In an unexpected display of unity, tens of thousands of supporters of Turkey's ruling and main opposition parties came together on Sunday in support of democracy following a failed military coup earlier this month.
The "Republic and Democracy" rally, held in Istanbul's central Taksim Square, comes after the failed coup on July 15, in which at least 246 people were killed and more than 2,000 wounded, and a subsequent crackdown by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The rally was organized by the opposition Republican People's Party.
"The coup attempt was done against our democratic, secular, social state, governed by rule of law," said Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, head of the Republican People's Party, in a speech. He also spoke of the importance of a free press and freedom of assembly and warned of the dangers of dictatorship and authoritarianism, though he did not directly criticize President Erdoğan.
After the coup, Erdoğan declared a state of emergency that allowed him to sign laws without prior parliamentary approval, in an effort ostensibly aimed at rooting out the coup's supporters. But the move has elicited criticism from some, including Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu, who say that the president is taking advantage of the coup and jeopardizing democracy in Turkey to further his own political agenda.
As The Christian Science Monitor's Scott Peterson reported on Friday:
Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) are seen by many to be converting a moment of national unity – all the main political parties condemned the coup – into a political one that bolsters their own Islamist-rooted worldview. But the catalyst was a moment of great national distress felt by everyone, including, some say, the president.
"Erdoğan is certainly using this to galvanize his base…. There is no doubt it will deepen the cult of personality around Erdoğan," says Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish analyst and columnist, and author of "Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty."
More than 60,000 soldiers, police, judges, teachers, civil servants, and others have been suspended, detained, or placed under investigation by Turkish authorities in the past week, and more than 13,000 people have been taken into custody over the coup attempt, including 8,831 soldiers, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said on Saturday.
The Monitor's Mr. Peterson described the detainment of so many soldiers, police and judiciary figures as looking "increasingly like a political witch hunt" that is reshaping the country:
For President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, it’s a moment that goes to the heart of the Turkey he is building, and now – taking advantage of what he believes to be a democratic, post-coup mandate – is tapping to further reshape the nation such that his increasingly authoritarian, Islamist brand of rule faces no challenge.
President Erdoğan’s harsh response speaks to a renewed – and perhaps justifiable, some say – paranoia, as he vows to rid Turkey of a “virus.” He has said that “traitors will pay a heavy price for the betrayal of this country,” and says God granted a blessing “because this will cause our armed forces to be cleansed.”
But at stake may also be internal stability in Turkey, which serves as a frontline bulwark against regional turmoil in Syria and Iraq, hosts 3.1 million refugees, and is home to NATO’s second-largest armed force. Turkey provides an airbase at Incirlik for US planes to strike IS targets, and some US nuclear weapons are stored there.
Though the prime minister promised a fair trial for those detained, the rights group Amnesty International said there is credible evidence that detainees have been subjected to beatings and torture, such as rape. The organization's Europe director, John Dalhuisen, said in a statement that it is "absolutely imperative" that authorities "halt these abhorrent practices."
Amnesty said Erdoğan's extension of the maximum period of detention for suspects from four days to 30 was also a source of concern, as lengthened periods of detention increase the risk of torture.
Despite these concerns, the government crackdown appears to be well-received by many citizens.
"The state of emergency is a good thing and it's good that many people have been arrested and that the length of detentions has been extended," demonstrator Harun Kalyancu, 34, a furniture designer and supporter of the ruling party, told Reuters. "If people lost their jobs they must be guilty."
This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.