Turkey post-coup

In times of paranoia

Many observers believe that Erdogan can now live out his omnipotence fantasies without impediment. But the deep split through the state apparatus will not make it easy for him to govern. And the paranoia of the Turkish President is resulting in irrational decisions, says Omer Erzeren

The history of Turkey bristles with successful military coups. And the instigators were always generals who presented themselves as guardians of Kemalism and nationalism. Then, political parties were banned and presidents, prime ministers and ministers put on trial. Monstrously repressive measures were then taken against the purported enemies of the state: Kurdish, left wing and Islamist political movements. But there were extensive sections of the state apparatus that even the coup leaders did not mess with: judges, public prosecutors and bureaucrats remained in office and served the military.

The 15 July coup was not successful; it was crushed. The detention and dismissal of officers is to be expected. But why is the order being issued to detain almost 3,000 judges and public prosecutors? Why are 8,000 police officers being suspended from duty? Why 1,500 finance ministry officials? And 257 executive staff at the prime ministerial office?

At the education ministry – and this is not a joke – 15,000 employees have been sacked. This figure does not even include the 21,000 teachers from private schools who have been stripped of their teaching licences. Hundreds of civil servants from the family ministry have also been suspended for suspected involvement in the putsch. Three days after the military coup, the total number of suspensions from public service is 49,000. This requires explanation.

State apparatus at the mercy of Erdogan

The Party for Justice and Development or AKP has governed Turkey for more than 15 years. True to his autocratic style, Recep Tayyip Erdogan hates nothing more than independent institutions.

The entire state apparatus was suffused with apparent henchmen. Erdogan was never squeamish when it came to sacking civil servants. Amendments to the constitution in the year 2010 were for the sole purpose of bringing judges and public prosecutors to heel in the political sense. Those judges and public prosecutors who rose through the ranks to senior positions within the judiciary after the referendum on the constitution enjoyed – with Erdogan covering their backs politically – the freedom to do exactly as they liked. On the other hand, thousands of Kurdish local politicians were locked up for allegedly supporting the PKK. Journalists and critical voices were pursued as alleged members of "terrorist organisations".

Erdogan's political justice landed its biggest coup with the army. Senior figures within the Turkish military, generals and even the chief of staff were accused of carrying out an attempted coup and "membership of a terrorist organisation", sentenced and spent years in jail. The evidence – email correspondence and documents – had been fabricated by both police and public prosecutors.

Many of the successors in the judicial, police and military apparatus were followers of the cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in the US state of Pennsylvania, a man who has built up a huge network of loyal supporters over a period of decades. Supported by thousands of private schools – the ideal place for the selection of future cadres – Gulen built up a network of academics who were systematically placed in key public positions.

Gulen's followers focused their attentions in particular on the police intelligence service and public prosecutors. These days, Gulen is an ostracised figure described by Erdogan as a "terror head". Just a few years ago, the cleric was his close ally. Erdogan once said to Gulen: "We're giving you everything you ask us for." It was considered good form that ministers from Erdogan's cabinet made the trip to Pennsylvania to kiss Gulen's hand.

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