Turkey embarked upon a nationwide programme of commemorations on Saturday to mark the first anniversary of a failed coup d’état that continues to send shockwaves through the country.
A series of memorials were planned throughout the evening to remember the attempted putsch, which left 250 people dead and more than 2,000 injured after civilians, police and troops loyal to the government took to the streets to confront rebel soldiers.
“It has been exactly one year since Turkey’s darkest and longest night was transformed into a bright day, since an enemy occupation turned into the people’s legend,” said Binali Yildirim, the Turkish prime minister, in a special sitting at the parliament in Ankara attended by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Mr Erdogan, who was marked for assassination on the coup night, has hailed the coup’s failure as a “triumph for democracy” but deep political and social divisions have emerged over his response in the subsequent 12 months.
Mr Erdogan’s opponents say that a state of emergency, still in place one year on, has enabled the president to lead the country down an increasingly authoritarian path. Fears about human rights abuses have put a heavy strain on Ankara’s ties with its European allies.
On Friday night, a new emergency decree announced the summary sacking of more than 7,000 public sector employees, including more than 2,300 police officers and 300 academics.
More than 150,000 people have been dismissed from their posts since the thwarted coup, including thousands of military personnel, police, members of the judiciary, teachers and academics. More than 50,000 have been arrested.
Turkish officials say that the purge is a difficult but necessary process to restore stability and order.
Opposition figures and human rights group say that it has been used to target not only coup supporters but critics of all stripes. Those behind bars include more than 150 journalists and the co-leaders of the People’s Democratic Party, an opposition party that draws its support mainly from the country’s Kurdish minority.
Divisions have also emerged over the government’s narrative about the coup attempt. Mr Erdogan blames the plot on the Gulen movement, a secretive Islamic fraternity that stands accused of infiltrating the state.
Fethullah Gulen, the group’s leader who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, has denied any involvement in the coup attempt.
Though western governments have voiced scepticism about the assessment that the coup attempt was solely the work of the Gulen movement, it has largely been accepted by the opposition.
They have argued, however, that the ruling party must share the blame for forming a close alliance with the Gulen movement during the 2000s.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), used his anniversary speech to argue that many outstanding questions remained about what really happened on 15 July 2016. He called for all those responsible to be held to account. “The central organisation [in the coup attempt] did not reach its position in a day,” he said. “Those who enabled this gang to reach the judiciary and the bureaucracy must be exposed.”
Mr Kilicdaroglu added the only way for Turkey to solve its problems was through “democracy, peace, equality and justice.”
The commemorations marked the climax of an elaborate week-long series of memorials and celebrations.
On Saturday night, Mr Erdogan will visit Istanbul’s first Bosphorus bridge, now renamed the 15 July Martyrs’ Bridge, where rebel tanks blocked the road and clashed with civilians one year ago.
Shortly after midnight, mosques across the country will broadcast the call to prayer to mimic the role that they played in calling people to the streets on the night of the coup.
At 2.32am, the president will make a speech at the national assembly in Ankara to coincide with the moment that the parliament was bombed by commandeered fighter jets last year.
The coup attempt has been framed by Mr Erdogan and his government as one of the most important moments in the history of the Turkish people, on a par with the 1453 Ottoman conquest of Constantinople and the Turkish war of independence.
Speaking on Friday night, deputy prime minister Numan Kurtutlmus compared it with some of the world’s greatest modern atrocities. He said: “The Jews did not let the Holocaust be forgotten. The Japanese did not let Hiroshima be forgotten. Turkey will never let July 15 be forgotten.”
Nicholas Danforth, a historian and Turkey analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Centre in Washington DC, said that events of July 15 had played into deeply seated fears harboured by Mr Erdogan and that his Islamist-inspired Justice and Development party was vulnerable to a coup attempt by secularist forces in the military. “It was a fear that his government very much lived with for the entire time it’s been in power,” he said. “When it happened it played into a narrative, a mythology that they had already built up.”
Mr Danforth said Mr Erdogan had seamlessly adopted the story as an essential part of his political image. “They’ve worked it in very well with a narrative that Erdogan has been using successfully for several years,” he said. “It portrays him and the [ruling party] as the champions of the people against a host of foreign and domestic enemies, making him the only one who can save them from foreign occupation or a return to military domination.”