10th July 2017
Political: The 15 July 2017 will mark the one-year anniversary of the coup attempt in Turkey. A number of commemoration events have been planned throughout the country from 11-16 July; however, the largest events will be centered around the sites of the coup in Istanbul and Ankara. Locations such as the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul, renamed the Martyrs Bridge after the coup, maintains a symbolic significance in the cosmopolitan city. On 11 July, President Erdogan, along with other government officials and NGOs, will visit the graves of those who were killed in the coup attempt. Commemoration ceremonies are also planned to be held at bombed sites in Ankara, such as the parliament building, and other strategic sites such as Atatürk International Airport in Istanbul. On 15 July, a special session will be held at parliament, as well as a “National Unity March” conducted on the Bosphorus Bridge, which President Erdogan is expected to attend. Afterwards, a memorial service is planned to be held on the Asia side of the bridge, where some of the fiercest clashes occurred a year ago. There is potential for counter-demonstrations by the opposition, although due to the ongoing state of emergency, there is likely to be a high presence of security in all major cities.
The coup attempt resulted in an estimated 248 people killed and 2000 wounded. It was attributed to the Gülenist movement, with the exiled Fetullah Gülen accused of being the mastermind. Requests to the US government for his extradition have been repeatedly denied, increasing tensions between the two states. After the coup, tens of thousands of people in the media, academia and the military, were arrested in a country-wide purge of coup sympathisers or suspected participants. Under a continued state of emergency, arrests continue to be made of persons suspected of supporting Gülen. Arrests may increase over the anniversary period as a demonstration of state power and to gain more support for Erdogan’s regime. The coup served as a catalyst for the 16 April 2017 referendum which primarily sought to centralise power in the presidency, under the guise that stream-lined decision-making was necessary due to the significant security threats the Turkish state faced. With much of the opposition suppressed, the referendum passed with ease and effectively issued a return to a Turkish dictatorship.
What Does the Opposition Have to Say?
Opposition movements in Turkey have long contested the government were aware of a coup being planned, and allowed it to happen in order to create an environment in which it could extend its powers. Political opposition elements still remain in parliament, such as the Republican People’s party led by Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu. Most recently, he conducted a 250-mile Justice March from Ankara to Istanbul, which attracted a wide spectrum of supporters and called for an end to the arbitrary arrests and dismissals. The march arrived in Istanbul on 9 July 2017, creating the largest opposition rally against Erdogan’s government since 2013 and the Gezi Park protests. According to the governor of Istanbul, 15,000 police officers were deployed in the city on Sunday; however, the rally was conducted peacefully. In his speech, Kiliçdaroğlu called for the end of the state of emergency, the release of detained journalists, and the reinstatement of fired personnel. Kiliçdaroğlu has made it clear he did not support the July 2016 coup attempt, but that the government has overreached itself since then. The march has been a media success for Kiliçdaroğlu, gaining much attention over the three-week march and broadening his support base. However, with the government already accusing him and his party with cooperating with terror organisations, the “new birth” which Kiliçdaroğlu hopes for will remain distant in the short to medium term.
Regional Neighbours But Not Friends
During the build-up to the 16 April referendum, tensions increased between Turkey and its European regional neighbours after Turkish campaigning for the Yes vote was held in expat communities. The Netherlands saw the most political unrest after it was forced to ban and deport two Turkish officials from the state. Germany, Austria and Switzerland followed similar actions. Tensions again increased when German Chancellor Angela Merkel refused permission for President Erdogan to address German-Turkish communities in Hamburg during the G20 summit. Germany’s harbouring of Turkish dissidents and criticism of Turkey’s high rate of arrests, combined with Turkey’s refusal to allow German politicians visits to the Incirlik airbase, has driven a diplomatic wedge between the two states. The importance of Turkish German relations is important when viewed in light of the issues they require cooperation, such as addressing migrancy in Europe. Cooperation on this issue potentially stands at risk should relations further deteriorate.
Since the Turkish referendum, little has changed in regards to some European state’s attitudes towards Turkey. The Netherlands and Austria have once again banned Turkish officials from attending rallies in their states. The Dutch government refused the deputy prime minister permission to attend a coup anniversary event on 11 July 2017 in the city of Apeldoorn. Austria has also followed similar action, barring the Turkish economy minister from entering the country to attend a rally marking the anniversary. In both cases, concerns have been raised over the potential threat a pro-Erdogan rally may pose to security and public order. The resultant impact of these actions on diplomatic relations with Turkey remains significant however, with the likelihood of Turkey’s accession to the European Union as more distant than before the coup.
The primary risk arising from the coup commemoration events is the potential for civil unrest. At present, there are no known protests planned against the government on 15 July 2017 in Istanbul or Ankara. The potential for this remains low. Despite Kiliçdaroğlu’s extensive criticisms of the current government, protesting on the day in which hundreds were killed or wounded may result in losing the support he recently won. The true impact of the Justice March will be revealed in the long term. However, travellers should be aware protests in this region are known to occur spontaneously and turn violent with little notice. It is strongly advised to avoid areas which commonly hold protests, such as Istanbul’s Taksim Square or the Maltepe district where the final Justice March rally was held on 9 July 2017. Security forces are known to act in a repressive fashion. Foreigners caught in demonstrations of this kind may be subjected to harsher punishments by local security forces, including if they are part of the media. Such congested gatherings may also be targeted by Islamic or Kurdish militants.
Solace Global would advise clients to employ enhanced security measures when visiting Turkey – airport meet and greet and a security driver for the length of a visit is a recommended security precaution. Due to the geographic dispersion of commemoration events throughout the country, travellers should maintain situational awareness from 11-16 July for large public gatherings. Extensive road closures may be experienced in Istanbul on 15 July, for events such as the unity march on Bosphorus Bridge. Travellers should consider employing travel-tracking technology with an intelligence feed for the length of their stay, so they are kept abreast of security developments.