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Turks divided over what failed coup attempt means for country's future

All across Turkey on Saturday, backers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waved flags, sang slogans and honked horns in a public show of support for the government. But others worried this week's failed coup attempt will further embolden the president in a crackdown.

Some worry President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be emboldened to further crack down on his opponents

Turks rallied in Instanbul's Taksim Square Sunday to show their support for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, two days after a failed coup attempt by factions of the Turkish military. (Derek Stoffel/CBC)

At noon, just before the call to prayer, the speakers at mosques across Turkey belted out a message that Sharderdik Kulic knew he couldn't ignore: go out to the streets and support the president.

Kulic came with his wife to Istanbul's main gathering point, Taksim Square, to lend his voice to a rally to celebrate Turkish democracy, barely two days after a failed coup attempt by a faction of Turkey's military. 

"They wore the Turkish army uniform, but they do not represent our military. No, they are terrorists," Kulic, with a red Turkish flag draped around him like a cape, told CBC News.

All across Turkey on Sunday, backers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party waved flags, sang slogans and honked horns, heeding the call by Erdogan to continue their public show of support for the government.

While Turkish authorities said they have put down the attempt to overthrow the government, a larger operation is underway across the country to find all those the government says are involved in the failed coup.

About 6,000 people have been arrested — mainly soldiers and officers believed to have carried out the coup attempt, and judges who the authorities say sympathized with the plotters.

Erdogan supporters have shown little mercy to those behind the overthrow of the government. Photos circulating here on social media appear to show men beating soldiers who had taken part in the coup.

'I have never felt so proud to be a Turk'

Yasim Altindel was heading home to Germany on Friday night just as word began to spread of troops and tanks taking over bridges in Istanbul. Altindel, a Turk who lives in Frankfurt, arrived at the city's main airport as members of the military faction shut it down.

"Fighting started and we saw a man who was shot by these so-called soldiers," Altindel said. "We took him to the hospital. I have never felt so proud to be a Turk, defending democracy!"

Altindel has delayed his return to Germany so he can show his support to the president. He believes Erdogan is now in a stronger position to deal with the "enemies of Turkish democracy."

A sanitation worker sweeps up outside the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. The Turkish flag was hung on Saturday in support of the government following the attempted coup. Many tourist sites, businesses and private residences have flown flags in recent days to show solidarity. (Derek Stoffel/CBC)

That's what worries many secular Turks.

Erdogan's opponents have long complained the president, a former longtime prime minister, has become more autocratic the longer he stays in power.

Erdogan has cracked down on news organizations that criticize him, and he's restarted a war with Kurdish militants who seek their own state.

Fearful of speaking out

"I'm worried about my future and my country's future," said a Turkish woman who did not want to give her name, fearful of speaking out against the government. "I was worried about it before the attempted coup, but now I'm not optimistic at all."

Some Erdogan critics worry the attempted coup will give the president a licence to intensify the crackdown on those who oppose him.

Sharderdik Kulic, left, and his wife at a pro-government rally Sunday in Istanbul's Taksim Square. (Derek Stoffel/CBC)
Kulic, the Erdogan supporter in Taksim Square, rejects any talk of the president as an autocrat.

"Well, if you say Erdogan is a dictator, then that makes Obama a dictator and Putin a dictator," he said.

He believes that the coup attempt has not only increased Erdogan's popularity but also strengthened his position as Turkey's leader.

"The situation looks bright now — these will be the golden years for Turkey," Kulic said.

But Erdogan is a polarizing figure in Turkey, and while the coup attempt may have lowered the voices of the president's critics — for a brief while — there is little doubt many Turks fear that dark times are instead ahead for their country.

About the Author

Derek Stoffel

World News Editor

Derek Stoffel is a former Middle East correspondent, who covered the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and reported from Syria during the ongoing civil war. Based in Jerusalem for many years, he covered the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. He has also worked throughout Europe and the U.S., and reported on Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.

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