Turkey's coup defenders 'ignored' by government four years on

As Turkey marks the fourth anniversary of a coup attempt, those who took to the streets to defend the government say they have been excluded from the celebrations and have had little support

As Turkey marked the fourth anniversary of a failed coup, civilians who took to the streets to resist the soldiers protested over their exclusion from official ceremonies and lack of support from the government.

On the night of July 15, 2016, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Turks to confront tanks, jet fighters and attack helicopters manned by rogue troops attempting to seize power.

Thousands heeded the call, leaving 251 dead and 2,703 wounded in the struggle to overcome the coup forces.

In recognition of their bravery and sacrifice, the casualties were awarded the status of martyrs or veterans, titles usually reserved for soldiers and police killed or wounded in the line of duty that also bestow financial benefits worth up to 3,650 Turkish liras (Dh1,950) a month.

However, many civilian veterans feel they have now been frozen out.

Last month, a group of veterans protested outside the Ankara offices of Mr Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Family, Labour and Social Services Ministry, claiming they had not received the money promised four years ago. They were subjected to police attack and arrest.

On Wednesday, dozens of veterans were prevented from joining a remembrance ceremony hosted by Mr Erdogan in front of the presidential palace in Ankara.

“They know very well that we will come before them and say ‘Give us our rights, Mr President.’ That’s why they’re blocking us,” said Ufuk Yegin, who was shot in the hand and leg outside the General Staff headquarters on the night of the coup attempt.

Mr Yegin, who, like many veterans, is an AKP supporter, said police officers injured in the coup attempt had been invited to the ceremony while civilians were excluded.

“They deny themselves and the July 15 cause by ignoring us,” he said. “They called us to the street but they can’t call us to the palace. This is a great disrespect to veterans. Veterans will never forget this.”

Nihal Olcok’s husband Erol and 17-year-old son Abdullah were killed on the Bosphorus bridge during the failed coup. Mr Olcok had been a close friend and adviser to Mr Erdogan, who broke down while speaking at their funeral.

She has since helped co-found the Future Party, which broke from the AKP last year.

"The families of the martyrs and veterans need every penny," Mrs Olcok told the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper. "People are rotting to death. Their mental trauma is enormous.

“This money was our right. Maybe I don’t need it but maybe I will build a school for Abdullah, maybe I will give a scholarship, maybe I will set up a foundation.”

Addressing parliament on Wednesday, Mr Erdogan praised the efforts of the civilians who fought the coup.

“Sometimes a single hero changes the fate of a great nation,” he said. “On July 15, millions of heroes emerged all over our country and together marked the future of the whole nation.”

According to the government, about 309 million liras (Dh165m) has been set aside for veterans and martyrs. However, critics say only a fraction has been paid out.