ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey is commemorating the first anniversary of the quashed military coup that sought to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with a series of events honoring some 250 people who were killed on July 15, 2016, while trying to stop the insurrection.
The coup attempt was the greatest challenge to the rule of Erdogan, who has been in power since 2003, first as prime minister and later as president. After crushing the attempted takeover, Erdogan went on to win a referendum in April that will considerably extend the powers of his office — a move that has raised fear among opponents who say he has become increasingly authoritarian.
The rebellion unfolded on a Friday evening when a group of military officers commandeered warplanes, helicopters and tanks to attack key government buildings in the capital, including parliament and the presidential palace complex. They held Istanbul's main bridge and square, attacked some government buildings and tried to overtake television stations. They also tried to capture or kill the president, who was vacationing at a Mediterranean resort at the time.
Heeding a call by Erdogan broadcast on CNN-Turk through a video app, thousands of people took to the streets to stop the tanks and soldiers. Police and officers loyal to the government put down the coup, which did not have support in the military's top echelons, within hours.
More than 2,000 people were injured in the streets, in addition to the 250 people who died and now are hailed as "martyrs" of the coup. The dead include 53 special operations police who were killed in an attack on their headquarters in Ankara. Some 30 coup plotters are also believed to have died during their failed attempt.
Tarkan Ecebalin and his 27-year-old son, Tolga, were among the hundreds of people who took Erdogan's call to heart and rushed to out to protect the Istanbul mayor's office. A gunshot struck the younger man just below the eye and he died from the injury.
Ecebalin has turned their home in an impoverished neighbor into a museum honoring his son, saying those who were killed trying to fend off the coup-plotters should not be forgotten.
"Dad," Tarkan recalled his son telling him before he died. "This is something else. If our elders told us to take to the streets, maybe God will destine us martyrdom."
Erdogan is set to unveil a large monument for the "martyrs" opposite his palace in Ankara and another near Istanbul's former Bosporus Bridge, which has been renamed as the "July 15 Martyrs Bridge" to honor the people who died resisting the coup.
He also is scheduled to deliver a speech in parliament at 02:32 am on Sunday — the exact moment the assembly was attacked a year ago.
The government has blamed the coup on the influential movement led by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally who ran a network of schools, dormitories, media outlets and universities. Gulen's followers are accused of infiltrating state institutions over decades to carry out the insurgency.
Erdogan once described the coup as a "gift from God" that had allowed the government to purge the military and public institutions of the Gulenists who once were allied with his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party.
A prolonged state of emergency that has remained in place since the coup attempt allows the government to rule through decrees and without the initial approval from lawmakers. Over the last year, more than 50,000 people have been arrested for their alleged involvement in the insurgency more than 100,000 others have been fired from civil service jobs.
While the crackdown initially targeted Gulenists, it has ensnared other government critics, including Kurdish and other opposition lawmakers, journalists and activists.
"No state can work with those who don't show it loyalty," Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said this week, justifying the wide-spread purge. "Our struggle (against Gulen's movement) will continue with determination. "
Gulen, who has been in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, has condemned the coup attempt and denied he was involved, although he acknowledged that some supporters might have participated in the uprising.
Turkey has repeatedly pressed the United States to extradite the cleric, so far without succeed.
Ayse Wieting in Istanbul contributed.