Here in Istanbul’s Cengelkoy neighborhood, people remember the blood in the streets the morning after Turkish military officers attempted to overthrow the government on the night of July 15, 2016.
After soldiers attempted to commander the local police station, residents fought back, rolling cars into the street to stop military vehicles from reaching the nearby Bosphorus Bridge, recently renamed the July 15 Martyrs Bridge. In total, 22 civilians died in the area. Restaurant manager Ismet Morgul, 59, said he was taken prisoner by the mutinous soldiers and forced to lie on the ground for hours. When he and his neighbors were finally freed, the crowd attacked the officers before they were stopped by police. “We were beating them to death,” he recalled on Friday.
The night of the coup was a remarkable moment of unity in Turkey. As soldiers fired on crowds of demonstrators and fighter jets bombed the parliament building, all four major political parties and the vast majority of the public stood against the coup, which left more than 200 people dead. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government is marking the anniversary of the coup attempt this week with great solemnity. But Turkey is once again bitterly divided, returning to the polarization that defined the country’s politics prior to the failed military takeover last July.
Since the coup, Erdogan’s government has prosecuted a sweeping crackdown on perceived opponents. The clampdown began with people suspected of involvement in the coup or with the followers of Fethullah Gulen, the enigmatic U.S.-based religious leader who the government blames for organizing the putsch. But numerous journalists, academics, opposition politicians and activists have also been among the more than 50,000 people arrested in the past year. The official events commemorating the coup focus on the heroism of the ordinary people who resisted the coup attempt, but the tension created by the crackdown casts a pall over the proceedings.
Meral Aksener doesn’t run from fights. Turkey’s former interior minister is known informally as asena, or she-wolf. When the country’s military took steps in 1997 to remove the government from power, she took a stand against its leaders. A general threatened to have the young lawmaker impaled “on an oily spike that we’ll put in front of the ministry.” Testifying about the conversation in court in 2013, she brushed the comment off. “I did what I was supposed to do,” she said.
Now, Aksener’s name (pronounced “Ak-she-ner”) has been whispered as a possible challenger to Erdogan in the presidential election expected in 2019. Aides reveal to TIME she is planning to announce a new political party. Speaking to TIME at her Istanbul home in May, her face lit up when she spoke about how she rattles Erdogan. “I ruin his comfort zone,” she says, “because he knows I am a real competitor.”
Sofia, Bulgaria, 05.01.2017: Turkey openly interferes in Bulgaria’s elections. History’s roots run deep. Outcomes of wars, effects of ancient policies can still be useful even in the 21st century! An old medieval Moslem colonization of the Balkans comes handy to a modern Islamist political agenda. Turkish president cynically exploits a half a million strong Moslem Turkish minority in Bulgaria to pressure that country. Bulgaria’s ethnic and religious minority of Turks, the Karamanid Turks, was established in Bulgaria during the terrifying early century of Ottoman Turkish Imperial Muslim rule over the Balkans (including the subjugated Christian Bulgaria) under the leadership of Muhammed the Second (“the Conqueror”) who captured and erased the isolated and surrounded Christian kingdom of Constantinople in AD 1453.
Addressing huge throngs of people at a rally in Istanbul on Sunday, the leader of Turkey’s mainstream opposition, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, issued a thunderous demand for an end to an ongoing government crackdown under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The rally represented the largest public display of opposition to the clampdown Erdogan’s government since he survived a failed military coup attempt nearly a year ago. More than 47,000 people have been detained since the government suppressed the attempt seize power by a faction of the armed forces on July 15, 2016.
“This is the era of dictatorship. This is the era of 1940s Germany,” said Kilicdaroglu, addressing a huge throng of demonstrators at a parade grounds along the Sea of Marmara. “With this rally we witness that we are not alone. Each one of us represents hope,” he also said.
Kilicdaroglu spoke at the rally after walking about 280 miles from Ankara in protest of the crackdown which has lead to the arrest journalists, academics, and members of parliament. Kilicdaroglu set out from the capital on June 15, a day after a member of parliament from his Republican People’s Party (CHP) was arrested, joining at least 11 other opposition lawmakers who have been detained in recent months.
After 21 days on his feet, no one could blame Kamal Kilicdaroglu for wanting to wear sandals instead of marching boots. Yet the 68-year-old leader of Turkey’s largest opposition party apologizes to TIME for his casual footwear while on a break from his march for justice. His doctor has ordered him to keep his feet healthy. And after all, there are still more than 30 miles to go to Istanbul.
Kilicdaroglu is one of several thousand protestors walking from Turkey’s capital of Ankara to its largest city of Istanbul in protest of a widening political crackdown by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He has been joined by more than 10,000 fellow protesters who have been compared to terrorists by government officials. During a midday break in a clearing next to a gas station on the highway east of Istanbul, Kilicdaroglu makes apologies for his exposed toes, but none for irritating the government. “When the palace is unhappy, it makes us happy,” he says.
The march is a dramatic display of opposition to the unraveling of Turkey’s democracy under Erdogan. After he survived an aborted military coup attempt in July 2016, Erdogan moved to restrict political opponents, arresting journalists, activists, and about a dozen opposition members of parliament. In April, Erdogan also won a contested victory in a national referendum to expand the powers of his presidency in a historic transformation of the Turkish political system.
Faktor.bg: Turkey has now openly sided with Qatar in its quarrel with Saudi Arabia, Egypt etc. How dangerous is this in terms of isolating Ankara from the Sunnis in the Sunni-Shia conflict?
Daniel Pipes: As I see it, the danger lies elsewhere: in Ankara and Tehran joining together to support Qatar. That potentially could precipitate a war between them and the Saudi-led alliance, and that in turn could jeopardize the Persian Gulf’s oil and gas exports, possibly leading to a global economic crisis.
Faktor.bg: Turkey supports the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, the Nusra Front and other organizations which many Arab states have declared terrorist organizations; might those same Arabs designate Ankara a terror-supporting state?
DP: Egypt’s government has already called for Turkey to be treated like Qatar, though no one else echoed this appeal. I would be surprised if this happened. Governments like the Saudi one would rather win Ankara over.
Faktor.bg: Moscow and Ankara maintain an uneasy alliance of sorts, but had incompatible interests with respect to Bashar Assad, Crimea etc. How do you see this relationship progressing?
DP: Bullies like Putin and Erdoğan can form tactical but not strategic alliances. They constantly look at the other with suspicion and, inevitably, issues will arise that will cause major friction between them. So, expect rocky relations.
The good news about Turkish justice is that despite 15 years of not-so-creeping Islamization, court verdicts do not yet sentence wrongdoers to public lashing, stoning, amputations or public hangings in main city squares. The bad news about the Turkish justice system is that it is increasingly religiously ideological, reminiscent of the Ottoman justice system where non-Muslims were legally inferior to the Muslims and were, in principle, expected to be constantly reminded of their inferiority to the dominant community through restrictions and markers.
In 21st century Turkey, fortunately, there are not [yet] markers revealing non-Muslim citizens or laws discriminating against non-Muslims. Nevertheless, with or without markers, there is positive discrimination in favor of pious Muslims and against the others. Turkish law enforcement is embarrassingly pro-pious Sunni Muslim.
Turkey, nominally, is not a Sharia state. But it is becoming one on a de facto basis. In January, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government issued a decree stipulating that law enforcement officials, including security officials, police and coast guard officers, could lose their jobs if they marry a “known adulterer.” The legislation reads that law enforcement officials cannot “intentionally marry a person who is known to be impure, or to stay in a marriage, or continue to live with such a person.” The offense is punishable by up to 24 months’ suspension from work. In addition, the decree covers stricter rules against drinking, gambling, the vague and emphatic “going to places that would ruin your reputation,” as well as “excessive spending,” all while off duty.