sábado, 23 de julho de 2016
‘They’re taking everyone’
‘They’re taking everyone’
With suspicion running amok in Turkey, fear grips the country as Erdoğan cracks down.
By ZIA WEISE 7/22/16, 6:58 PM CET
ISTANBUL — At the city’s imposing Palace of Justice, a lawyer greets a clerk pushing a cartload of papers into the entrance hall. “How’s it going?” The clerk grimaces. “They’ve taken away my boss,” he says. The lawyer tut-tuts in response. “They’re taking everyone,” she sighs. “Anyone could be next.”
In the aftermath of last Friday’s failed military coup, a growing sense of paranoia has gripped Turkey, not least among members of the judiciary. Desperate to consolidate its power, the government has declared a state of emergency and embarked on a sweeping purge targeting civil servants believed to support Fethullah Gülen, the reclusive U.S.-based cleric accused of orchestrating the coup.
And yet even as the government has blamed Gülen—a former ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who fell out with him three years ago—it’s unclear how many people were actually involved. Fear and suspicion rule the streets.
Some 60,000 employees have been arrested or suspended from their jobs since last weekend: soldiers, policemen and ministerial staff, but also teachers, academics, and close to 3,000 judges and prosecutors. A state of emergency declared on Wednesday night has raised fears of an even greater crackdown targeting government opponents of all stripes, whether real or imagined.
For journalists, Istanbul has become a city of anonymous sources. With the slightest criticism of the post-coup purge or the increasingly authoritarian Erdogan often comes the request to withhold names and identifying details.
In the Palace of Justice, a young defense lawyer who had been happy to speak about the cases of soldiers arrested in the coup lowers her voice when asked about the suspensions in the judiciary. “I was representing a judge yesterday. A judge in handcuffs,” she whispers, moving me away from the policemen guarding the corridor. “And everything is secret. We’re not even allowed to see most of the files.”
This atmosphere of anxiety stands in stark contrast to the night of the attempted coup, when citizens of all backgrounds — Turks and Kurds, secularists and Islamists, liberals and nationalists — marched against the tanks.
The plotters are believed to have planned a takeover for some time but were rushed into action when Turkish intelligence agencies caught on to them. In their haste, they sent young conscripts onto squares and bridges, botched an attack on Erdogan, and largely ignored the media. Crucially for the coup’s failure, the public swiftly turned against them.
As rogue F-16s dropped bombs on Turkey’s parliament, the government and its three opposition parties showed unprecedented unity; even the harshest critics of Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) vociferously defended the elected government. Many were hopeful this would mark a new beginning for a country so riven by internal divisions.
But when Erdogan told people to remain in the streets even after the plotters had been defeated, the liberals and secularists withdrew, leaving the president’s voter base of religious conservatives to celebrate the coup’s failure. The ensuing purge convinced government critics that Erdogan was intent on making the triumph of democracy his own personal victory to consolidate his hold on power.
Many Turks who do not vote for Erdogan’s party would support the president’s campaign to rid Gülen’s furtive movement of its supporters embedded in state institutions and security forces. But observers within and outside the country fear the government is going too far in its crackdown.
Earlier this week, even before emergency rule was enacted, police raided the printing house of the outspoken satire magazine LeMan after its latest issue depicted both soldiers and citizens as the pawns of greater powers.
“You know the country was just on the edge of civil war last Friday? The worst civil administration is better than the best military administration,” Zafer Aknar, the magazine’s managing editor, tells me over the phone. LeMan has temporarily closed its offices. “But that doesn’t mean we should bow our heads to civil autocracy and say thank you.”
Aknar frets that criticizing the purge may soon become synonymous with supporting the coup. LeMan cartoonists say targeting their magazine proves that the government is not simply cracking down on Gülen supporters; after all, LeMan’s archive is full of unflattering caricatures of the cleric.
Others point to the disproportionate crackdown on Turkey’s education sector. More than 15,200 teachers at state schools have been suspended, and 21,000 private teachers lost their licenses. The state-run board for higher education demanded the resignation of all university deans, who had no other choice but to do so.
“It’s an environment where nobody knows what will happen next. Everybody is suspicious of the other person. Even if you have a personal quarrel with your neighbor he can call the police and say you’re from Cemaat,” a university professor tells me, using a common Turkish term for the Gülen movement.
Hinting that he sympathizes with Gülen, he says is awaiting suspension or arrest. Then he adds: “Do not write my name, please. It’s not a time for criticism. That era has ended.”
It is easy to laugh this off as baseless paranoia, but stories abound of men calling the police on their government-criticizing wives, of village headmen keeping lists of suspicious residents, and neighbors informing on each other.
In Düzce, a town halfway between Istanbul and Ankara, a 60-year-old man was arrested on Thursday after a passer-by noticed him throwing away a box, in which the police later discovered books written by Fethullah Gülen.
And while most Turks yawned at Wikileaks’ recent release of 300,000 emails from AKP servers (many were spam), they contained a number of messages sent to government officials, naming people that were overheard “insulting” Erdogan, other ministers, or Islam.
Even among staunch AKP supporters, suspicion flourishes. In Kasimpasa, a working-class quarter on Istanbul’s Golden Horn waterway, men and women sitting in a seaside park clap along as vans playing Erdogan’s campaign song drive past. Turkey’s president was born in this neighborhood, selling simit bread rolls and lemonade on its streets.
Three women chatting in the park giggle when I ask them if they went out to march for democracy that night. No, they say, they were too scared. “But if it happens again we will,” says one of them, a youthful grandmother called Serife. “I’d lay down in front of a tank if my husband let me!”
She grins and elbows the oldest of the three, Emine. “This one can make dolma” — stuffed vine leaves — “for our brave boys. Her dolma are famous.” Emine doesn’t laugh. She is dressed in black; one of her relatives was crushed by a tank during the coup attempt.
When the conversation turns to the state of emergency, Serife chews her lip. “They say a state of emergency will take Turkey back 50 years. We don’t want that. It worries me,” she says. The third woman, Fatma, swiftly admonishes her: “How can you say that? Erdogan says there’s no need to worry.” Serife nods, then turns to me: “Don’t write my last name, please. You know the environment here, it’s not good to say such things.”
At the other end of the park, a water-seller who introduces himself as Hüseyin tells me his son spent his compulsory military service at the side of Akin Öztürk, the former Air Force commander named as the failed coup’s mastermind. “A few years ago, my son was his cook and taster,” he says. “He always had to taste his food, the commander was so afraid of being poisoned.”
When I inquire about his surname, the water-seller shakes his head: “You will write that article and someone in the government may find it. I don’t want to get arrested. You know how it is: these days, Turkey is a country where lots of little things can get you into trouble.”
Zia Weise is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul.