Thursday, July 28, 2016

July 2016 Turkish Purge

In July 2016, the government of Turkey began a purge against members of its own civil and military service in reaction to a failed coup d'état that occurred that same month. The purge focused mainly on public servants and soldiers alleged to be part of the Gülen movement—the group the government blamed for the coup.

Tens of thousands of public servants and soldiers were purged in the first week following the coup. For example, on 16 July 2016, just one day after the coup was foiled, 2,745 judges were dismissed and detained. This was followed by the dismissal, detention or suspension of about 50,000 officials.

The government declared a state of emergency and temporarily suspended its compliance to the European Convention on Human Rights—an international treaty ratified by Turkey that protects human rights and fundamental freedoms. As a reaction to these developments, Amnesty International called for the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture to make an emergency visit to Turkey to observe the conditions in which the detainees were held. Human rights groups criticized the treatment of prisoners, which included the denial of food, water, medical treatment, and contact with family and lawyers, as well as rape and torture. One notable event was the beating of three hundred soldiers detained in the Turkish capital of Ankara.

The purges were criticized by both national and international commentators. Can Dündar, the editor-in-chief of the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, for example, described the event as "the biggest witch-hunt in Turkey's history", and both US President Barack Obama and EU Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini said that the purges and torture represented a setback for human rights in Turkey.


In 2005, a man affiliated with the Gülen movement approached then-U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Eric S. Edelman during a party in Istanbul, and handed him an envelope containing a document supposedly detailing plans for an imminent coup against the government by the Turkish military. However, the documents were found to be forgeries by his colleagues. Gülen affiliates claim the movement is "civic" in nature and that it does not have political aspirations.

In January 2014, during a major corruption enquiry in Turkey, 96 judges and prosecutors, including the chief prosecutor of Izmir, Huseyin Bas, were transferred to new locations, causing investigations into corruption to cease. Bas was transferred to Samsun. Altogether 120 judges and prosecutors were reassigned. At the time, The Daily Telegraph described the events as "the biggest purge of the judiciary in [Turkey's] history". From 2014 to mid-2016, repeated purges of civilian, military and judicial officials took place in Turkey, mainly aimed at followers of Fethullah Gülen, a former colleague of the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Sectors Affected

In the wake of the coup attempt's failure, during the first post-coup speech Erdoğan could address to the nation upon landing at Atatürk airport, he called the coup a "gift of God" as it would allow him to "cleanse" the army of the Gülen "virus" and create a "new Turkey".

An extensive purge of the Turkish civil service began in the wake of the 2016 Turkish coup d'état attempt, with President Erdoğan warning his opponents that "they will pay a heavy price for this." The New York Times described the purges as a "counter-coup" and expected the president to "become more vengeful and obsessed with control than ever, exploiting the crisis not just to punish mutinous soldiers but to further quash whatever dissent is left in Turkey".

On 18 July, U.S. State Secretary John Kerry urged Turkish authorities to halt the increasing crackdown on its citizens, indicating that the crackdown was meant to "suppress dissent". French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault voiced concern, warning against a "political system which turns away from democracy" in response to the purges.

The United Nations have been accused of being thus far unresponsive against purges that have involved large numbers of people from a variety of social ranks, while at the same time also failing to condemn the coup and resulting violence due to Egypt's veto against a resolution in that direction.


Can Dündar, Editor-in-chief of the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, described the purges as part of a historical pattern of political power in Turkey shifting back and forth between the secular military versus religious institutions, with democrats in the middle having little power to prevent the repeated oscillations, but worse than previous cycles. He described the 2016 purges as "the biggest witch-hunt in Turkey's history". Historians and analysts including Henri J. Barkey, Director of the Middle East Program of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, compared the 2016 Turkish purges to Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution that started in 1966 and the Iranian Cultural Revolution in which Iranian academia was purged during 1980–1987.

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