In Turkey / Türkiye

Commentary by Simon A. Waldman, published in The Globe and Mail, July 25, 2016

The attempted military coup in Turkey ended in total failure. Within 24 hours, the AKP government and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan regained control. Within hours, it initiated a purge against the organizers.

Protected by bodyguards, President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan, centre, walks through a crowd of supporters in Istanbul on July 16, 2016 (Murad Sezer, Reuters)

Protected by bodyguards, President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan, centre, walks through a crowd of supporters in Istanbul on July 16, 2016 (Murad Sezer, Reuters)

But the government’s crackdown was not limited to the ranks of the military, a faction of which were the instigators of the coup. It was extended to the judiciary, schools, universities, the police and intelligence agencies and government workers. Thousands of people have either been arrested or removed from their posts. Prosecutions, further arrests and detentions are inevitable, especially after the government announced a state of emergency giving it further powers to arrest and detain those it suspects.

But why has the purge been so extensive? The Turkish government suspects that the coup was orchestrated by the Gulen movement, followers of Fethullah Gulen, an influential Islamic preacher in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. They are believed to be present in many institutions of state.

Mr. Gulen is one of Turkey’s most influential and controversial Islamic scholars. The network that follows him classifies itself as a community, the “Hizmet” (the Service), seeking to be a modern and moderate face of Islam and opposed to extremism.

However, the Gulen movement has also been accused of having a secret agenda to infiltrate the state and to Islamize Turkey. This would be achieved by members embedding themselves within state institutions such as the education system, the judiciary, the police force, the state bureaucracy and the military. In other words, it is believed that the Gulen movement established, in the parlance of Mr. Erdogan and the AKP, a “parallel structure” within the state.

When the AKP came to power in 2002, it found common cause with the Gulen movement. Both the AKP and the “Hizmet” had a common goal; they both feared the military, which at the time was still Turkey’s bastion of secularism. Prone to interventions (1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997), the military was suspicious of both the AKP and the followers of Mr. Gulen. Together they took action.

It is widely believed that Gulen sympathizers were responsible for the Ergenekon and Balyoz cases from 2008 onwards, in which hundreds of military personnel were arrested, tried and convicted for planning coups against the AKP (all of the convictions were either overturned or nullified by 2016).

Now, with the military seemingly out of the frame, the AKP, with the support of the Gulen movement, was able to dominate the Turkish political landscape without having to fear a military intervention. However, soon the AKP and the Gulen movement had a major falling out that would wreak havoc in Turkey.

In 2010, Mr. Gulen criticized the Turkish flotilla that was sent to try to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza that left nine Turks dead after Israeli commandos boarded the vessel. This angered Mr. Erdogan, who had made a point of criticizing Israel over its policies in Gaza.

Meanwhile, the Gulen movement disapproved of Mr. Erdogan’s so-called Kurdish Opening and behind-the-scene-talks between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a central plank of the AKP’s platform. Mr. Gulen was also fiercely critical of the government’s handling of the Gezi Park protests of 2013, which left several Turks dead after attempting to resist a government-backed plan to replace a centrally located park with a shopping mall.

Soon this dispute turned into all-out conflict after Mr. Erdogan blamed the Gulen movement of leaking tapes to the press and social media in December, 2013 which alleged widespread corruption in government circles that included cabinet members and even Mr. Erdogan himself.

Mr. Erdogan’s response was swift and led a full front assault against the Gulen movement with the closing of schools and media outlets associated with the movement as well as purges and reshuffles within the police force and judiciary to marginalize Mr. Gulen’s followers.

It is in this context, if the government is to be believed, that the recent coup attempt took place by Gulenist sympathizers within the military. This was the final straw for the government. They will use this opportunity to, in Mr. Erdogan’s words, “cleanse” not only the military from Gulenist influence but also all institutions of state, no less the judiciary and education system.

However, the extent of the crackdown so far has been shocking. The concern is that the government has not limited itself to ousting known conspirators but also mere suspects, considered guilty before proven innocent, or those who simply hold opposing political views. In other words, the Gulen movement has become an excuse for Mr. Erdogan to consolidate further power.

Simon A. Waldman is co-author of the forthcoming ‘The New Turkey and its Discontents’ and a lecturer in Middle Eastern Studies at King’s College London.


Turkish lawyers report abuse of coup detainees

By Loveday Morris, The Washington Post, July 24, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey — Thousands of people taken into custody since Turkey’s attempted coup are being held in sports facilities and stables, where some have been beaten and mistreated, according to lawyers familiar with the cases.

Lawyers from the Ankara Bar Association’s human rights commission say members have reported the alleged abuses after trying to meet with clients. Other lawyers and human rights organizations have made similar allegations.

In addition to verbal and physical abuse, clients complained about a lack of food and that their hands have been bound for days, said Sercan Aran, deputy head of the commission. The mistreatment is “systematic,” he said, while lawyers have been prevented from documenting physical signs of beatings and abuse.

The Turkish government strongly denies the allegations, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stressed in interviews that due process is being followed. “We are doing everything according to the law,” said a Turkish official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in line with government protocol. He said that the law is being upheld and that he “categorically denies” that prisoners have been abused in custody.

The United States and European nations have urged Turkey to maintain democracy and respect for human rights after the brazen attempted coup, which left at least 232 people dead after a rebel faction of the military bombed parliament and police bases with hijacked aircraft.

In a large-scale crackdown on alleged coup plotters, more than 9,000 people — largely troops — have been taken into custody, while 50,000 others have been fired from their jobs or suspended while they are investigated. Erdogan, who has declared a state of emergency, has pledged to “cleanse” what he has described as a “cancer” that has metastasized in the country.

“Right now, law is suspended,” Aran said. “We see investigations going on without any rule of law. Yes, the military intervention was stopped, the military dictatorship was stopped, but right now we see they are trying to build a civilian dictatorship.”

The state of emergency has compounded fears among lawyers and human rights groups that the rule of law will be eroded, which would threaten Turkey’s long-standing bid to join the European Union.

“The idea that Turkey, a country seeking European Union membership, would not respect the law is absurd,” the Turkish official said, pointing out that 1,200 of the detained were released on Saturday. “All we care about is concrete evidence of complicity in this grave assault,” he said.

Before the emergency law was announced, detainees were already being held without charge longer than legally allowed, lawyers said. Under the new measures, suspects can be held for up to 30 days. Some are also being denied the right to speak privately with attorneys and to call a next of kin, according to lawyers and families searching for information about missing relatives.

The Ankara Bar Association has set up a 24-hour hotline and crisis center, where phones ring incessantly. In a state of fear about being seen as sympathetic to coup plotters or critical of the Turkish government, most lawyers and family members declined to be quoted by name.

“Crisis Center,” said one curly-haired lawyer as she picked up one of four phone lines. “Have you called previously?”

“Tell me his name,” she said.

She typed the name of the caller’s missing husband into her computer and came up with a match. “He’s in the academy sports hall,” she said, then added: “Don’t go. They aren’t letting anyone visit.” She told the caller that the man hadn’t been appointed an attorney but to call back the next day for an update.

On Thursday, 2,398 troops were in custody in the Ankara area, according to a list of names the police had sent to the lawyers. It showed that 1,086 were being held at a police academy’s sports facility. A further 452 were being held at a volleyball court, 354 at another sports facility and 304 at an equestrian center. Others were being held at an intelligence building and other detention facilities. On Friday, the police sent more names, bringing the number of service members recorded as being in custody in Ankara to 4,218.

The call center covers only the Ankara area. For the families of people detained in Istanbul and elsewhere, there is no such service.

The Ankara Bar Association has assigned 961 of its lawyers to coup-related cases, but most of the bar’s 3,000 criminal lawyers are too afraid to take them on or are politically opposed to doing so, Aran said.

Dogukan Tonguc Cankurt, another lawyer with the bar association, said that attorneys representing clients connected with the coup have faced harassment. “If they try to record signs of torture, they face threats and violence from the police,” he said. “A colleague that tried to photograph evidence of torture was made to erase the photos.”

The prosecutors office gave the Ankara Bar Association a list of 189 lawyers who aren’t allowed to represent coup plotters. Most had represented past cases linked to the Gulen movement. The Turkish government accuses its leader, Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, of being behind the coup, a claim he has denied. The Islamic scholar Turkey blames for the failed coup.

In one official written statement, a general who denied involvement in the coup said he was unarmed and did not resist arrest when police forces turned up at his office. His attorney added a note at the end asking that his client be referred for medical examinations to record “wounds” on his body. “I have not benefited from the right to talk to my client,” the attorney noted.

The government official said that injuries may have occurred at the time of arrest. “During many arrests, fire was exchanged and there was resistance from coup plotters,” he said. “Individuals in need of medical assistance receive necessary treatment.”

However, Andrew Gardner, a researcher for Amnesty International, said he didn’t think that the fact that beatings had taken place in custody was “in dispute whatsoever.”

“There are a litany of abuses that have been reported to us,” he said. “There are serious allegations of widespread mistreatment and mutually corroborating reports going beyond beatings to high levels of abuse.” Gardner also said that complaints of sexual abuse had been reported to Amnesty.

One lawyer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, said a detainee reported being raped in custody.

Gardner said it is not possible that authorities have collected evidence on all of the suspects. “And if they don’t have concrete evidence, they shouldn’t be detaining them,” he said.

A woman who had traveled from Britain in search of her missing brother, a military officer, said the family last heard from him the morning after the coup attempt via a text message that read: “I’m fine.”

A lawyer at the call center explained to the woman that her brother is in a high-security prison and that in normal times, three relatives would be allowed to visit. “But these aren’t normal times,” the lawyer said, adding that the officer has been appointed an attorney.

“These are the brave ones,” the woman said of the lawyers in the call center, who work for a nominal fee, doing shifts through the night. “They have the courage to help us. It gives me some hope.”

Loveday Morris is Baghdad Bureau Chief of The Washington Post.

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