 15 July hit a brick wall made of a decade of progress in politics, economics, healthcare, justice, foreign policy and fundamental rights," Erdogan wrote in a column published by the Guardian. "This connection between the people and their government is the ultimate measure of our democracy’s resilience, and the strongest guarantee of its survival."
Erdogan's fiery remarks in Istanbul this week were aimed at his base — politically conservative, religiously pious and increasingly nationalist Turks. A day prior, imams around Turkey delivered state-sanctioned sermons that connected those who died defending Erdogan's rule to the fighters killed in Turkey's war of independence after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The legacy of the coup attempt has "become an increasingly important political cudgel for the president and his Islamist supporters, with the victory over the coup plotters seen as a critical part of the government’s popular mandate," my colleague Kareem Fahim wrote.
"Labeling at least half of your population as 'terrorist' is not a defense of democracy," Kilicdaroglu wrote in a Guardian column opposing the Turkish president. "And concentrating power in the hands of one person without any checks or balances is an assault on the very notion of democracy."