The Turkish people defeated the July 15th coup attempt. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan remains in office today because Turkish citizens (across Turkey’s complex political and ethnic spectrum) courageously defended their hard-won democracy—a democracy nine challenging decades in the making.
It appears Erdogan’s government has now smashed the coup plot—and rather decisively. Coup d’états against democratic states are criminal acts. Coup perpetrators deserve punishment as justified by law.
I fear we witness a bitter, hostile irony of history-in-the-making. Contrary to his claims he is defending democracy, Erdogan’s actions in the last five days have damaged—if not quite dismantled—key elements of the very democratic system that saved him and his government.
He has already moved from justified legal action to vengeful, self-serving purge. That stinks of dictatorial power grab, going Full Ottoman, with Erdogan living down to his deserved nickname: Sultan Recep.
Is purge a loaded word? Look at the numbers. So far he has suspended, fired or revoked the licenses of 60,000 civil servants (58,881 is one precise figure) working in various positions. If that sounds like a large number of people, it is.
Turkey’s judiciary and educational systems are primary targets. At last count, over 21,000 employees of the Education Ministry have been fired or suspended, including more than 1,500 university deans. Over 1,600 private education institutions with links to Gulen and his movement are being closed.
Government officials say that purged employees will have their day in court—which makes the judiciary purge even more disturbing. So far the government has dismissed 2,745 judges and prosecutors. In The Financial Times, Istanbul human rights lawyer Ayse Bingol asks some pertinent questions: “We are talking about arrest warrants issued for thousands of people. How were they issued? Based on what facts? Is it a kind of witch-hunt or is there respect for the rule of law?”
The judiciary purge includes members of Turkey’s highest court, the Constitutional Court. Erdogan had two Constitutional Court judges, Alparslan Altan and Erdal Tercal, dismissed and then detained. Both men have Gulenist sympathies. However, members of the court have opposed and struck down legislative and legal measures that Erdogan favored. According to Erdogan’s critics, the measures he advocated would cede even more power to the presidency.
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