Protestors Walk 280 Miles In Turkey March For Peace

Jul 9, 2017
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LAKSHMI SINGH, HOST:

We cross the border from Iraq and Syria to Turkey now, where frustration and anger against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been bubbling. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Istanbul today to protest the government's sweeping crackdown on dissent following last summer's failed coup. The rally marked the end of a so-called March for Justice that saw the 68-year-old leader of Turkey's main opposition party and thousands of others walk some 250 miles from the capital, Ankara, to Istanbul. NPR's Peter Kenyon was at today's rally and joins us now. Hello, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Lakshmi.

SINGH: This march became a much bigger event inside Turkey than people had anticipated. What kind of impact is this having?

KENYON: Well, there's no question it was huge, an enormous rally, kind of thing we're used to seeing the ruling party put up. Estimates were hundreds of thousands or even more. To give you some idea, hours after it started, when it was getting near the end in this big outdoor space, there were still long lines of people waiting to get in.

But the question is, will it also be big politically? That depends on whether this is just a venting of public frustration. It's been a very bad year here in Turkey. Or, as the opposition is hoping, is it a sign of a stronger, more sustained pushback against the government?

SINGH: Remind us what this is all about. There was an attempted coup last July and a crackdown since then. Was that the focus?

KENYON: Yeah, that was it. The opposition leader, a man named Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who was sounding pretty strong, I have to say, after a 250-mile walk, called on people to stand up against what's known here as the purge. More than 150,000 people sacked, suspended or facing charges. Businesses have been seized, newspapers shut down, journalists in jail. Here's a bit of his speech. He's talking here about the tens of thousands of teachers who got fired. I'll give you some of the translation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEMAL KILICDAROGLU: (Speaking Turkish).

KENYON: He's saying here, "we walked for the teachers who were put out on the street by decree. This is a total shame in a democracy," he says. They're out of their jobs, on the street, but they still can't travel abroad. He compared this to the way past authoritarian regimes have behaved elsewhere. And then he said, the people who did this, let them hear our protest.

SINGH: Peter, this rally may have been big, but don't the president, ruling party, still hold most of the cards?

KENYON: Yeah. They're still in the driver's seat. And they're also very good at mobilizing public opinion. Next weekend, for instance, the one-year anniversary of the failed coup, some of the people I spoke with today say they expect those commemorations to be even bigger, even louder now that there's been this big opposition march.

And then the president has already called those who were marching doing the bidding of terrorists, so it's certainly problematic there. The big event that's coming up later this month, also, the state of emergency. Will it be extended yet again, or will it be allowed to expire? There was a lot of hope that it would be allowed to expire, but most people here say they suspect it'll keep going.

SINGH: One more thing, Peter. Were there any arrests, injuries today?

KENYON: No. It was entirely peaceful. There was a very large police and security presence but there to protect folks. There were no clashes, no provocations. There had been concerns about an attack, but nothing transpired.

SINGH: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Thanks very much, Peter.

KENYON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.