On the sixth anniversary of an unprecedented victory against a coup bid by the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), nationwide events were held in Turkey to remember the martyrs and veterans. In the hot spots of the coup attempt, which killed 251 people, solemn ceremonies were held with the participation of the country’s leaders and large crowds.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was set to attend a ceremony on the occasion of July 15 Democracy and National Unity Day, which it has been called since the coup attempt, in Saraçhane Square. The square, next to Istanbul city hall, was one of the flashpoints of the resistance as a small but fervent crowd tried to prevent putschists from taking over the Metropolitan Municipality, only to die in gunfire outside the building.
In the capital Ankara, ceremonies were held at Parliament, which was subject to airstrikes by putschists during the coup attempt, while a remembrance event was held at a monument erected in memory of the fallen heroes in front of the Presidential Complex, another target of putschists who dropped bombs on the crowds gathered to defend it on July 15, 2016.
In memory of the victims, mosques hosted prayer services across the country, while the biggest was in Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque in Istanbul. Imams delivered sermons about the day after Friday prayers.
Elsewhere, cemeteries where each of the 251 victims of the putsch bid were buried, were filled with visitors. Monuments erected in critical locations of the resistance, such as a major bridge in Istanbul, in memory of victims, also drew a large number of visitors on Friday.
“This is a great victory for us. It was like saving the country as it was plunging off a cliff,” Dilek Dinç, a visitor to the Martyrs’ Memorial next to July 15 Martyrs’ Bridge in Istanbul, told Demirören News Agency (DHA) on Friday. “I wonder what state we would be in without martyrs. May all be blessed in heaven,” Ayten Ayna, another visitor, said. Saffet Gümüş, who walked for nine hours from the Esenyurt district of Istanbul in a memorial walk, said they owed “much” to martyrs as he rested and recited prayers at the monument.
Engin Başpınar, the father of Safiye Bayat, a young woman who was shot and injured as she confronted the putschists on the bridge, was among the visitors. “I stop by here whenever I cross the bridge to remember the martyrs who are now roses in heaven,” he said. Başpınar, who was on another bridge in Istanbul to resist the putschists on the night of the coup attempt, said he only found out about his daughter’s health one day later. “She was tending to another person shot by putschists. It was a great pain. But without the martyrs, we would not have our homeland,” he said.
In the July 15 Martyrs’ Cemetery in Istanbul’s Edirnekapı district, local dignitaries and citizens gathered to recite prayers in memory of the victims. Among them was the mother of Mahir Ayabak, a 17-year-old teenager who was one of the youngest victims of the coup attempt. Ayabak joined his friends in going to Atatürk Airport, which had been taken over by putschists, for a resistance bid. In the third wave of gunfire by putschists on the crowd, Ayabak was shot dead. “I am the mother of a son who stood up for his homeland, his flag,” Ayabak told reporters at the ceremony. She was joined by the mother of 39-year-old Yılmaz Ercan, who was shot dead on July 15 Martyrs’ Bridge. Ercan was last seen driving his motorcycle toward the putschist soldiers before he was shot dead. “I am proud to be the mother of a martyr. Let our homeland live. I am proud to carry this title,” Nermin Ercan said.
In the capital Ankara, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu joined a commemoration ceremony at police headquarters for the capital, one of the places targeted by putschists on July 15, 2016. Veterans, families of martyrs and Turgut Aslan, a police chief who miraculously survived a gunshot wound to the head by putschists, were among others attending the ceremony. The crowd left carnations on a memorial set up in memory of 13 people killed in the building by the putschists.
“Whenever we see this building, we remember the incidents on July 15. FETÖ’s betrayal of this country did not weaken us. It made Turkey stronger,” he said in a speech. “The winner of that night is the nation. We will never forget the treason, will never forget our martyrs. We will remember how they bombed this building, how they fired at people, how Chief Turgut, our heroic lions were treated by putschists that night,” he said.
Turkey designated July 15 as Democracy and National Unity Day in October 2016 and since then, nationwide events are held on the occasion to remember the martyrs and celebrate the country's democracy, which has been subject to military interventions since 1960. The coup attempt was the first time the nation exhibited unity and resisted the putschists. Except for police officers and anti-coup soldiers, the resistance was "unarmed" with people simply blocking the roads to stop tanks and surrounding military bases.