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Story highlights

NEW: Masses of people in Istanbul, Ankara heard Erdogan

Scores died last year in the coup attempt

(CNN) —  

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – delivering feisty and stirring messages on the one-year anniversary of a failed coup aimed at unseating him – lauded the popular resistance that helped stop the coup, and promised to decapitate “traitors,” a sign that his harsh crackdown against his foes over the last 12 months will continue.

Speaking to hundreds of thousands of people at a massive ceremony on Saturday in Istanbul, Erdogan urged vigilance against lurking enemies and declared that last summer’s bloody ordeal emboldened the nation.

“This experience has unified us, made us stronger,” the President said. “This wasn’t the first attack against our nation and it’s not going to be the last attack either.”

“We know who is behind these terrorists. However, there’s also the fact that if you do not combat and fight against these pieces we cannot fight and overcome those who are manipulating them. Therefore, we are going to behead these traitors.”

“If parliament passes a bill on resuming executions in Turkey., he said, “I will sign it.” If Turkey does so it would likely scuttle its longtime effort to join the European Union, whose member countries have abolished the death penalty.

People in Istanbul gather to commemorate the failure of last year's coup.
Elif Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
People in Istanbul gather to commemorate the failure of last year's coup.

State of emergency

The country has remained in a state of emergency while allowing Erdogan to tighten his grip on power and oversee a massive purge of those who he says rose up against him.

Over the past year, Erdogan and his government have clamped down on civil liberties across Turkey, gutted public institutions and universities, heavily restricted the media and ordered mass arrests of activists, journalists and the political opposition.

Since the coup attempt, more than 169,000 people have faced “judicial action” ranging from travel restrictions and detentions to arrest warrants,, the justice ministry said, according to Anadolu.

The clampdown stoked widespread unease in the country.

Martyrs mourned

But the sea of Erdogan supporters packing the streets waved flags and cheered on their popular and outspoken leader. The commemoration ceremony started at July 15 Martyrs Bridge with the national anthem. Then it was followed by a Quranic recitation, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said.

The names of those people killed were read out and their pictures were also shown on big screens. A monument honoring those killed while fighting the coup attempt near the bridge was unveiled.

Erdogan praised those who lost their lives in the fight against those carrying out the attempted putsch.

“I wish this bridge were able to speak about the heroic acts on this bridge,” he said. “I express my gratitude to these martyrs. They have defended their freedom, their calls to prayers, their flags, their motherland, their state and their future.”

After the address, he traveled to Ankara, the capital, where he spoke to throngs at the parliament building early Sunday, repeating the same themes that he did in Istanbul, sympathy for the people who died trying to stop the coup attempt, respect and confidence for the Turkish people, criticism of the country’s opposition leader, and anger toward the people who tried to overthrow the government.

Wary of terror

Speaking in Istanbul, Erdogan warned of groups that are using terrorists as “manipulation.”

He cited followers of exiled cleric and former ally Fetullah Gulen. Erdogan has claimed Gulen was behind the coup attempt, a charge that Gulen denies. Gulen is the leader of a popular movement called Hizmet, but the Turkish government refers to his group as the Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization, known as FETO.

The government has said that the Gulen group “is behind a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police and judiciary,” according to the state-run Anadolu Agency.

“How dare you can attack this motherland? There will be those days that you will account for what you have done,” Erdogan said in Ankara. “Hey FETO, is there anywhere you can safely go? Is there anything you haven’t done to damage this nation. Is there any door left that you haven’t knocked at?

“You have been allocated some land in Pennsylvania to use, now you are governing these places from there. Those who made calculations for a coup d’etat completely forgot that you cannot make calculations before God and they have hit the wall of the national will as a result,” Erdogan said, referring to where Gulen now lives in the United States.

Erdogan also mentioned the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a designated terror group in Turkey, the US and Europe. Known by its acronym the PKK, it has been engaged in a 30-year conflict with the Turkish government. He also cited Daesh, another name for ISIS, which Turkey also views as a foe.

“We know very well that FETO is not just FETO. PKK is not just PKK. Daesh is not just Daesh on itself. These terrorist organizations and other are not only comprised of what you can see when you look at them, we know this very well,” Erdogan said.

The President said many enemies were “waiting at bay ready to attack.”

“We are not uttering their names but we know all about them. We know who they are,” he said. “You will not be able to succeed. You will not be able to divide our nation. You will not be able to bring our flag down.”

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, in Istanbul to commemorate the anniversary of the coup.
Presidency Press Service/AP
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, in Istanbul to commemorate the anniversary of the coup.

A year ago

The attempted coup took place July 15, 2016, undertaken by a faction of the military Tanks rolled into the streets of Turkey’s two largest cities, Ankara and Instanbul.

Soldiers blocked the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul – now renamed the July 15th Martyrs Bridge in honor of people on the bridge who confronted the coup-plotters.

Bombs struck the parliament building in the capital Ankara, and a helicopter stolen by rogue pilots was shot down by an F-16 jet.

Erdogan was hundreds of miles away at a seaside resort when the coup got going. By the time he emerged to address the nation via FaceTime hours later, it had already begun to abate.

About 250 people died standing up to the soldiers who took part in the uprising.

Coup plotters were rounded up the next day. In the ongoing days and week, Erdogan and his government have clamped down on civil liberties across the country, gutted public institutions and universities, heavily restricted the media and ordered mass arrests of activists, journalists and the political opposition.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the opposition Republican People’s Party, recently led a long trek through Turkey, about 250 miles over three-and-a-half weeks, to demand that the government loosen its stranglehold on the country’s democracy.

Called the “March for Justice” Kilicdaroglu was joined by throngs of disaffected citizens – many angry with Erdogan – in the walk from the capital, Ankara, to Istanbul. Kilicdaroglu kicked off the march after the imprisonment of one of his party’s parliament members.

In his Saturday address, Erdogan slammed Kilicdaroglu for repeatedly claiming that the government knew about the coup attempt in advance but it failed to stop it and called those remarks disrespectful and insulting.

CNN’s Mayra Cuevas, Gul Tuysuz and Alper Tugra Cakici contributed to this report