The military coup in Turkey failed on July 15. However, as a native of Turkey, my hope for continued democracy in the country was cut short.
The purge in the aftermath of the failed coup became as disastrous as if the coup had been successful. As the purge in Turkey turned into a witch hunt for groups that are also active in the U.S., like Atlas Foundation of Louisiana, it became apparent that the turmoil would have effects overseas. Atlas Foundation is part of a civic organization named the Hizmet (or Gulen) Movement, that promotes education and intercultural dialogue worldwide. Louisiana now also hosts academics and businessmen from Turkey, who are linked with the Hizmet Movement and fled from the witch hunt. Soon we may hear more about the turmoil in Turkey and its consequences. That's why it is important to understand ongoing events in Turkey.
Turkey faces two crucial issues threatening its already eroding democratic institutions and principles.
First is a fair trial and investigation of the coup is not possible in Turkey. Only an impartial international body can reveal what really happened and identify all responsible parties behind the coup.
Second, no matter who was behind this coup, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is clearly now using the coup as an excuse to consolidate his power and smash his opponents — including, but not limited to, a witch hunt for anyone linked to the Hizmet Movement. The witch hunt is excessive, used to silence opposition from any party and raising concerns. It may even lead to a genocide if the current trend continues.
A fair trial and investigation of the coup is not possible in Turkey anymore since the pressure on media, judges and intellectuals skyrocketed after the coup. There are no journalists or intellectuals who can voice criticism of the government in this environment. Since the coup, the Turkish authorities ordered a shutdown of 151 media outlets. Detainment warrants for more than 80 journalists have been issued. Moreover, almost 3,000 judges or prosecutors have been fired. The purge includes academics also. Fifteen-hundred university deans have been ordered to resign. More than 40 academics have been detained, and Turkey’s higher education board asked university presidents to “clean their universities” based on academics’ political views. People have even been detained based on their social media postings with the claim of “supporting terrorism.” Given all these incidents, along with a 30-days-long extended detainment period and Amnesty International’s report on torture of detainees in Turkey, there is no room for a fair trial, free media, free thinking, and a fair discussion of the issues in the country. Thus, we need an impartial international body to learn what really happened on July 15th.
The witch hunt is excessive. Since the coup, almost 20,000 people have been detained, and over 70,000 individuals, mostly government employees, have lost their jobs. All of this happened in a few days, showing that blacklists were ready, and Erdogan had been waiting for such an event to legitimize the vast purge. Erdogan has been using the coup attempt as an excuse for demonizing the Hizmet Movement volunteers, calling them a “virus." The minister of the economy helped him, saying: “They (Gulenists) will beg us to kill them.” The Hizmet volunteers are detained, their businesses are closed and their houses have been attacked by angry crowds. Restaurants put out front-door banners saying “No Gulenists are allowed.” Many Hizmet Movement institutions, including a humanitarian relief organization and a school, have been stoned or burned. Fifteen universities established by Hizmet have been closed, leaving all their faculty unemployed. The scope of the purge is beyond a witch hunt against the Hizmet volunteers. The label of being Hizmet-linked is used for a vast group of people, raising the concern that the purge aims to silence any opposition to Erdogan.
We will never know who is responsible for the coup without an unbiased investigation. Moreover, the pace of the post-coup purge raises concerns that we may be getting closer to Erdogan’s version of genocide. If the international community does not intervene, we may just watch it happen as Turkey sinks into a ruthless dictatorship.
* Research fellow in economics at Tulane University.
Published on The Advocate, 8 August 2016, Monday