PURGE, POLITICS, AND HUNGER

Report: Four Years On, Still No Remedy For Turkey’s Purge Victims

Four years after the enactment of the first government decree to dismiss public workers, the situation has only grown unbearable for 150,000 people amid a lack of prospect for a remedy.

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Turkey’s academics and students protest a crackdown on a well-known university in Istanbul in this archived photo taken after the 2016 coup attempt.

On July 20, 2016, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency to rule the country with emergency decrees without the need for parliamentary approval. It was presented as an essential measure to fight back the threat against the government five days after an abortive coup. But what emerged since then has only cemented an unwritten emergency regime, even two years after its official end, with no prospect of remedy for 150,000 or so people who were summarily discharged from their jobs in public service without any semblance of due process. The social cost of the post-coup purge, a report reveals, has been tremendous for its far-reaching consequences for thousands.

On Monday, the Platform of Justice For Victims released a comprehensive report documenting the sheer size of the human rights abuses, the problems that purge victims have faced during a job search, the social alienation and denial of access to housing, and many other woes that have gripped their lives over the course of past several years. The report, the third of its kind to chronicle the plight of KHK people (a term referred to public servants who were sacked by emergency decrees), constructed its findings through an in-depth survey with 3,305 people. According to its major findings, at least 50 percent of the KHK population had to move from where they lived, 46 percent of them are still unemployed and 44 percent of the KHK people have someone in the family imprisoned in the post-coup crackdown.

The types of socio-economic woes that have afflicted the purge victims, according to the 1500-page report, could be outlined in a set of categories as follows: first, the victims’ biggest predicament is economic (97,9%); secondly, psychological despair constitutes the second biggest source of their ongoing tribulation (88,6%); the disreputability and social alienation is the third major problem (83,7%); fourth is the disintegration of the social environment (83,1%); the fifth problem is chronic unemployment (80,4), and the sixth problem is the lack of social benefits and protections (73,2%).

Titled “The Social Costs of Emergency Decrees (OHAL),” the report reveals that while poverty increased, religion’s social influence declined; while scientific production plummeted, families are shattered with the rising number of divorces.

The enduring impact of the purge could be first discerned in the economic realm. The report exhibits the purge’s far-reaching effects that sustain deprivations of people whose prospects for finding a gainful job are as feeble today as it had been during the socio-political context of the emergency regime characterized by the climate of fear and unwritten embargo. Given the shutdown of all doors to their face during countless job applications, the majority of the purged servants are forced to work clandestinely in an underground economy where payments are pitifully meager and where job security is never ensured. The overall unemployment rate among the dismissed workers, the report shows, is 46 percent while the rest of them are only able to find low-paid jobs with no health or social benefit.

One of the striking revelations of the report is that the purge has not only condemned the purged into a wretched life, but also upended the lives of their immediate families and relatives. If someone has a relative or family member dismissed by the government decree, his/her fortunes have been dramatically faltered, wrecking their economic state as well as social status in a profoundly negative way.

The report nails what is an already known fact: a huge income loss for the KHK people. While many of the servants had an average monthly salary of 4,600 Turkish Lira in the pre-purge era, they lost 70 percent of it after the purge. The statistics illustrate that they are only able to earn no more than 1,400 TL on average today. What makes matters worse, this downward spiral extended to the relatives and close associates of the purged people, inflicting an average 60 percent loss for their income.

When inflation is taken into account, there emerges a bleak picture. In the past four years, inflation skyrocketed, food prices shot up and wallets pinched. When measured by this soaring inflation, the KHK people’s economic predicament has inexorably hardened; the rising prices have simply amplified their woes, made them poorer and more vulnerable.

Another overlooked aspect of the post-coup crackdown is the government’s reapportionment of the property confiscated from political opponents on a controversial campaign of wealth grab. This distribution of wealth among the government’s loyalists and the allocation of some properties to the state treasury represents the re-emergence of a practice mistakenly considered to be a relic of a bygone era when minorities faced similar unlawful policies in the 1940s and some other periods.

As recently as last week, Melek Ipek, the mother of a well-known businessman Akin Ipek, was evicted from her home where she resided for decades. After the businessman fell out with Erdogan in 2014, his media outlets and profit-generating companies were seized before the coup. After the coup, his private jets, hotels, and other high-end stores were up for grabs by the president’s men. The exiled businessman sought to bring the government to an international tribunal to claw the ownership and management of his properties back. His international efforts only sparked a backlash from authorities as they simply forced his mother from a mansion associated with the Ipek family for decades.

The report comes at a time when the government recently converted Hagia Sophia back to a mosque in a move that animated international opprobrium against Ankara, while creating a groundswell of support from pious Turks in the domestic realm. Secular Turks have equally emerged upset by what they see as Turkey’s drift away from its secular roots. The exaltation the Hagia Sophia move has generated is tempered by the sobering account of the purge’s social cost sustained by a regime of official indifference for the past four years. The report, in this respect, only punctures the false sense of triumph after Friday’s decision about a sacred place that decorates Istanbul’s historical peninsula and rouses feverish enthusiasm for both Muslims and Orthodox Christians.

One of the direct impacts of the post-coup purge has been a political re-orientation among the victims who describe themselves as former conservative democrats leaning for center-right parties in the past. But their political attitude considerably skewed toward social democrats, the leftist and secular parties, drifting away from conservative/pious political worldview.

The religious expression has correspondingly left its place to a humanist view as religion has been unmoored from its revered meaning as a social agent that used to govern their socio-political engagements, behaviors and social attitudes in the past. The report significantly exposes an alienation of pious Muslims from like-minded political parties, which enlist the social appeal of religion as a strategy to win the hearts and minds of the ordinary folk. That kind of political identity, the report reveals, is no longer appealing for the majority of purge victims.

The report also corroborates previous scholarly works that tackled the rise of deism and the decline of religiosity among conservative Turkish citizens. The KHK report comes as a reconfirmation of the growing appeal of deism among pious Muslims who have grown disillusioned over the authoritarianism of a conservative-leaning government.

At least 89,5 percent of the attendants described themselves as Muslims, while 84,5 percent of that figure identified themselves as Sunnis. Although those who presented themselves as Deist remained as low as 4,8 percent, that figure, the report suggests, is destined to grow amid professed proclivity toward a more secularized life. It also emphasizes a drift away from Abrahamic religions toward secular worldviews.

The report demonstrates the fact that the government betrayed no remorse when they targeted the country’s most talented segments. This issue lies at the heart of the debate about the purge’s pernicious effects on the country’s most skillful human capital. At least 7,000 academics have been sacked by blanket decrees, inflicting a debilitating blow to academic freedom and scientific production.

No wonder that the harsh treatment of scientists drives them away from the country in a search for rebuilding life elsewhere. The brain drain, viewed from the angle of the post-coup purge, has been well documented by international outlets. It explains why Turkey suffers a chronic loss of its talented population to the West. As recently as last week, Serkan Golge, a NASA scientist who finally returned his home in Houston, Texas, after three years of imprisonment in Turkey, shared his ordeal with the New York Times. He was swept up by the indiscriminate crackdown following the 2016 coup, upon an anonymous tip-off from a distant relative. His story serves as a cautionary tale for people of science about mulling a scientific career in Turkey.

(Read my essay from last year.)

Of the respondents who took part in the report, 99,1 percent are college graduates, while 22,1 percent hold a master's degree and 8,5 percent have a Ph.D. degree.

In reference to the official statistics by the Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK), the report illuminates the fact that the graduates of higher education that includes a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and Ph.D. constitute 17 percent of the general population in the country. Against this backdrop, it needs no elaboration over the scale of the loss generated by the indiscriminate purge against the most educated segments of civil service. How Turkey would compensate these qualified workers remains a matter of controversy with undeniable signs of incompetence and decay in Turkey’s public service.

In conclusion, the report does a great job by flattening the complex aftereffects of the purge into an intelligible and observable set of data (with personal accounts of the respondents) that demonstrate the state-sanctioned impoverishment of a group of people (KHK) for an indefinite amount of time.

No matter how pure data offers an unsentimental appraisal, the consequences of their meaning in the real lives of real people cannot be more touching or sentimental. It reveals a tragedy that interminably lingers; it exposes a regime of inculcated indifference; it indisputably illustrates the existence of a subtle policy by the government to condemn its opponents into a mild form of starvation with all means possible at its disposal.

They, as German Deutsche Welle reported earlier this year, have been left to a protracted social death.

Written by

Virginia-based journalist and writer. Politics, culture, art, and technology. American political affairs, Turkey, the MidEast, and beyond. Twitter: @abyasun

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