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Turkey-France

Turks in France divided on failed coup

Turkish restaurants on Faubourg St Denis street in Paris' 10th district, August 5 2016
Turkish restaurants on Faubourg St Denis street in Paris' 10th district, August 5 2016 Christina Okello for RFI

Turkey's crackdown on the military and on public sector workers following last month's failed coup has divided public opinion, at home and abroad. Of the estimated 275,000 Turks living in France, many are supporters of the ruling Justice and Development party, the AKP. But not all French Turks are Erdogan supporters.

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Finished dresses hang on rails in a modest tailor's shop near central Paris. Owner Niyazi Kenter is busy stitching new garments.

The grinding sound of the sewing machine throws him back to the night of Turkey's failed coup on July 15 where tanks and helicopters pounded parliament and the presidential palace.

"I've never seen anything like it," Kenter says, "when we suffered a military coup in 1980, it was never this violent."

 At least 265 people were killed in the violence and at least 1,440 wounded.

"No one talks about our martyrs [...] everyone is quick to judge and criticize Erdogan, but where is the sympathy?" Kenter asks angrily.

Officials in the United States and Europe have tended to be critical rather than supportive of Turkey's handling of the failed coup attempt.

"When Charlie Hebdo was attacked, Turkey was at France's side, when the same thing happens to us, there's a radio silence," Kenter complains.

For many Turks like him, July 15th is on a par with 9/11. 

And the response --which has seen 18,000 people either arrested or sacked-- is proportional to the level of the threat, believes Kenter.

Further downtown in Paris' bustling market area dubbed Little Istanbul, views are quite different.

Staged coup

"I think the coup was staged because you had several military officers who didn't even realize a coup was going on. They thought it was a standard drill exercise," Rojdin, a Kurdish restaurant worker told RFI.

"Erdogan sacrificed his own military officers [...] and now he's trying to blame Fethullah Gulen, so that European leaders will have a good opinion of him and let Turkey enter the EU."

The Turkish president has been categorical in his condemnation of the US-based cleric, whom he accuses of plotting to overthrow him.

These accusations have been rejected by Gulen, but regardless, Turkey has issued a warrant for his arrest.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's determination to purge the state of Gulenist sympathizers has sparked fear among human rights campaigners that the coup attempt is being used to crack down on dissidents.

Yet this analysis doesn't take into account the support the Turkish president enjoys, and the fact that many Turks rallied behind him to defeat the coup plotters.

Kenter has his response: "We're here for democracy, to defend democracy," he says in reference to the hundreds of people who continue to camp out on the streets of Istanbul to thwart further attacks.

He defends Erdogan's democracy doggedly.

He still remembers the 1980 military coup and the quasi-starvation he endured. "There was nothing to eat, you had to walk for miles just for a loaf of bread, and many bakeries were out of stock," he recalls.

"That image is forever engraved in my memory," he says.

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