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Protests In Turkey Mark One-Year Anniversary Of Failed Coup


Today marks the one-year anniversary of a failed coup in Turkey. Civilians rushed into the streets to resist the coup after a call by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Nearly 250 of them died that night. And in the year since, the government has imposed a state of emergency and arrested tens of thousands of people in a crackdown that continues. NPR's Peter Kenyon has been covering the events marking the anniversary, and I talked with him a short time ago at one of those events in Istanbul. Peter, thanks so much for speaking with us.


MARTIN: So tell us where you are and what's happening there.

KENYON: Well, I'm on the Asian side of the Bosphorus Strait. And I'm looking up at the Bosphorus Bridge, although now it has a new name. It's called the July 15 Martyrs Bridge. And when I came across, I was on a boat full of people saying prayers for the memory of those who died here a year ago. This was a scene of civilians confronting armed soldiers and tanks. A standoff lasted through the night. And this was a very big deal for Turkey. To give you a kind of a sense of it, this country suffered several coups over the past decades.

And last July 15, all of a sudden, those fears came surging back that Turkey's democracy was still subject to military takeover. Now, President Erdogan's here. He's going to be dedicating a memorial. And then he's back to Ankara. He's got another speech at 2:30 in the morning, another monument. I don't think he's going to get much sleep tonight, just as he didn't a year ago.

MARTIN: So, you know, the government has been saying that this is a time for national unity. Is that what you're seeing there? Does it feel like that?

KENYON: Well, in a word, no. It's a very festive scene right here, but the country remains very divided. People do mourn the civilians who were killed. They're glad the coup was put down. But this huge crackdown in the past 12 months and the state of emergency that just keeps going has really got people divided. I mean, just last night, it was another emergency decree, another 7,400 civil servants lost their jobs just like that. That makes about 150,000 people all told out of work, 50,000 or more facing charges. And that number's likely to rise.

The blame's being pointed at this U.S.-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen. He denies it, but Turkey is moving aggressively to go after anyone with even a hint of a connection to that movement. And this crackdown is really possible because of this state of emergency that is also almost a year old. And they say it's going to go for another three months at least. And they really aren't saying when it might be lifted.

MARTIN: Well, this crackdown has drawn criticism from a number of Western leaders. You know, how is President Erdogan and other people in the Turkish government, how are they reacting to that criticism?

KENYON: Well, you're right. And also some pushback here inside Turkey. We'll see how long that lasts. But President Erdogan has been defiant, as he often is. He's slamming the West. He calls it a betrayal to not stand up for the government a year ago when this coup was happening. He says the West has to choose between Turkey and, as he puts it, standing with terrorists. But civil rights advocates, media advocates meanwhile are calling for more and more international pressure to try and stop what they see as Turkey's slide toward authoritarianism.

We've got human rights workers, journalists in jail, media outlets closed down. The government's got a new panel that they say will be reviewing these cases to make sure everything was done right. It looks now like they're likely to face quite a large stack of cases when they get to work next week.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Peter, thanks so much for speaking with us.

KENYON: Thanks, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF RODRIGO Y GABRIELA'S "IXTAPA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.

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