Turks See Purge as Witch Hunt of ‘Medieval’ Darkness
Date posted: September 16, 2016
TIM ARANGO, CEYLAN YEGINSU and SAFAK TIMUR
Candan Badem teaches history at a university in southern Turkey, is a socialist and does not believe in God. But he lost his job and was hauled in by the police and accused of being a loyalist to a shadowy Islamic cleric who lives in exile in Pennsylvania.
The evidence against him: A book written by the cleric, Fethullah Gulen, was found in his office.
“It was like a bad joke,” said Mr. Badem, who says he believes the real reason he was targeted was that he signed a petition opposing the government’s war with Kurdish militants in the southeast. “What kind of reason can this be, for an academic to have a book? It is like the darkness of the medieval ages.”
Two months after a failed military coup, for which officials have blamed the disciples of Mr. Gulen, a wide-scale purge led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reached witch-hunt proportions, according to a growing chorus of critics. More than 100,000 people — teachers, military officers, judges, functionaries, airline employees, even baklava salesmen — have been arrested or fired from their jobs, all on accusations of connections to Mr. Gulen, who steadfastly denies any involvement.
Mr. Gulen, 75, a moderate Islamist theologian who runs a network of schools and charities around the world, including in the United States, was once an ally of Mr. Erdogan’s before a bitter rift a few years ago. Now Mr. Erdogan calls him a terrorist.
In its early stages, the purge was supported by many of Mr. Erdogan’s opponents, who long chafed under what they called the president’s growing authoritarianism but who said that Mr. Gulen’s influence within society needed to be wiped out.
Now, though, many have turned against the president, saying that he is using the failed coup as a pretext for enhancing his own power and that he is wielding a state of emergency to target critics of all stripes, beyond the rule of law.
“After the coup, there was a moment of national unity, as Erdogan reached out to his secular opponents for reconciliation,” said Mustafa Akyol, a leading Turkish columnist who contributes opinion pieces to The New York Times and who initially supported the purges. “That was the hope. But now that spirit is increasingly fading, and there is justified worry that the purges may ultimately serve to cleanse the state of all critics, not just Gulenists who really seem to have masterminded the coup attempt.”
Alarmingly, to his critics, Mr. Erdogan has recently expanded the purge beyond even the pretense of going after Gulenists, removing Kurdish mayors and thousands of teachers in the southeast.
“He is openly purging the democratic society,” said Baskin Oran, a retired professor and prominent writer. “Anyone who opposes him. This is as clear as day.”
Mr. Oran said he lost his job in 1980, after a military coup and subsequent purge of leftists, but was eventually reinstated. “Even under martial law, I was able to go to court and get my job back,” he said. This time, under Mr. Erdogan, he said, the government wants its critics to “get out of the way for the rest of their lives.”
Turkish officials have lately acknowledged that they may have gone too far, and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has said that crisis centers will be set up in every Turkish province to handle claims from those who feel they have been unfairly accused.
“If a mistake is made, if there is anything contrary to justice and the law, it will be reviewed after operations are completed and mistakes will be corrected,” he said in a televised speech.
But Mr. Erdogan and his subordinates have also been unapologetic about the severity of the purges, and they contend that most, if not all, of the people under suspicion for connections with the plot have been treated fairly.
“If anybody has any relations with this group of people who intended a coup d’état, we will never accept their excuses if we have enough evidence,” the deputy prime minister, Numan Kurtulmus, said in an interview with the New York Times editorial board on Sept. 7. Asked how thousands could be summarily dismissed before investigations had even begun, he said: “We obey the rule of law. The rule of law is still clear. After investigations, the courts will decide individual cases.”
In Turkey these days, there are many ways to lose your job or land in jail: holding a mortgage from the bank affiliated with Mr. Gulen; current or past enrollment in one of the cleric’s many schools; or simply owning a book or subscribing to a newspaper published by the Gulenists.
License plates with the letters FG, which might suggest an allegiance to Mr. Gulen, draw scrutiny from officials. The president has called on Turks to inform on their fellow citizens, and so the whispered word of a neighbor with a grudge could be enough to land someone in jail. So could a post on Twitter.
And if the police cannot find you, they may look for a family member. That happened in the case of Hakan Sukur, a former top soccer player who had fled to the United States, whose father was arrested. In another example, the wife of a journalist targeted by the government had her passport canceled.
Rather than focusing on people directly accused of participating in the coup plot, the purges have swept through the entire community of people who may have once been sympathetic to the ideas of Mr. Gulen.
That is no small number. A cleric who rose to prominence starting in the 1960s, Mr. Gulen has been embraced in the past by the West for espousing a vision of moderate Islam and interfaith dialogue. Gulenists have also long filled the ranks of the state — the police, judiciary and military — with the blessing of Mr. Erdogan.
While many of those who have lost their jobs, such as Mr. Badem, say they have never been sympathetic to the cleric, others readily acknowledge that they once considered themselves disciples of Mr. Gulen but say they had no role in the coup attempt.
Pelin Ozyurek, a 27-year-old schoolteacher, said she became acquainted with the Gulen movement in the same way many Turks did: by attending a private tutoring school, run by Gulenists, to prepare for her university entrance exams.
“That’s where I met the brothers and sisters of the movement,” she said in an interview. “It all started very innocently. They approached me and invited me to a picnic.”
She said that she had been persuaded in recent years to leave the movement by her husband and father, but that she still lost her job.
“I will never forget the day I was fired,” she said. “It was like someone poured boiling hot water over my head. The principal’s assistant told me by phone and made me pack up all my belongings in 20 minutes. I didn’t even get to say goodbye to the children.”
Ms. Ozyurek said that Mr. Erdogan’s Islamist government was being hypocritical, given the long alliance between his Justice and Development Party and the Gulenists.
“I am no guiltier than the government,” she said. “They were also sympathetic with the movement for many years.”
Searching for historical parallels, analysts have made comparisons with Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch hunt in 1950s America, the Stalinist purges of the 1930s and the Cultural Revolution in China in the 1960s and ’70s. Mr. Erdogan’s own spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, has likened the purges to what a unified Germany did after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 in removing civil servants and military officers who had served communist East Germany.
PM Erdoğan calls on his supporters to boycott [Hizmet’s] prep schools
Calling on his supporters to boycott prep schools, Erdoğan took another swipe at the Hizmet movement, which, according to him, pulled the trigger of the recent corruption operation.However, lawyer of Fethullah Gülen denied any involvement in the recent graft probe, strongly rejected any link to the case.
Turkish woman returned to prison immediately after giving birth
Yasemin Baltacı, who was arrested over her alleged links to the Gülen movement just two weeks before the end of her pregnancy, was reportedly returned to Manisa Prison immediately after giving birth in a hospital in Tarsus on Saturday.
Ministry of Education denies authorizing raid on Gülen-inspired schools
The Ministry of Education denied on Tuesday having authorized a raid on private schools inspired by the faith-based Gülen movement that was conducted nearly two months ago in an official written statement sent in response to an objection submitted to the ministry by a lawyer representing the school group.
Are Turkey’s Prisoners Hostages?
Rumors have circulated throughout Turkey that, under the guise of averting a prison riot, Erdogan might order his forces to fire on the prisons. It is not a scenario beyond the realm of possibility; after all, the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi did something similar, killing more than 1,000 political prisoners.
Mother of 2 detained while visiting jailed husband during Eid holiday
42-year-old Ozen Alkan was detainedon Monday, June 26 while she was visiting her husband, already under arrest over his alleged links to the Gulen movement. It was the second day of Muslim festival of Eid-Al-Fitr on Monday.
Caucasus analyst Öztarsu: Only dialogue can solve Turkish, Armenian problems
YONCA POYRAZ DOĞAN, İSTANBUL Though Turkey’s relations with Armenia have been strained by a number of historical and political issues, a Turkish Caucasus analyst who lived and studied in Armenia points out in his new book that only dialogue can solve problems. “There is a great panorama of civil society activities, and I can say […]
This notable Pocono resident has been living here in exile since 1999
Logistics companies seized over Gülen links sold in fast-track auction
That is Why the Turkish Government could Pay 1 Billion Euros
ECtHR rules Bulgaria violated rights of Turkish journalist who was deported despite seeking asylum
Fethullah Gülen’s Message of Condolences in the Wake of the Western European Floods
Pregnant woman kept in prison for 4 months over Gülen links despite regulations
Normalization of Abduction, Torture, and Death in Erdogan’s Turkey
Turkey’s Maarif Foundation illegally seized German-run school in Ethiopia, says manager
Failed 2016 coup was gov’t plot to purge Gülenists from state bodies, journalist claims
In Case You Missed It
Once Shut Down By Taleban, Now Afghan-Turk Schools to be handed over to Erdoğan Regime
Muslim world in transition: Contributions of the Gülen Movement
AK Party government removing critical voices from state bodies
U.N. rights chief questions due process in Turkey purges
President Ellen Commends Turkish School for Commitment to Pursuing Quality Education
The Public Trial of Fethullah Gulen
Turkey seizes billions of dollars worth 691 companies over alleged ties to Gülen movement