Erdogan targets more than 50,000 in purge after failed coup

Supporters of Erdoğan at a pro-government demonstration in Sarachane park in Istanbul, 19 July. [Reuters]

Turkey vowed to root out allies of the US-based cleric it blames for an abortive coup last week, widening a purge of the army, police and judiciary yesterday (19 July) to universities and schools, the intelligence service and religious authorities.

An estimated 50,000 soldiers, police, judges, civil servants and teachers have been suspended or detained since the coup attempt, stirring tensions across the country of 80 million which borders Syria’s chaos, and is a Western ally against Islamic State.

“This parallel terrorist organisation will no longer be an effective pawn for any country,” Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said, referring to what the government has long alleged is a state within a state controlled by followers of Fethullah Gülen.

“We will dig them up by their roots,” he told parliament.

A spokesman for President Tayyip Erdoğan said the government was preparing a formal request to the United States for the extradition of Gülen, who Turkey says orchestrated the failed military takeover on Friday in which at least 232 people were killed.

US President Barack Obama discussed the status of Gülen in a telephone call with Erdoğan on Tuesday, the White House said, urging Ankara to show restraint as it pursues those responsible for the coup attempt.

In parallel talks, US Defence Secretary Ash Carter and his Turkish counterpart discussed the importance of Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base in the campaign against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the Pentagon said.

The base, which is used by Turkish and US forces in the air campaign against Islamic State, has been without power in the days since the failed coup.

Seventy-five-year-old Gülen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, but has a network of supporters within Turkey, has condemned the abortive coup and denied any role in it.

A former ally-turned critic of Erdoğan, he suggested the president staged it as an excuse for a crackdown after a steady accumulation of control during 14 years in power.

On Tuesday (19 July), authorities shut down media outlets deemed to be supportive of the cleric and said 15,000 people had been suspended from the education ministry along with 100 intelligence officials. A further 492 people were removed from duty at the Religious Affairs Directorate, 257 at the prime minister’s office and 300 at the energy ministry.

The lira weakened to beyond 3 to the dollar after state broadcaster TRT said all university deans had been ordered to resign, recalling the sorts of broad purges seen in the wake of successful military coups of the past.

In a sign of international concern, a German official said a serious fissure had opened in Turkey and he feared fighting would break out within Germany’s large Turkish community.

“A deep split is emerging in Turkish society,” Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper. “The danger of an escalation in violence between Erdoğan supporters and opponents has also risen in Germany.”

‘Double standards’

Turkey’s Western allies have expressed solidarity with the government over the coup attempt but also alarm at the scale and swiftness of the response, urging it to adhere to democratic values.

Prime Minister Yıldırım accused Washington, which has said it will consider Gülen’s extradition only if clear evidence is provided, of double standards in its fight against terrorism.

Yıldırım said the justice ministry had sent a dossier to US authorities on Gülen, whose religious movement blends conservative Islamic values with a pro-Western outlook and who has a network of supporters within Turkey.

“We have more than enough evidence, more than you could ask for, on Gülen,” Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag told reporters outside parliament. “There is no need to prove the coup attempt, all evidence shows that the coup attempt was organised on his will and orders.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest confirmed Ankara had filed materials in electronic form with the US government, which officials were reviewing. Any extradition request from Turkey, once submitted, would be evaluated under the terms of a treaty between the two countries, he added.

This treaty excludes offences “of a political character” although it does cover those “committed or attempted against a head of state or a head of government”.

Any extradition request would face legal and political hurdles in the United States. Even if approved by a judge, it would still have to go to Secretary of State John Kerry, who can consider non-legal factors, such as humanitarian arguments.

“I urge the US government to reject any effort to abuse the extradition process to carry out political vendettas,” Gülen said on Tuesday in a statement issued by the Alliance for Shared Values, a group associated with the cleric.

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister, Numan Kurtulmus, told reporters that 9,322 people were under legal proceedings in relation to the attempted coup.

Eight soldiers have sought asylum in neighbouring Greece and Turkey says they must be handed back or it will not help relations between the neighbours, which have long been uneasy.

Greece-Turkey tensions build over the extradition of fugitives

Athens is in a legal, diplomatic – even moral – quandary regarding what to do regarding Ankara’s request that Turkish 8 military who fled by helicopter to Greece on Saturday (16 July) should be extradited.

Around 1,400 people were wounded as soldiers commandeered tanks, attack helicopters and warplanes, strafing parliament and the intelligence headquarters and trying to seize the main airport and bridges in Istanbul.

The army general staff said it would punish “in the most severe way” any members of the armed forces responsible for what it called “this disgrace”, adding that most had nothing to do with the coup.

Death penalty centre stage

Some Western leaders expressed concern that Erdoğan, who said he was almost killed or captured by the mutineers, was using the opportunity to consolidate power and further a process of stifling dissent.

Erdogan hopes to bring back the death penalty after coup attempt

Following Friday’s failed military coup (15 July), the Turkish government has been consolidating its grip on the country, particularly the army and the judiciary, and has even aired plans to reintroduce the death penalty. EURACTIV France reports.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, voiced “serious alarm” on Tuesday at the mass suspension of judges and prosecutors and urged Turkey to allow independent monitors to visit those who have been detained.

The foreign ministry has said criticism of the government’s response amounts to backing the coup.

Turkey scrapped capital punishment in 2004 as part of its push to join the European Union, and European leaders have warned Ankara that restoring it would derail its EU aspirations.

But in the aftermath of the coup, Erdoğan has repeatedly called for parliament to consider his supporters’ demands to apply the death penalty for the plotters.

Yıldırım said Turkey would respect the rule of law and not be driven by revenge in prosecuting suspected coup plotters. Speaking alongside the leader of the main secularist opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), he said the country must avoid the risk that some people try to exploit the current situation.

“We need unity … and brotherhood now,” he said.

The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), a right-wing grouping and the smallest of the three opposition parties represented in parliament, said it would back the government if it decides to restore the death penalty.

More than 6,000 soldiers and around 1,500 others have been detained since the abortive coup. About 8,000 police officers, including in the capital Ankara and the biggest city Istanbul, have been removed on suspicion of links to the plot.

Some 1,500 finance ministry officials have also been removed from their posts. Annual leave has been suspended for more than three million civil servants, while close to 3,000 judges and prosecutors have also been purged. A court remanded 26 generals and admirals in custody on Monday, Turkish media said.

Ex-air force chief accused

Officials in Ankara say former air force chief Akın Öztürk, who has appeared in detention with his face and arms bruised and one ear bandaged, was a co-leader of the coup. Turkish media said on Monday he had denied this to prosecutors, saying he had tried to prevent the attempted putsch.

Turkey continues post-coup purge with over 7,000 arrests

The Turkish government is expected to continue its crackdown on suspected putschists today (19 July), while the US-based Muslim cleric accused by Ankara of orchestrating the coup attempt says he does not fear extradition.

The coup crumbled after Erdoğan, on holiday with his family at the coastal resort of Marmaris, phoned in to a television news programme and called for his followers to take to the streets. He was able to fly into Istanbul in the early hours of Saturday (16 July), after the rebel pilots had his plane in their sights but did not shoot it down.

He said on Monday he might have died if he had left Marmaris any later and that two of his bodyguards had been killed.

The bloodshed shocked the nation, where the army last used force to stage a successful coup more than 30 years ago, and shattered fragile confidence in the stability of a NATO member state already rocked by Islamic State suicide bombings and an insurgency by Kurdish militants.

The European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee yesterday (19 July) discussed the motives and the possible consequences of Turkey’s recent attempted coup with Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn and representatives of the European External Action Service.

Following the meeting, the foreign committee chair Elmar Brok (EPP, Germany) said:

“I noted with shock what happened during and after the attempted coup, including the listing and the swift removal of thousands judges and public servants. There is a danger now that Turkey could move further away from Europe. The introduction of the death penalty is a clear line, it could prevent further EU accession talks. It is important to stay calm though and make sure we are not creating myths. Turkey is a strategic partner and we will only get peace in Syria if Ankara is involved. But on the other hand, two-third of foreign direct investment in the country comes from Europe, so let us not pretend that we depend on Turkey. As for the meeting of the Turkish president with Russian president Vladimir Putin, I hope we won’t see a festival of autocrats.”

Kati Piri (S&D, Netherlands), the Parliament's rapporteur on Turkey, added:

"After such a violent attack on Turkish democratic institutions, it’s important that in the end democracy and rule of law come out of this strengthened, not weakened. The Turkish government has the right and the obligation to bring the people involved in the attempted coup to justice. But first reactions by the Turkish authorities raise the fear that the government of president Erdogan is pursuing a witch-hunt as thousands of military, police, judges and governors have been arrested or put on non-active. I ask the Turkish government for restraint and respect for the rule of law. In this situation, further Putinization of Turkey poses a risk to the EU and must be avoided at all costs. I sincerely hope that Turkey takes this as an opportunity for reconciliation and national unity after years of polarization.”

Johannes Hahn, the Commissioner responsible for EU’s neighbourhood policy and enlargement, said that the possible introduction of the death penalty would exclude Turkey from being a potential member of the EU.

The Commissioner said he was surprised at the reaction he got from Turkey regarding a statement he made saying Turkish authorities were surprisingly quick to come up with lists of thousands people to be punished for the coup in just a few hours.

He said that there had been about 8,000 arrests from the army and about 12,000 from the judiciary and the executive. 20% of judges have been either suspended or replaced, he said, which would have a direct impact on judicial rulings.

Hahn said that the latest events were part of a trend also visible before the foiled coup, such as the collective lifting of immunity of MPs, the imprisonment of journalists etc.

€700.000 million had been disbursed to Turkey and by the end of the summer one billion would be paid to support the country’s efforts in dealing with the Syrian refugees in Eastern Anatolia. A second billion would be made available shortly, he said.

On visa liberalisation, he said that work was continuing on the five remaining benchmarks. Regarding accession negotiations, he said there wasn’t too much to report. The Commission was making the necessary preparations for the opening of chapters, but all this was overshadowed by current events.

“We will have to wait and see how things develop over the next few months," Hahn added.

MEP Ivo Vaigl (Slovenia, ALDE), said that the EU should not forget that Turkey has other options, especially since it’s not wanted in the EU. He said Erdoğan is turning to Putin and “other hegemons in the region”. Europe will be marginalised, sooner or later, Vaigl said, who lamented that the EU was delaying the accession talks with Turkey “ad absurdum”.

Aloiz Peterle (Slovenia, EPP), argued that the fallout of the foiled coup in Turkey could have “geopolitical consequences”. He said that soon Europe could be faced with a new type of refugees – the people who will try to escape Erdoğan’s rule. Peterle called for a full-size debate on Turkey in plenary, with the participation of EU foreign Affairs chief Federica Mogherini. The first plenary meeting of the European Parliament will take place on 12 September.

Jo Leinen (Germany, S&D), said he hopes there will be no two-third majority in the Turkish parliament to pass the death penalty. He argued that the EU needed to support the forces in Turkey who are against the dictatorial trends. "An Islamist Turkey, a Putinised Turkey is the last think we need," Leinen said.

The European University Association (EUA) strongly condemned the forced resignation of 1,577 university deans. In a statement, EUA President Rolf Tarrach expressed his "heartfelt support" for the higher education community in Turkey at this time.

"While there has been global and unanimous support for the democratically elected government of Turkey in reaction to the military coup, the measures introduced to-day go in the wrong direction. More than ever Turkey needs freedom of speech, public and open debate, as advocated by its strong university sector, committed to internationally recognised university values, the principles of academic freedom, free expression and freedom of association.

EUA calls on all European governments, universities and scholars to speak out against these developments and to support democracy in Turkey, including institutional autonomy and academic freedom for scholars and students."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the failed coup in Turkey on 15 July was a “gift from God”, giving him the chance to re-shape the country, and purge the country’s elite from enemies, who accuse him of creeping Islamisation in the traditionally secular state.

Turkish society looks divided more than ever after the failed coup. Secularists, who claim the political inheritance of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk who in the 1920s transformed the former Ottoman Empire, stayed home over the weekend. In contrast, muezzin called from minarets for the people to take the street. Hundreds of thousands thronged squares and streets, honking horns and waving flags.

Erdoğan said on 17 July that Turkey would consider reinstating the death penalty after the failed attempt to overthrow his government.

Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2004 under reforms aimed at obtaining European Union membership. Reinstatement would create further issues between the EU and Ankara in the already stalled membership talks.

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