Millions Gather in Istanbul for Democracy Rally

Millions Gather in Istanbul for Democracy RallyMillions Gather in Istanbul for Democracy Rally

More than 2 million people have gathered in Turkey for a “democracy and martyrs” rally to condemn the failed coup attempt on July 15.

By its sheer size, it was a demonstration unlike any other in Turkey’s recent history. People traveled by bus or train from across the city and beyond, creating a sea of people, banners and posters. Some estimates put the number of rally-goers at 3 million or more, Deutsche Welle reported.

When the ample area of Yenikapi Park was full and closed by the police for fear of overcrowding, undeterred throngs massed at the gates and around the park.

The people gathered were not only there to support the government in the wake of the military coup. They also protested the widely reviled Turkish preacher Fetullah Gulen who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999 and has been locked in a feud with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for the past three years.

The president has blamed Gulen’s followers for launching the coup.

“I express my gratitude to our people who laid down their lives to stop helicopters and guns,” Erdogan told the rally on Sunday. “They have written their names in gold into our history.”

The president also pledged to push for the reintroduction of the death penalty in response to what he said were popular calls for its return.

Those in attendance ranged from the staunchly religious to the staunchly secular, from supporters of the government to supporters of the opposition.

The mood turned celebratory after a minute’s silence had been observed for the more than 250 civilians and loyalist forces killed in last month’s coup attempt.

Breaking with tradition, the opposition leaders Kemal Kilicdaroglu, of the Republican People’s Party, and Devlet Bahceli, of the Nationalist Movement Party, attended the rally and even spoke alongside Erdogan and Binali Yildirim, the leader of the ruling AKP.

Conspicuously absent were representatives of the pro-Kurd Peoples’ Democratic Party, which, despite opposing the coup attempt, has been excluded from recent anti-coup rallies and was refused an invitation by the ruling AKP.

The government has been locked in military campaigns in the Kurdish southeast of Turkey for the past year.

“The exclusion of HDP is a very bad, very regrettable decision, and it is a waste,” said Hisyar Ozsoy, the party’s vice chairman, adding that the government could have used this opportunity to restart the peace process with the Kurdish movement.

“It’s clear that they are trying to build a nationalist alliance and in doing so they are following the logic of the coup plotters,” Ozsoy said. “This attitude is the root of nearly every problem in Turkey.”