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Erdogan and Supporters Stage Rally on Anniversary of Failed Coup

The crowds cheered at the comments. In interviews, several attendees said the president was right to prioritize the security of the state above all else.

“These things are necessary,” said Halit Emin Yildirim, a 21-year-old student at the rally. “The homeland comes first. If I don’t have a homeland, where can I have a democracy?”

Officially, however, the anniversary events were a commemoration of the failed coup’s victims and a celebration of the resilience of Turkish democracy, rather than a means of burnishing Mr. Erdogan’s brand.

“We’re actually very sad when somebody is saying that the government is taking advantage of this military coup,” said Mehdi Eker, a lawmaker and deputy head of Mr. Erdogan’s party, the Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P. Saturday’s pageantry, Mr. Eker added, was intended “to fortify the democratic institutions.”

But critics of the government say that Mr. Erdogan has tried to use the failed coup not only as the pretext to accelerate a crackdown on most forms of opposition, but also to further his vision of a new Turkey.

Since his party’s election in 2002, Mr. Erdogan, a conservative Muslim, has slowly eroded some of the foundational myths that had underpinned Turkish identity since the creation of the secular Turkey republic, in 1923.

Though avoiding a full-frontal challenge to secularism, Mr. Erdogan has long expressed a wish to create “a new Turkey.” He spoke of inspiring “a pious generation” of young Turks, steadily increased references to Islam in the national curriculum and removed some references to the ideas of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.

Mr. Erdogan has also revived interest in the Ottoman Sultans who ruled Turkey and the surrounding region before the creation of the Turkish republic, and whose legacy Ataturk sought to play down.

At noon prayers on Friday, thousands of imams read a sermon, written by the central government, that compared the failed coup’s civilian victims to those who died during the liberation struggle. In his speech on Saturday, Mr. Erdogan even cited a nationalist poem about that war.

“This is Erdogan 2.0 in tackling the secular republic,” said Aykan Erdemir, a former opposition lawmaker who is now an analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a research organization.

“Rather than tackling the secular republican vision head on, he is transforming it” by harnessing some of the key touchstones of the secular republican tradition for his own purposes, Mr. Erdemir said.

But while liberals see Mr. Erdogan as a threat to many democratic freedoms, his supporters often argue that he has upheld the civil rights that are most important to them. Since coming to power 15 years ago, he has gradually removed restrictions on public displays of Islamic piety while rapidly improving infrastructure, health care and social security programs.

Another supporter at the rally on Saturday, Mustafa Bas, a 44-year-old tile builder, remembers visiting Europe in 2000 and being crushed with disappointment that the services there might never be available in Turkey.

“I sat down and cried,” said Mr. Bas, who carried a placard in honor of a relative killed during the coup attempt. “I thought: ‘When will these things come to Turkey?’ And then Tayyip Erdogan brought them all to Turkey, all these things that citizens deserve.”

Source: NYT > World

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