'I love Turkey': Jubilant Erdogan supporters celebrate coup failure

Pro-Erdogan supporters gather at Taksim square in Istanbul to support the government, following a failed coup attempt.
Pro-Erdogan supporters gather at Taksim square in Istanbul to support the government, following a failed coup attempt. PHOTO: AFP
Pro-Erdogan supporters gather at Taksim square in Istanbul to support the government, following a failed coup attempt.
Pro-Erdogan supporters gather at Taksim square in Istanbul to support the government, following a failed coup attempt. PHOTO: AFP
Pro-Erdogan supporters gather at Taksim square in Istanbul to support the government, following a failed coup attempt.
Pro-Erdogan supporters gather at Taksim square in Istanbul to support the government, following a failed coup attempt. PHOTO: AFP
People wave flags as they gather in Kizilay Square in Ankara, during a demonstration in support to the Turkish president.
People wave flags as they gather in Kizilay Square in Ankara, during a demonstration in support to the Turkish president. PHOTO: AFP

ISTANBUL (AFP) - Answering a call to fill squares across Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ecstatic supporters surged through the streets Saturday (July 16) to celebrate what they saw as one of the strongman's greatest victories after he stared down a military coup.

In under 24 hours, the atmosphere in Istanbul changed dramatically. From one of fear and confusion, the city was abuzz with the celebratory sounds of car horns, laughing children and red and white Turkish flags fluttering in the cool evening breeze.

Erdogan had already managed to successfully mobilise supporters on Friday, calling on them to defy a curfew declared by the putschists and help crush the attempted coup by elements within the military.

But even after the danger passed, the triumphant leader urged people to come out again on Saturday and show their numbers.

In Kisikli square on the Asian side of Istanbul, thousands gathered to hear Erdogan speak just a few steps away from his family home.

 

In a typically fiery speech, he pinned the blame for the coup plot on a "parallel state" and "Pennsylvania" - a reference to Fethullah Gulen, a US-exiled Muslim cleric and arch-foe whom he has long accused of seeking to overthrow him.

Among the jubilant crowds, there was a palpable sense that Friday's botched coup had only made Erdogan stronger.

Hayrullah Kul, 55, from Uskudar, said he was glad the putsch failed as he stressed his love for the Turkish leader who has been in power since 2003, first as premier and now as president.

"They tried to stage a coup and they failed. I am happy they couldn't succeed. For us here, we are celebrating a festival, Turkey is celebrating," he said.

"Yesterday was bad for them (Gulenists), not for us. They cannot destroy us. They brought the Turkish community together." In the crowd, elderly men, women and children wore headbands emblazoned with the president's name.

While Turkey remains a polarised country, with Erdogan's detractors accusing him of authoritarian tendencies and of undermining Turkey's secular principles, Friday's tumult has brought supporters of different political parties together.

Fans of Erdogan insisted the coup would not divide the country further but would in fact unite a disparate population.

"Laz, Turkish, Kurdish, different communities, we are all Turkey and we are all Turkish. This coming together of the community is a message of solidarity to the world," Besir Demirozur, 29, told AFP at the rally.

After Erdogan finished his address, a sea of people poured into the streets and passing cars proudly beeped their horns at every opportunity, flags flying through their open windows.

On the European side of Istanbul, near the city's iconic Taksim Square, children, teenagers and adults marched down the main Istiklal shopping street, waving Turkish flags and chanting: Allahu Akhbar, "God is greatest".

Seven-year-old Ahmet, who had come with his family, said he was happy to be there because "I love Turkey".

Fatima, 18, shared his patriotic fervour: "Today we celebrate freedom and democracy. Today we celebrate Turkey." And in Izmir's Konuk square by the famous clock tower, photographs in Turkish media showed thousands in the coastal city also protesting against the failed putsch.

The capital Ankara, where parts of the national assembly building were reduced to rubble by strikes from rebel jets, remained a city on edge however and on Saturday night there was a blackout in the neighbourhood where parliament is situated.

In the popular Kizilay square in central Ankara, 59-year-old Osman accused the coup plotters of being traitors.

"Nobody can author a coup in our country. We will not abandon Turkey to traitors.

"We don't recognise them as members of army," he told AFP.

Inci, 27, said coups were a thing of the past in a country where the military has a history of intervening in politics, the last time in 1997.

"Turkey will not go back to the era of coups," she said.