ISTANBUL–Three days after Turkey’s short-lived late evening putsch last Friday, the country is reeling from its aftermath as the government arrests its opponents in the armed forces, judiciary, police, and civil service by the thousands.

Around 3,000 army officers (including 34 generals) have been detained. The judiciary and especially the Supreme Courts and the Constitutional Court have also seen a similar number of detainees — nearly one in three of the judges in Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals. Though the police force remained loyal to the government and lost more than 40 lives in clashes during the attempted take-over, 8,777 police officers have been reassigned and about 148 detained.

The courts have begun hearing cases and have already charged three of Turkey’s most senior generals with treason, including the two top generals fighting the Kurdish insurgency the southeast, General Adem Huduti, commander of the Second Army who has presided over curfew operations clearing out Kurdish militants in the region’s main town and Major General Avni Angun, in charge of operations to the north. A former Air Force Commander, General Akin Ozturk, has also been charged. Across Turkey it seems that more than half of the military’s garrison commanders are being held and about one-third of the country’s brigadiers.

There are reports of suspensions in other parts of the civil service, with all public employees under orders to return from their holidays and present themselves at their post.

Members of the police special forces are seen in front of the Air Force Academy in Istanbul, Turkey, July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir

Junior officer’s putsch

This strong reaction is not in itself surprising: Friday’s attempted coup was the bloodiest such episode in Turkey’s troubled history of five major military interventions during the last century and 208 people died in the course of it. But there seems little likelihood that such a large number of people could have been privy to the conspiracy. The coup-makers themselves seem to have numbered fewer than 140 officers, none of them above the rank of colonel and a good many of them only lieutenants.

Preplanned purge?

Johannes Hahn, EU Enlargement Commissioner is just one of those who have commented that the huge number of officials purged strongly suggests that the government is using lists of opponents prepared before Friday—not just for army officers (where it does seem to have had a genuine problem with a number of officers looking to the US-based Sufi cleric Fethullah Gülen) but for judges and prosecutors as well.

By removing so many of the judiciary — who will presumably be replaced by hastily selected government appointees — President Erdoğan  has ensured a major shift in the way the law works in Turkey. This is not a surprise: it passed legislation in June opening the way for tighter control of the Supreme Courts and giving it powers to remove over 700 senior judges.

Other legal changes seem to be in store. Government supporters are calling for the execution of many of the plotters and the president and prime minister have said that they are considering the matter. The EU has warned that reintroduction of the death penalty would bring Turkey’s slow-moving negotiations to join the EU to a swift end. Turkey’s international position would be even more seriously affected if the penalty was applied retrospectively to last week’s conspirators, as this would amount to lifting the rule of law.

A less radical proposal is for gun legislation to be lifted to make it easier for supporters of the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) “to defend the country against coups.” This means in effect arming them for possible confrontations with the armed forces, and might seem an unlikely move for a government which has for years used tear-gas and water-cannons to suppress all demonstrations by leftist and liberal Turks.

President Erdoğan, however, has made it clear that he wants his supporters — Turkey’s lower income religiously conservative groups — on the streets for at least a week to give him their backing. Quite why this should be, since no immediate challenge to his authority seems to be in sight, is hard to say.

But his move is transforming national life as Muslim traditionalists chanting prayer slogans in Arabic and wearing Middle Eastern rather than western costume, have flooded the squares of all large Turkish towns — and sometimes turned on groups to whom they are opposed. Districts populated by Turkey’s 18 million Alevis, a non-Sunni sect which is the country’s largest religious minority, have complained that they are coming under growing pressure.

To secular middle class Turks it looks as if the AKP is preparing to slough off nearly 200 years of westernization in Turkey. They were dumbfounded on Sunday to hear prayers at a funeral service for coup victims attended by President Erdoğan “for Allah to protect us against the malice of [western] educated people.”

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