A Year After Coup Attempt, Erdogan's Purge Shows No Sign Of Slowing

Jul 14, 2017
Originally published on July 14, 2017 7:53 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Turkey is marking the one-year anniversary today of a failed military coup that attempted to topple the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. That startling uprising by renegade soldiers stunned the country and cost the lives of 249 civilians. Now the government is using this anniversary to justify the sweeping crackdown that followed the failed coup. Let's talk about this with NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul.

Good morning, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: So how exactly is the government characterizing this day?

KENYON: Well, first of all, as you can imagine, a big focus on those civilians who were killed - they're being honored and mourned. But then, basically, there's no apologies for this massive government purge and crackdown that's happened since then. There's been about 140,000 people fired, businesses worth some $11 billion seized, more than 50,000 people facing charges. We have seen some coup trials finally get underway recently. But more people are still being detained all the time.

You know, this may have started with coup suspects. But critics say it's gone way beyond that to target political opponents of Mr. Erdogan. Now, the government is hoping to brush all that aside or maybe drown out this criticism. They'll be a lot of events. President Erdogan will be standing on the bridge over the Bosphorus tomorrow night. Then at 2:30 in the morning Sunday, he's giving another speech. So we'll be seeing a lot of sort of semi-reenactments.

GREENE: I just can't believe those numbers you just gave me. I mean, 140,000 people fired, 50,000...

KENYON: Yeah.

GREENE: ...In the country facing charges - I mean, this is a stunning number of people who are caught up in this.

KENYON: It is. And I've been talking to some of them. And they say, it's like your life just changes overnight. Your name is on some piece of paper, an emergency decree, and all of a sudden, you've got no income. You're not allowed to travel. Your friends stop calling. They're afraid to be seen with you. Some families have become estranged.

And people say they were caught up for things like banking at a certain bank that's been linked to the coup suspects or because they had a certain messaging app on their phone. I mean, others say they lost their jobs simply because they're opposition people. The government denies that.

I did meet a lawyer recently who attended a big opposition rally. And she - her name is a Elif Yar. I said, well, what do you want the government to do? And here's a little of what she said. I'll give you the translation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ELIF YAR: (Speaking Turkish).

KENYON: Now, she's saying, "as a lawyer, I want to see our justice system get back to being independent. There's way too much political influence," she says. That's No. 1. Then, of course, the state of emergency has to end. They have to stop firing people by decree. Of course, President Erdogan has his own ideas about that. He's already pretty much ruled out any chance the emergency will be allowed to expire next week. He says maybe in the not-too-distant future, but he's really not going to be much more specific than that.

And they say the reason is this U.S.-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen, they say he's got this vast, mysterious organization that they're still trying to get their heads around. What they don't mention is that until a few years ago, Erdogan's government was allied with Gulen.

GREENE: To have a leader who is carrying out this kind of crackdown, Peter, I mean, this matters, not just in Turkey. But what kind of country Turkey is really matters on the world stage.

KENYON: It definitely does. I mean, there's more uncertainty about that and where its alliances are going to fall. It's a NATO alley, but - it's a NATO ally, but Ankara's having a number of disputes over Syria, the fight against ISIS. Turkey's been attacking Syrian Kurdish fighters that the U.S. supports. It's taking sides in the Persian Gulf dispute. So as you said, the question is, are these moves temporary or a more permanent shift? That's what people are trying to figure out.

GREENE: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Peter, thanks.

KENYON: Thanks, David.

(SOUNDBITE OF HIJAZ'S "GIRL FROM PIRDOP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.