U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has marked the anniversary this week of last year’s failed coup coup in Turkey, praising the courage of the Turkish people in defending democracy but failing to mention the widespread government crackdown that has followed since.
Speaking Sunday at an oil conference in Istanbul, Tillerson recalled the brief, unsuccessful attempt last July 15 to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He also said the United States sees Turkey as a partner in its push for greater energy security in the region, and “looks forward to engaging with Turkey on projects that will increase global energy security.”
“We’re all here in Istanbul at a momentous time,” Tillerson said. “Nearly a year ago, the Turkish people – brave men and women – stood up against coup plotters and defended their democracy. … 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.”
The coup failed when thousands of Turks took to the streets, answering President Erdogan’s call to resist the attempt to topple him, which was led by renegade members of the military. More than 240 people, many of them civilians, died that night, which was marked by pitched battles in Ankara between branches of the police and army.
Since last July, more than 100,000 people have been fired or suspended from their jobs in Turkey’s civil and private sectors, and the Erdogan government has jailed more than 40,000 others on a variety of charges alleging they were involved in anti-government activities. Many of the prisoners have not yet been brought to court to answer the accusations against them; many also have complained of abuse and ill-treatment during the time in custody.
The Turkish government justified the moves as necessary to preserve order. Human-rights groups have said the president and his supporters used the coup as a pretext to quash dissent, and that prison authorities have denied medical care and adequate food and resorted to torturing detainees in some instances.
Even as Tillerson spoke Sunday at the opening ceremony of an oil conference, tens of thousands of Turks were in the streets of Istanbul for an opposition rally.
Tillerson, the former chief executive officer of ExxonMobil Corporation, received an award from the congress of the World Petroleum Council recognizing his work in the industry for more than four decades.