ISTANBUL — Less than a week after the largest opposition rally in Turkey in years, hundreds of thousands of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s supporters made their own show of strength by gathering on Saturday night to commemorate the anniversary of last year’s failed coup.
It was a sign that the president, who has led a vast crackdown against his opponents in the 12 months since the botched putsch, still has significant support.
The failed coup has given Mr. Erdogan more opportunities to buttress his new national narrative for the country and extend his grip on power, firing or suspending about 150,000 people and arresting 50,000 others suspected of supporting the coup attempt.
Mr. Erdogan has often referred to the coup plotters’ defeat as “a second war of independence,” and the rally on Saturday was the centerpiece of an elaborate day of pageantry that implicitly placed the president as the hero of what he implies is a liberation struggle.
After speaking in Istanbul, the president flew to Ankara, Turkey’s capital, where he appeared at another rally before attending a special ceremony in Parliament at 2:32 a.m. on Sunday, a year to the minute since putschist pilots bombed the building in 2016.
To encourage people to attend the rallies, Turks were allowed to travel free by public transportation — ferries, subway and buses — which were mostly covered with banners and slogans about the attempted coup’s anniversary. Officials unveiled several monuments to victims of the coup, while cellphone companies sent text messages to their customers reminding them of the anniversary. Some even played a recorded message from the president before some calls.
The pageantry masked rising unease about the scale of Mr. Erdogan’s post-coup crackdown.
This time last year, mainstream political factions were united in their opposition to the coup attempt, in which more than 240 were killed and over 2,000 injured before civilians and loyalist soldiers managed to regain control.
In the year since, the political opposition has gradually grown disaffected with Mr. Erdogan’s crackdown. This purge has been used to target most forms of peaceful opposition, rather than the alleged masterminds and protagonists of the putsch, who are believed to hail largely from an Islamic movement loyal to Fethullah Gulen, the exiled Muslim cleric.
Last Sunday, hundreds of thousands of protesters turned out for a rally in Istanbul, the culmination of a three-week trek from Ankara that was led by the head of the opposition, who challenged Mr. Erdogan to institute changes or face a “revolt against injustice.”
But on Saturday, standing on the shores of the Bosporus in Istanbul, both Mr. Erdogan and his supporters appeared unapologetic about the intensity of the crackdown.
“We will rip off the heads of those traitors,” Mr. Erdogan said. “Be sure that none of the traitors who betrayed this country will remain unpunished.”
He also repeated a threat to reinstate the death penalty, a warning he has often made in the past year, and one that would end Turkey’s chances of joining the European Union.
“I don’t look at what Hans and George say,” Mr. Erdogan said, in a dig at European politicians. “I look at what Ahmet, Mehmet, Hasan, Huseyin, Ayse, Fatma and Hatice say.”
The crowds cheered at the comments. In interviews, several attendees said the president was right to prioritize the security of the state above all else.
“These things are necessary,” said Halit Emin Yildirim, a 21-year-old student at the rally. “The homeland comes first. If I don’t have a homeland, where can I have a democracy?”
Officially, however, the anniversary events were a commemoration of the failed coup’s victims and a celebration of the resilience of Turkish democracy, rather than a means of burnishing Mr. Erdogan’s brand.
“We’re actually very sad when somebody is saying that the government is taking advantage of this military coup,” said Mehdi Eker, a lawmaker and deputy head of Mr. Erdogan’s party, the Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P. Saturday’s pageantry, Mr. Eker added, was intended “to fortify the democratic institutions.”
But critics of the government say that Mr. Erdogan has tried to use the failed coup not only as the pretext to accelerate a crackdown on most forms of opposition, but also to further his vision of a new Turkey.
Since his party’s election in 2002, Mr. Erdogan, a conservative Muslim, has slowly eroded some of the foundational myths that had underpinned Turkish identity since the creation of the secular Turkey republic, in 1923.
Though avoiding a full-frontal challenge to secularism, Mr. Erdogan has long expressed a wish to create “a new Turkey.” He spoke of inspiring “a pious generation” of young Turks, steadily increased references to Islam in the national curriculum and removed some references to the ideas of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.
Mr. Erdogan has also revived interest in the Ottoman Sultans who ruled Turkey and the surrounding region before the creation of the Turkish republic, and whose legacy Ataturk sought to play down.
At noon prayers on Friday, thousands of imams read a sermon, written by the central government, that compared the failed coup’s civilian victims to those who died during the liberation struggle. In his speech on Saturday, Mr. Erdogan even cited a nationalist poem about that war.
“This is Erdogan 2.0 in tackling the secular republic,” said Aykan Erdemir, a former opposition lawmaker who is now an analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a research organization.
“Rather than tackling the secular republican vision head on, he is transforming it” by harnessing some of the key touchstones of the secular republican tradition for his own purposes, Mr. Erdemir said.
But while liberals see Mr. Erdogan as a threat to many democratic freedoms, his supporters often argue that he has upheld the civil rights that are most important to them. Since coming to power 15 years ago, he has gradually removed restrictions on public displays of Islamic piety while rapidly improving infrastructure, health care and social security programs.
Another supporter at the rally on Saturday, Mustafa Bas, a 44-year-old tile builder, remembers visiting Europe in 2000 and being crushed with disappointment that the services there might never be available in Turkey.
“I sat down and cried,” said Mr. Bas, who carried a placard in honor of a relative killed during the coup attempt. “I thought: ‘When will these things come to Turkey?’ And then Tayyip Erdogan brought them all to Turkey, all these things that citizens deserve.”