Yasmin Helal recounts the mysterious Turkish coup in July last year and what’s transpired since

Celebrating the first anniversary of Turkey’s failed coup in July, the nation’s opposition party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu held a ‘March for Justice.’ He began from the capital city of Ankara; and 450 kilometres and 25 days later, the Republican People’s Party leader reached Istanbul.

By then, the march had transformed into a protest against the massive government clampdown on those accused of being behind the failed coup attempt on 15 July last year.

But Kılıçdaroğlu didn’t march alone…

Tens of thousands reportedly joined him, chanting ‘Rights! Law! Justice!’ in what Western newspapers described as “scorching heat.” This was in addition to the hundreds of thousands who greeted him upon his arrival in Istanbul, waving Turkish flags and banners bearing the word ‘Justice.’

The march called for an end to the state of emergency that has enabled the government to rule by decree with minimal input from parliament following the failed coup attempt, risking the nation’s bid for European Union (EU) membership.

So far, the government has arrested more than 50,000 dissidents and dismissed some 100,000 civil servants. The post-coup wave didn’t even spare journalists and academics, many of whom continue to remain behind bars.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan even accused a former friend – the US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen – of being the mastermind behind the coup. Despite the numerous suspects that the government has singled out, there has been no evidence to support the arrests other than Erdoğan’s gut feeling.

“We want politics kept out of the judiciary, the (army) barracks and mosques. We want neutral and independent justice. We want a Turkey where journalists are not jailed,” Kılıçdaroğlu said in a speech following the march.

Erdoğan later observed that the protest violates the law by attempting to influence the judiciary.

Among the crowds, sacked public employees and high profile figures cheered on Kılıçdaroğlu. Novelist Aslı Erdoğan and Kurdish nationalist politician Ahmet Türk – both recently released from jail pending trial – as well as Yonca Sik (the wife of prominent journalist Ahmet who is currently in jail) were also present.

Their protest was a reminder to the government that it was they – Kılıçdaroğlu and other opposition leaders across Turkey – who condemned the coup when Erdoğan was cut off from the media and isolated at a holiday palace in the Mediterranean resort town of Marmaris.

More than 12 months have passed since then but no one knows what really happened in July last year when sections of the army attempted to capture Ankara. Apart from documentaries produced by the biased state-owned Turkish Radio and Television Corporation, there is no record of what occurred.

The view that Erdoğan had orchestrated the coup is unlikely although there is no denying that he seized the opportunity and turned the republic into an authoritarian state.

Honouring what the government is now portraying as a victorious day in which Erdoğan overcame the enemy, a bridge in the city and lounge at the airport have been renamed after the martyrs and heroes of 15 July. You can even buy a gold pendant commemorating the date. Monuments and stylised posters of that day can be seen across the nation’s urban centres.

In an interview with the Financial Times, the Director of the Turkish Research Programme at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Soner Cagaptay explained last year’s blurred events: “Erdoğan is adored by half the nation and loathed by the other half. Whatever narrative he shapes will be embraced by only one half and rejected completely by the other half.”

By controlling the flow of information, the Turkish government has seemingly left a blank page in history. In the meantime, Erdoğan continues to leverage on the absolute authority he has gifted himself to detain his enemies.

In a bid to win the support of those among the Turkish people who loathe him, he tried to revive the image of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk – a man who rebuilt the new liberal Turkey and served as its president in the first half of the 20th century.

But this attempt was viewed by some as half-hearted and his reference to the national hero by his name rather than the popular honorary title of Atatürk (the Father of the Turks) offended many Turks. Erdoğan is not only using the events of the attempted coup to become an absolute ruler but is trying to revive the ancient legacy of the Ottoman Empire.

This is evident in Turkey’s actions such as interventions in war-torn Syria and Iraq.

Erdoğan also defended former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi when the military toppled his regime. Arabs of the same ideological background like Morsi and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad cling to Erdoğan for support while the rest of the Arab world loathes him, mimicking the same divide that he has created in Turkey.

“He is casting it as a series of attacks against Turks and Muslims from the Crusades to the First World War,” Cagaptay noted during his interview.

He concluded: “One side thinks it (the attempted coup) is the most significant event since the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the other half sees it as something he uses to crack down on them… Turkey was traumatised and we may never know what really happened that night.”