Turkey commemorates the third anniversary of a failed military coup attempt, while thousands of victims of the government-led post-coup purges still struggle to make ends meet.
The failed coup of July 15, 2016, is being commemorated on Monday with more than 1,500 events in Turkey and abroad, including a ceremony at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to give a speech.
Erdogan and his AK Party (AKP) government accuse the Gulen movement, led by the US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, of orchestrating the attempted coup of 2016, during which more than 250 people were killed and almost 2,200 were injured.
The Turkish government has designated the faith-based movement a terrorist organization, labeling it with the acronym “FETO.”
Although Gulen and his followers strongly deny the coup allegations and links to any terror activities, Ankara has launched a massive crackdown on real and alleged members of the movement under the pretext of an anti-coup struggle.
Through decrees issued by the AKP during the state-of-emergency, which began five days after the coup attempt and lasted for two years, some 80,000 people were put behind bars and more than 150,000 were sacked from their state jobs.
Media organizations closed down
The AKP government also closed down around 200 media organizations, including newspapers, periodicals, radio stations, and television channels.
Speaking to Agence France-Presse (AFP), a purge victim who was a high school teacher in southeast Turkey three years ago, said that she is now working in an education center where she is only allowed to cook and clean.
“While other teachers teach, I make food and clean toilets. I am 37 and I am starting my life from scratch again,” said Ms. Elif, who used an alias because she did not want to state her real name for fear of a backlash from the government.
“People know we have done nothing wrong, but everyone is extremely scared. Look, even I don’t want you to publish my name because I am scared,” she emphasized.
Ms. Elif added that even being acquitted in court last summer of being a member of the Gulen movement was not enough to save her career.
Her husband, also a teacher, was sacked and then detained for eight months. When he was released, he “was in utter turmoil” and became violent. They separated soon after, and are now divorcing, AFP reported.
She now needs to provide for her three children alone on a salary of 1,000 Turkish lira ($238), an amount that only covers her rent.
Stigmatized and frozen out
A number of highly-educated Turkish people in the public sector, like Ms. Elif, have been stigmatized and frozen out of their professions simply over suspicions of Gulenist ties.
A former chemistry academic who also wished to use a pseudonym, Mr. Ahmet, explained that he has applied for 1,200 jobs and only been granted around 30 or 40 interviews, none of which was successful.
He, therefore, has been forced to grow fruit and vegetables and sell them on a street corner to earn a living.
Around 6,000 academics, including the 44-year-old Ahmet and his wife, were dismissed from their professions within the two-year state of emergency after the attempted coup.
According to the report by AFP, purge victims they reached also included an ex-academic who now works as a construction worker, a former head of an NGO who now runs a cafe, an ex-judge who sells tea and a former police officer who works as a caretaker.
According to media reports, Canan Deniz, a 40-year-old teacher and a mother of two who was also a victim of the post-coup purges, committed suicide last month as a result of severe depression caused by loneliness and financial difficulties.
Sezgin Tanrikulu, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), has called for an inquiry commission established to examine the appeals of civil servants dismissed by government decrees, to work more transparently.
Formed by the ruling AKP in 2018, the commission has only assessed 77,900 out of 126,000 cases, while only 6,000 people have had their names cleared.
“Society, along with political parties, has paid the price of coups in the heaviest of ways,’’ Turkish media quoted Tanrikulu as saying.
The Justice for Victims Society interviewed some 3,776 state-of-emergency victims to compile the report entitled the “Second Year of the Social Cost Report of the OHAL- State of Emergency” and released it in January.
The report indicates that thousands of children, including at least 700 babies, were imprisoned with their mothers.
The foundation also stated in the report that 99.64 percent of the victims who were dismissed through decrees issued by the AKP government are individuals who had not any criminal investigations opened against them before the attempted coup.
It was also underlined in the report that purge victims’ testimonies on their experience of arrest and detention had shown that they had been subjected to “systematic torture” in custody and in jail.