Turkey Uses Coup Attempt Anniversary To Justify Continued Crackdown

Jul 15, 2017
Originally published on July 15, 2017 12:50 pm
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A year ago today, people in Turkey watched elements of the military try and fail to overthrow the government. A harsh crackdown followed. More than 50,000 people were arrested. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports that officials in Turkey are using the anniversary to justify the fallout from that attempted coup and its profound impact on Turkish life.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: People across Turkey were stunned a year ago as renegade soldiers tried to topple the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Until that night, everyone believed Turkey had finally put its troubled history of military coups behind it. A year later, the shocking events of July 15, rocket attacks and street battles have been packaged into emotional documentaries by state-funded news channel.

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KENYON: Their focus is on the heroism of those who stood against the coup not on the massive intelligence lapse that failed to see it coming. A year after the coup, Turkish security forces continue to raid homes, businesses and schools in a crackdown that shows no sign of abating after 140,000 sackings and tens of thousands of arrests. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told reporters the emergency powers are vital to making sure there are no more coup conspirators hiding inside or outside the government.

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SULEYMAN SOYLU: (Through interpreter) Whoever these perpetrators are and whoever is behind them, we make a promise to our noble nation, we will hold them to account.

KENYON: But the crackdown has broadened out to include teachers, journalists, civil servants - people, critics say, with no connection to the coup attempt. Lately, there has been some pushback. At an opposition march last weekend, I met Aysun, a history teacher who had lost her job in the purge. She said she had nothing to do with the coup or with the U.S.-based cleric Turkey accuses of masterminding it.

AYSUN: (Through interpreter) I'm a victim of the purge. It's been almost a year since I was fired. And economically and psychologically, I've been hit really hard.

KENYON: As far as Aysun can tell, authorities found a certain messaging app on the phone of her school's director - one the government says the coup plotters used. After that, she says dozens of liberal, secular teachers were fired, including her.

The government rejects claims that the purge is politically motivated or that Turkish democracy is being undermined. Erdogan said this week that complaints about sacked civil servants or jailed journalists fail to take into account the pressure the government is under to make sure another coup doesn't happen.

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PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Through interpreter) Turkey is not a country with no press freedom, no free expression. That's not true. But let me be clear, it's not possible to have unlimited freedom of the press. If the media is willing to harm the country, then they must face the judiciary.

KENYON: Erdogan says things are starting to turn around, but it's still too soon to end the state of emergency imposed last July, which gives him sweeping powers. He's vague about when it might end.

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ERDOGAN: For sure, we will finish this emergency when there's no longer a need for it. It's possible that the state of emergency will conclude in the not so far future.

KENYON: An appeals panel is being set up so people can try to get their jobs back. It's likely to be a large and growing caseload with more firings and more arrests expected this summer. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.