The US Secretary of State has lauded the courage of the Turkish people who defended their country and democracy during last year’s military coup attempt, which Ankara pinned on the followers of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
“Nearly a year ago, the Turkish people – brave men and women – stood up against coup plotters and defended their democracy,” Rex Tillerson said during a speech at World Petroleum Congress in Istanbul.
“I take this moment to recognize their courage and honor the victims of the events of July 15, 2016. It was on that day that the Turkish people exercised their rights under the Turkish constitution, defended their place in a prosperous Turkey, and we remember those who were injured or died in that event,” he added.
Last July, a rogue faction of the Turkish military attempted to overthrow the government using tanks and attack helicopters. As the night unfolded, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on his civilian supporters to take to the streets of Istanbul.
Tens of thousands of Turks confronted the armed plotters to prevent the overthrow of the government. At least 265 people were killed, including 104 pro-coup participants, while 1,440 people were injured in military action in Istanbul and Ankara.
Washington’s relations with Turkey have been strained following the failed coup attempt, which Ankara pinned on political dissident Gulen. Turkey has demanded the extradition of the cleric, but the US has refused to honor the request. Gulen, who has lived in Pennsylvania for many years, repeatedly denied any connections with the coup attempt.
Ankara, has in the past, criticized the US over its attitude to the coup attempt. The Turkish leadership even implied that American intelligence had played a role in the failed plot.
“Instead of thanking this nation that quashed the coup in the name of democracy, on the contrary, you are taking sides with the coup plotters,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in reference to the US in July last year. “The putschist is already in your country.”
“My people know who is behind this scheme… they know who the superior intelligence behind it is,” Erdogan added at the time.
The failed coup attempt led to a massive crackdown in Turkey and saw thousands of people, including military officers, judges, and academics arrested. Critics, however, believe that the plot was used by Erdogan’s government as a convenient pretext to crush any opposition and dissent.