Extraordinary times in Turkey

Extraordinary times in Turkey

The biggest elimination operation in Turkish public service is under way following the failed coup attempt of July 15. It focuses on the elimination of suspected sympathizers of Fethullah Gülen from public service - not only from the military but also from the courts, the intelligence services, universities, schools, state auditing institutions, everywhere you can think of. 

Gülen is an Islamist ideologue living in the U.S. who used to be one of the closest allies of President Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) but is now an archenemy. In an indictment prepared before the coup attempt – an attempt that the government says was manipulated by Gülen and performed by Gülenists in the military - it was claimed that a Gülenist network within state institutions started to develop in 1984, right after the military coup in 1980, and persisted until 2014. That is the date when Erdoğan and the ruling AK Parti cut all links with Gülen and denounced him as the head of a terrorist organization aimed at overthrowing the government. 

Relations had first started to turn sour when Gülenist prosecutors and judges went as far to investigate National Intelligence Agency (MİT) head Hakan Fidan because of his secret contacts undertaken as a part of his job under (then prime minister) Erdoğan’s orders in early 2012. The final break came with corruption probes of Dec. 17 and 25 in 2013, which Erdoğan effectively saw as a coup attempt.

Now a more solid military coup attempt has taken place, and President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım are determined to “finish off the gang of traitors, the parallel structure within the state,” referring to Gülen and his followers.

The level of Gülenist infiltration into the military is understood with bitter experience. It was Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar’s chief aide, Lieutenant Colonel Levent Türkkan, who captured his commander at gun point in his office on behalf of the coup, under the command of Major General Mehmet Dişli. Requesting a reduced punishment under the repentance law, Türkkan confessed that he has been a member of the Gülen network since his student years.

The same is true for the Gendarmerie Commander General Galip Mendi, who is now in hospital after suffering a heart attack. They were both the guards of Air Force Commander General Abidin Ünal and Fleet Commander Admiral Veysel Kösele, after they kidnapped them. Another pro-coup officer who said it was he who ordered tanks to close the Bosphorus Bridge, Brigadier Özkan Aydoğdu, has testified that he did what he thought was the right thing to do.

Erdoğan chaired two important meetings yesterday, July 20. First a National Security Board (MGK) meeting and then the cabinet meeting, both held for the first time since the coup attempt.

Extraordinary measures for extraordinary times, even according to Turkish standards, are now on the agenda now. The government is likely to bring a package to parliament that could include various measures - from declaring a state of emergency to establishing special courts to speed up the trial of coup attempt suspects, from blocking the path of their return to public service to economic measures to win popular support.

The ongoing elimination operation is huge, already reaching tens of thousands of targets. It is likely to continue. The sense in Ankara is that although the coup attempt has been crushed for now, the government still feels under threat.