Erdogan’s war on talent and future of Turkish state

Abdullah Ayasun
6 min readOct 11, 2016

“100,000 people have been fired from their jobs in Turkey. Turkey is not a safe country. There is a lot of turmoil there,” said a note that was taken from a Turkish doctor by the police.

The doctor, who was fired and her license revoked in Turkey’s massive post-coup crackdown, was fleeing Turkey on a boat to Greece. Because she did not speak English, she kept a note in her purse to show to Greek authorities that she is seeking refuge. The Greek-Turkish border had long been a transit route for Syrian refugees as well as migrants from impoverished countries such as Somalia and Afghanistan. Today, these boats are filled with Turkish professors and dissident journalists, who are fleeing for their lives as the clampdown on critics widens.

It may seem a hasty analogy, but it is no less dissimilar in character and nature between Turkey’s massive purges and other similar historical cases. Nazi cleansing of political enemies and ethnic minorities in 1930–40s, or Stalin’s great terror in 1936–38, or Islamist purge of secular and leftist rivals in the aftermath of 1979 revolution in Iran have striking resemblance with Turkey’s ongoing purge.

In the first one, it might not cause so much menace or harm for the industrially developed Germany, which, in Frankfurt School philosophers Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s words, epitomized the great promise of European Enlightenment: a rationally and scientifically advanced society. But in other cases, purges left a debilitating impact on state apparatus in the Soviet Union, Iran and today’s Turkey.

With the rise of fascism in Germany, the Nazi leadership had undertaken nationwide policies for societal and racial purification and launched massive purges within the state to cleanse Jewish public servants. Genius generation of the era, be it in literature, art, political science or any field, failed to evade earth-scorching policies which then morphed to a cataclysmic genocide that saw millions of people killed.

What appears as the striking is the fact that the Nazis systematically targeted the talented people of all political stripes and convictions when it regarded them foes of its political regime. As Ian Kershaw eloquently demonstrated in his biography about Adolf Hitler, Communists were placed in…

Abdullah Ayasun

New York-based journalist and writer. Columbia School of Journalism. 2023 White House Correspondents' Association Scholar. Twitter: @abyasun