Sweeping Turkish purge extends to teachers, deans, civil servants

Binali Yildirim

Binali Yildirim

Turkish authorities on Tuesday fired tens of thousands of employees from the education and interiors ministries and shut down media outlets deemed to be supportive of a US-based cleric accused of plotting last week’s coup bid.

In rapid-fire reports Tuesday, Turkish media announced that the Ministry of Education had axed 15,200 personnel and Turkey’s Board of Higher Education had requested the resignations of more than 1,000 university deans. The Interior Ministry also announced more than 8,777 employees had been fired.

In addition, 257 people working at the office of the prime minister were dismissed and the Directorate of Religious Affairs announced it had sacked 492 staff including clerics, preachers and religious teachers.

The suspensions touched every aspect of government life and followed a pattern of purges after Friday night’s failed coup bid, which killed 232 people. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government has accused Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gulen of orchestrating the coup, a charge he has denied.

Authorities have suspended or detained close to 35,000 soldiers, police and judges since the coup bid, stirring tensions across the NATO-member nation of 80 million which borders Syria and is a key Western ally against the Islamic State (IS) group.

Reporting from the Turkish capital of Ankara, FRANCE 24’s Jasper Mortimer said the extent of the purge had sparked warnings and condemnations from the international community, including US Secretary of State John Kerry. But they appeared to be having little effect on the Turkish government.

“The way the numbers of people being sacked and arrested keeps growing makes one fear that this is not a purge of plotters, but a purge of opposition supporters, that civil servants are being fired just because they’re secularists or just because they don’t vote for Erdogan,” said Mortimer.

Turkey says it has sent dossier on cleric to US authorities

The latest purges came a day after Prime Minister Binali Yildirim vowed to bring all the coup plotters to justice, including the alleged mastermind.

On Tuesday, Yildrim told reporters his government had sent a dossier to US authorities on Gulen, whose religious movement blends conservative, Islamic values with a pro-Western outlook and who has a network of supporters within Turkey and runs highly regarded schools across the world.

“We have more than enough evidence, more than you could ask for, on Gulen,” said Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, speaking to reporters outside parliament. “There is no need to prove the coup attempt, all evidence shows that the coup attempt was organised on his will and orders.”

The US State Department said it was still analysing the documents filed in electronic form about Gulen and could not characterise them as a formal extradition request.
A request to extradite Gulen would face legal and political hurdles in the US.

The US-Turkey extradition treaty went into force in 1981 and covers any offense punishable in both countries by more than a year in prison. It does not cover offenses “of a political character”, although it does cover “any offense committed or attempted against a head of state or a head of government”.

The 75-year-old Turkish cleric — who was a close ally of Erdogan before the two men fell out, forcing Gulen into exile — has denied and belittled the Turkish government’s assertions that his movement was behind the coup.

Turkey demands extradition of pilots from Greece

Ankara says followers of Gulen, who lives on a compound in Pennsylvania’s Pocono mountains, have infiltrated Turkey’s institutions and are running a “parallel state”.

Seeking to quash any suggestion of lingering instability, the army said it had resumed full control. Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus denied reports 14 naval vessels were missing and their commanders were seeking to defect.

Kurtulmus also told reporters 9,322 people were under legal proceedings in relation to the attempted coup.

Eight soldiers have sought asylum in neighbouring Greece and Turkey says they must be handed back or it will not help relations between the neighbours, which have long been uneasy.

In a defiant speech in parliament, Yildirim said the fact civilians had been targeted in the attempted power grab by a faction in the military made it unprecedented in the history of Turkey, which last saw a violent coup more than 30 years ago.

“I’m sorry but this parallel terrorist organisation will no longer be an effective pawn for any country,” Yildirim said. “We will dig them up by their roots so that no clandestine terrorist organisation will have the nerve to betray our blessed people again.”

Death penalty under the spotlight

Meanwhile Erdogan’s remarks on Monday that Turkey could restore the death penalty have sparked warnings from EU officials.

Turkey scrapped capital punishment in 2004 as part of its push to join the EU, and European leaders have warned Ankara that restoring it would derail its EU aspirations.

But in the aftermath of the coup, Erdogan has repeatedly called for parliament to consider his supporters’ demands to apply the death penalty for the plotters.

Yildirim said Turkey would respect the rule of law and not be driven by revenge in prosecuting suspected coup plotters.

Speaking alongside the leader of the main secularist opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), he said the country must avoid the risk that some people try to exploit the current situation.

“We need unity … and brotherhood now,” he said.

The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), a right-wing grouping and the smallest of the three opposition parties represented in parliament, said it would back the government if it decides to restore the death penalty.