Turkey stands united for democracy

The coup attempt of July 2016 has been immortalised in the image of Turkey’s people taking to the streets and squares to stand up for democracy, showing the world that they stand united against military coups and unanimously support democracy.

Turkey’s failed coup attempt was a test for the country’s democratic system, and its people passed it very well. Judging by the large pro-democracy rallies after the events on July 15 and 16, Turkey’s people stood united to object military intervention in politics and support a pluralistic political system based on democratic principles. It was a great moment when thousands of people gathered in Istanbul and Ankara to join the first of large pro-democracy rallies a few days after the attempted coup d’etat. As a sign of pride for the nation, people waved flags with a picture of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey and chanted “no to the coup” and “we defend the Republic and democracy.”

After all, Turkey’s democratic system emerged intact from the coup attempt, and it turned out that all segments of Turkish society and political parties stood united to overcome the threat, with police forces and army units outside the control of the coup plotters quickly reacting. At the rallies, the large Turkish opposition parties sided with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party. The Republican People's Party (CHP) publicly voiced its opposition to the coup attempt and also – immediately after the failed coup – organised the pro-democracy rally which was backed by the AK party in a rare show of unity. Remarkably, and despite Turkey's otherwise sometimes substantial political divisions, Istanbul’s mayor and AKP member and other AKP leaders joined the opposition demonstrators.

The rally immediately after the coup was followed by an even bigger event when an estimated five million people attended the “Democracy and Martyrs’ Rally” in Istanbul on August 7. The name of the rally commemorates the more than 240 people – most of them civilians – killed and more than 1,440 people injured during the coup attempt.

Again, political parties and people from all ways of life and religions united, denouncing any form of military intervention in politics. The massive gathering is believed to have been the largest gathering ever in the history of modern Turkey. President Erdogan in a speech noted that the Turkish people had proven that they were “mighty enough to foil any coup,” adding that they should be proud of what they did. “You should be proud of yourselves. Each and every one of you fought for freedom and democracy. All of you are heroes,” he said. The “Democracy and Martyrs’ Rally” was meant to represent the unity of the country, and, notably, people waved with Turkish flags instead of party banners. Additional rallies were held in simultaneously in other cities of Turkey on that day. Many international media outlets reported from the massive rally, impressed by the people’s support for democracy. For example, The Financial Times called it a “historic cross-party rally against Turkey’s attempted coup, fuelling hopes of a turning point in the nation’s divided politics.” In France, Le Monde described the rally as “a big support for Erdogan” after the failed coup, while other European papers mainly said they were impressed by the size and intensity of the rally. Many lauded the unity of the political spectrum in Turkey. In a number of Western countries, Turkish expats took to the street in solidarity as well. At the August 7 rally, popular figures from the Turkish arts and culture scene also gathered to show solidarity in the national fight for democracy, among them numerous actors, musicians and other celebrities. “We are against every kind of coup and have shown that nobody can divide us or strip us of our democracy by standing together and representing our country with flags in our hands,” said popular TV series actor Kivanc Tatlitug. Musician Kenan Dogulu noted: “We are moving forward to a bright future by standing together side by side. We should all consider this day an opportunity to take our country further under the same flag with one heart.”

Many other popular figures emphasised that the rally gave them hope because so many people with different views attended in the name of democracy. Altogether, since the attempted coup, millions across the country assembled on the streets and squares to express resistance against further coup attempts and support the continuation of democracy in Turkey. The gatherings, described by media and participants as “democracy watch,” formally ended on August 10. Some observers pointed out that Turkey is crucial for the region as it could become a role model of how democracy could establish itself in the Middle East, in a region where not many countries are accustomed to such a form of government but instead suffer from instability and extremism.