Europe

The human impact of Turkey's purges

Candan Badem
Image caption History professor Candan Badem was sacked in September

More than four months after the defeat of the military coup attempt in Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to continue the purges that have already seen more than 125,000 state employees sacked or suspended.

But critics at home and abroad say his aim is not just to find those behind the putsch, but to crush all opposition to his rule.

"This is like condemning to a civil death." That's how Prof Candan Badem sums up the effect of losing his job in the massive wave of dismissals that have followed the failed coup in Turkey on 15 July.

Until 1 September, he had a job he loved as an associate history professor at Tunceli University, in the east of the country. But on that day he found his name listed in an online government decree that sacked about 50,000 state employees for alleged links to terror organisations.

He was among more than 2,300 academics on the list. Also dismissed were people from a huge range of other professions - police officers, civil servants, teachers - even midwives and cooks.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The Turkish government says Fethullah Gulen was behind the attempted coup

The total number sacked or suspended since the coup attempt is now at least 125,000 - including a further 15,000 this week.

Most are suspected of being followers of Fethullah Gulen, the 75-year-old Islamic preacher living in self-imposed exile in the United States whom the state accuses of masterminding the coup attempt.

Gulen's movement, which says it promotes moderate Islam and interfaith dialogue, ran a large network of schools in Turkey and abroad, as well as media outlets and other businesses.

Gülen condemned the coup and denies any involvement in it. But President Erdogan - a former political ally - says he wants to "cleanse" Turkey of his "virus".

Prof Badem, the history lecturer, was dismissed - and detained by the police - after a book by the preacher was found during a search of his office.

But he says the only reason he had the book was to find quotations he could use in a campaign against Gulen. "I have been a sharp critic of political Islam and religious sects all my life… How could I be a Gulenist?" he says.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption More than 125,000 state employees have been sacked or suspended since the failed military coup

"I am an academic: I can read any books. They are making Turkey appear ridiculous in the eyes of whole world."

He laughs about what he sees as the absurdity of the charge against him, but the effect has been to blow his life apart. Those dismissed in the purges cannot apply for any other state job.

As a suspected terror supporter, Prof Badem has no chance of being employed in a private university, either. And his passport has been taken away, so he cannot travel abroad.

The government has set up special crisis centres where those who feel they have been unjustly accused can appeal - and thousands have. But the onus there is on applicants to prove their innocence, rather than the state proving their guilt.

More than 37,000 have been arrested as well as sacked and they will be tried in due course - but many fear that under the current state of emergency the process may not be fair. The work of defence lawyers has been restricted - and more than 3,800 members of the judiciary have also lost their jobs.

Decrees this week have closed 375 non-governmental organisations including lawyers' associations and minority rights groups. And since July, more than 130 newspapers, TV and radio stations have also been shut down, many of them in the Kurdish-dominated south-east of Turkey.

Prof Badem says: "Democracy is suffering. They are trying to eradicate all opposition, trying to remove all oppositional people from the state, from universities, from the media."

Image copyright AFP/getty
Image caption Turkish President Erdogan says that the purges will continue

Meanwhile, the consequences of the purge are spreading ever wider. Hundreds of businesses with alleged links to Gulen have been taken over by the state, causing uncertainty among a huge number of workers and suppliers.

But President Erdogan said this week that the Gulenists "have not been completely cleansed". And the government insists its only aim is to safeguard democracy after the coup attempt.

Yusuf Tekin, the top civil servant at the Ministry of Education, where tens of thousands have lost their jobs, says: "This is not a campaign against opposition, NGOs, or any structures acting within the democratic framework. But it's our duty to fight against structures which suppress our children."

The government claims the Gulen movement "brainwashed" young people - and formed a subversive "parallel state".

Mr Tekin adds: "There is no reason for people who have no links with this organisation to be afraid. On the contrary people support this process. They're not afraid. They're happy. Because this structure became dominant in every field. So people are freer now."

Our World: Cleansing Turkey is on the BBC News Channel at 21:30 on Saturday and Sunday 26/27 November and on BBC World News. It will be available to watch later via BBC iPlayer.

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