‘Gift from God’: Erdogan reasserts dominance with huge Istanbul rally

A giant Turkey's national flag is seen during the Democracy and Martyrs Rally, organized by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and supported by ruling AK Party (AKP), oppositions Republican People's Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), in Istanbul, Turkey, August 7, 2016. © Osman Orsal
More than a million people – clad in Turkey’s crimson colors – assembled for a ‘Democracy and Martyrs’ rally’ at a parade ground in Istanbul. President Tayyip Recep Erdogan fronted the event, striking out at the leaders of the failed coup and critics abroad.

“That night, our enemies who were rubbing their hands in anticipation of Turkey’s downfall woke up the next morning to the grief that things would be more difficult from now on,” said Erdogan after a minute’s silence to commemorate more than 240 people, who were killed during a failed putsch on July 15.

“From now on, we will examine very carefully who we have under us. We will see who we have in the military, who we have in the judiciary, and throw the others out of the door.”

Turkish officials estimated that as many as 5 million people attended the biggest demonstration among the hundreds that took place across the country. While the figure is hard to verify, the Yenikapi parade ground, which can comfortably hold a million people was overfilled.

Giant posters of modern Turkey’s founder Kemal Ataturk were seen hanging, alongside those of the current president, as well banners proclaiming “you are a gift from God, Erdogan” and “order us to die and we will do it.”

Noting that the death penalty is still widely used around the world, Erdogan said that he would back parliament if it votes to re-introduce capital punishment, which was officially outlawed in 2004. The last official execution in Turkey happened in 1984, but the measure has been touted as punishment for the elite military officials who took control of the coup.

“We need to evaluate well not just those who engaged in this treachery, but the powers behind them, the motives that made them take action,” continued the Turkish President, in a reference to his nemesis Fethullah Gulen, who he has repeatedly accused of orchestrating the abortive takeover.

Gulen remains in exile in Pennsylvania in the US, despite Turkey stepping up its efforts to demand his extradition. Approximately 18,000 people have been arrested, either for their role in the uprising, or alleged links with Gulen’s movement.

READ MORE: Austrian, German party leaders compare Turkey’s post-coup crackdown to Hitler power grab

Erdogan also took time out to criticize Germany, which banned a live broadcast of the rally in a public square in Cologne, at least partially to avoid inflaming tensions between their sizable Turkish and Kurdish minorities.

“Where is the democracy? Let them [Germany] nourish the terrorists [Kurds] – it will come back to hit them,” said the 62 year-old politician.

‘New Turkey’ of national unity

But despite some acrid rhetoric, the overall purpose of the rally was to harness a mood of national unity after the shocking outbreak of violence, jolting the nation beset by increasing instability, due to internal tensions with Kurds, and war in neighboring Syria.

“There we will stand together as a single nation, a single flag, a single motherland, a single state, a single spirit,” said Erdogan.

All but the Turkish flag were banned from the gathering, and political leaders agreed to avoid sloganeering. Heads of leading opposition parties – though not the Kurdish HDP – stood alongside Erdogan as he spoke, and gave their own speeches.

“There is a new door of compromise. There is a new Turkey after July 15,” proclaimed the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) Kemal Kilicdaroglu, stating that the failed coup could return the country to the secular ideals of Ataturk.

But for all the talk of generosity and unity, the loudest cheers from the crowd, and the lenses of the cameras focused overwhelmingly on one man – Tayyip Recep Erdogan.