As Turks celebrate the defeat of the recent coup attempt with night rallies, the government continues its massive purge of army and civilian state staff to prevent future coup attempts. But the number of people jailed or dismissed is so massive that it is hard to see how they can get a fair trial. Scared by the violent deaths of 260 people, angry at Gülen and his presumed Western protectors, Turks feel inclined to nurse their wounds in isolation
In towns across Turkey, banners are fluttering and giant portraits of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hang above meeting places decked out with flags and facilities for Islamic prayers — and perhaps also food for those who attend nightly rallies to celebrate the defeat of the 15 July attempted coup.
The meetings, which even resident foreigners describe as “fairly enjoyable occasions”, began the night after the coup and will continue until 7 August.
If the gatherings sound a little like revolutionary occasions, that is because they are. By night, the ruling AKP celebrates its victory. By day, it is reshaping the country, swiftly remodeling institutions going back 200 years to the start of the westernization process in Turkey.
At the start of this week, the Official Gazette published a framework decree giving the government sweeping powers to restructure the 620,000-strong Turkish Armed Forces, the second largest armed force in NATO. For many years, the soldiers ran the army as an autonomous corporation, answerable only to the prime minister—and before the AKP took power in 2002, one able to do what the generals wanted on many matters without consulting the politicians.
Thanks to the 15 July coup attempt, 119 Turkish generals and admirals are now under arrest in prison. This is exactly one in three of the total and a much larger number than seem to have taken part in the putsch. But the background picture of dismissals is at least equally startling.
As of the end of July, 67,000 civilian government officials had been removed from their duties. The purge has affected every government agency and every one of Turkey’s 81 provinces. Universities and academics are also affected and the former deputy prime minister, Ali Babacan, has pledged that there will be a strict purging of the private sector.
This last step indeed started for the private sector in 2015 with moves by the government to take over media firms and some conglomerates owned by businessmen linked to the Gülen movement.
Though the arrests and sackings have caused an outcry in Western Europe, many Turks have greeted them without demur, invariably pointing out that it seems to be only Gülenists who are being removed. “All those dismissed were known Gülen-supporters,” is a remark one hears again and again from university teachers and civil servants about former colleagues. Possession of over 600 Gülen-movement books is now a serious crime.
Claims that the lists of dismissals were prepared before the coup and consist simply of opponents are firmly rejected by government officials who say that they are based on the Gülenists’ own internal lists, intercepted earlier this year when Turkish intelligence cracked ByLock, an internet app for sending coded data.
The discovery took place months before the coup bid and did not affect it. The argument is that Turkey faced an enormous, and invisible, but deadly secret society and must proceed ruthlessly against it.
Most Turks go along, at least more or less, with this line of argument since they know that despite the authoritarian features of Turkey’s present government, the coup, had it succeeded, would have to have been fiercely repressive in order to hold down what would probably have been a tidal wave of opposition across the country.
Though some indictments, including one for Fethullah Gülen, the United States-based Sufi leader of the movement, have now been issued, it is hard to see how such a vast number of people can receive a fair trial or what the criteria for evidence will be, with the judiciary itself drastically purged: the Justice Minister announced in July that 3,000 new judges are currently being recruited.
To make matters worse, there is fairly strong circumstantial evidence that some confessions were extracted through ill-treatment. One lawyer even boasts that he was able to beat up a coup general in prison.
Relieved that normal life has been resumed, after an uprising which saw the bombing of parliament, most Turks are not quibbling over these points. The storm of criticism and cynicism about the coup in Europe and the Western world, has thus annoyed even opponents of President Erdoğan—partly because they perceive likely connections between the Gülen movement and some of the hostile media coverage.
Feeling deeply misunderstood, scared by the violent deaths of 260 people, angry at Gülen and his presumed Western protectors, Turks feel inclined to nurse their wounds in isolation. Opinion polls suggest that about 80% believe the US had a hand in the coup.
A parting of the ways between Turkey and the West would be complex and painful but one has never looked more likely.