Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Turkey, a Subterranean Hotbed of Intrigue

"The A.I.P.'s own cadres are filling the void [left by Erdogan's mass purge within Turkey's bureaucracy across government departments and the military]."
"They want to establish a bureaucratic structure that accepts whatever the politicians say."
Kemal Kilidaroglu, leader, Turkey's largest political opposition

"The perception among Turks is that Erdogan rules everything, but that's not the case."
"There are various groups, all different to each other, that previously plotted against each other, but are now in alliance [against the Gulenists]."
"If you purge 30 to 40 percent of the judiciary, in a sense you purge it all. There’s no tradition left and no knowledge left."
"As long as he depends on these alliances [Islamist and ultra-right parties], a new betrayal may be on the horizon, too."
Justice Orhan Gazi Ertekin, head, Democratic Judicial Association

A sign in Istanbul asks for yes votes on Sunday in a referendum that would expand the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who is pictured on the sign. Credit Chris McGrath/Getty Images

The failed coup that roiled Turkey in the summer of 2016 gave Recep Tayyip Erdogan the righteous opportunity to sweep through the judiciary, the police, public servants, journalists and teachers, to accuse those he linked with the Gulenist movement claimed to have been behind the attempted coup, of betrayal of their country. By stripping 130,000 people of their jobs, by firing or suspending them as dissidents, Erdogan has left the country in a partially dysfunctional state.

His most immediate reaction and purpose in targeting those he suspected of links to cleric Fethullah Gulen, once a trusted colleague turned enemy, was to purge the entire government bureaucracy of critics, the potential bulwark of an opposition movement well enough entrenched to present an existential problem in the future to his ongoing presidency in the power structure of the country. The sweep was meant to root out leftists and those advocating for a return to secularism and a more robust democracy, and it did.

Half of the fourteen professors at Ankara University in its human rights law department were dismissed, leaving the department half-staffed and unable to supervise its student population adequately, so half of the courses were scrapped, and no new students can be admitted for the following academic year since remaining professors have had their student load tripled with no capacity left to supervise new students.

"How can we write our dissertations?", pleaded a master's student left without a supervisor. To which the department head, Professor Kerem Altiparmak responds: "If our professors are not reinstated, this program will end. These are the last students we will see in this program." Precisely.  A situation which has led those impacted by this new reality to wonder whether this was indeed the purpose of the dismissals, to hamper the university's liberal view by rendering it incapable of infusing it into the mindsets of its students.
Supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey at a campaign rally in Ankara. Credit Chris Mcgrath/Getty Images
Of army officers, over 8,000 were dismissed; 8,000 police officers and 5,000 academics. Law and justice has been hit hard, with 4,000 judges and prosecutors having been forced out. The enormous social cost to the country cannot be underestimated. The fallout to date has been the closure of 1,200 schools, a whopping 50 hospitals, and 15 universities. Representing the dismantling of a significant proportion of the civil infrastructure required by any country to fulfill the needs of its citizens.

Sezgin Yurdakul, 40, whose daughter was a student at a Gulen-operated school on a scholarship, knows all about the situation. Turkey has become "like an open-air prison", he says ruefully after being fired from the Istanbul ferry system, pointedly because his daughter's school did not sit well with the government authorities. And while Erdogan supporters insist a large range of groups fills the void left by people like Mr. Yurdakul, others claim it is loyalists, Islamists filling the vacant positions, particularly members of the Justice and Development Party.

According to Mustafa Karadag, head of the judges' union, positions vacant in the judiciary resulting from the loss of almost one-third of all former incumbents were filled by novices lacking adequate training, accreditation and experience who are capable of proving they belong to a legal guild with links to the ruling A.K.P. The government, in its defence denies all of this and it has reluctant support even from among its critics who point out that the purges were too widespread and numerous to be filled by A.K.P. members alone.

Leaving Mr. Erdogan to rely on right-wing nationalists, hard-left nationalists, recalled retirees and those with inadequate background in any of the disciplines whose gaps they have filled. In fact, the far right Nationalist Movement Party cast the critical votes to boost the 'yes' results in the referendum, enabling Mr. Erdogan to secure the parliamentary backing he needed. 

The leader of the arch-secularist Patriotic Party who had once pledged he would "demolish" Erdogan's government made a statement of more recent vintage: "There's no reason for us to fight. We became side by side. They [the A.K.P. and Erdogan] are now following our program." A puzzling statement from a secularist party, but not one dedicated to patriotism of the Turkish variety.

Opponents of a move to expand the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey waved a Turkish flag with a picture of the country’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, last Wednesday in Istanbul. Credit Bulent Kilic/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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