Turkey’s purge takes a heavy toll

Sunday 07/05/2017
Shattered lives. Relatives of suspects accused of involvement in last year’s failed coup in Turkey sit in front of the Sincan Prison in Ankara, last February. (AFP)

Optimists predicted that once Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had won the referendum giving his office more power, he would start showing signs of softening. How wrong they were. The opposite happened.
Following the April 16 referen­dum, party membership was once more possible for Erdogan. He was keen on being approved in a ceremony and has delivered a speech as a member of the Justice and Development Party (AKP).
It was the same rhetoric, as loud as ever. Talking about those affected by the purge, Erdogan said: “There could be those who would meet you, shedding tears. Don’t ever show mercy for those whining. If we show mercy, we turn into those to be shown mercy.”
Meanwhile, decrees keep landing. Two new ones meant that nearly 4,000 more people were sacked. Among them were 484 academicians, which brought the number of cleansed scholars to more than 8,000 since the coup attempt in July 2016. In total, nearly 150,000 people have been removed from their jobs.
This has taken a heavy toll. A report by the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), said that since July 20, the date of the implementa­tion of emergency rule, at least 37 people have committed suicide, most of them civil servants. After the latest decrees were issued, two police officers ended their lives, using, like many others, pistols provided to them by the state.
The BBC reported that a senior teacher, Ergul Yildiz, killed himself on Teachers’ Day last November soon after being purged. His brother said Yildiz was unable to get over being sacked. He changed completely, the brother said, and “what upset him most of all was that people were turning their faces away whenever they saw him on the street. People he knew had stopped talking to him.”
The family felt the humiliation, too.
Then, there are those who seem to be doomed to an exist­ence in the twilight zone. Excommunicated, in contempla­tion over whether the life that they have been forced into is worth living any longer.
One of them was public prosecutor Seyfullah Cakmak, who has been kept in solitary confinement for 275 days. Accused of being part of the Gulen Movement, which Erdogan considers a terrorist organisation that was behind the coup attempt, Cakmak had been sacked from his job, his salary terminated.
It was his wife who brought his case forward. In a letter to a human rights activist, who made it public, she wrote that she was left with three children, two of whom were disabled, confined to beds since their birth. Hers was a scream of help: Alone at home, with no income, she desperately sought financial assistance for her children, in vain. Authorities asked that she be cut off from her children by having them sent to some form of protective care.
As for her husband, she wrote that, being impeccable and loved at his work, there was no evi­dence pointing to any affiliation other than his work.
Having spent more than nine months in a cell, the prosecutor has been diagnosed with depres­sion but calls for him being placed in a ward were rejected.
This is only one case among thousands. The conditions of others, such as Kurds affiliated with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), are not different. Maltreatment has become a matching word with the AKP rule under the state of emergency. There should be no surprise if further suicides occur.
In a broader context, the large-scale indiscriminate incarceration of the opposition segments may trigger discontent against Erdogan. The punitive measures and the arbitrary purge en masse have resulted in nearly 50,000 people — Gulenists, Kurds, judges, prosecutors, officers, soldiers, police officers, public servants, academicians and journalists — being detained. Add them to the 150,000 purged plus the more than 500,000 displaced Kurds and estimates indicate that more than 2.5 million people have been directly or indirectly affected by Erdog­an’s crackdown.
Under the current conditions there is no authority these people can turn to with a hope of having any effect. Those in jail have been systematically refused in their demands to be tried on free foot, while the government’s pledge to establish a commission to handle the complaints of those sacked has failed.
The narrow margin by which Erdogan won the critical referen­dum that gave him more power may be changed in his disfavour if the number of those doomed to be underdogs increases, which would be as predicted. The question is whether the presi­dential and parliamentary elections in 2019 will therefore mark his fall.