News & Politics

All of Secular Society Under Attack in Turkey

(AP Photo)

Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan wants to reinstitute the death penalty to deal with coup participants, and you have to wonder just how many he wants to execute.

Erdogan vastly expanded his purge today, including university deans and professors, as well as more judges and prosecutors in an apparent wholesale assault on secular society. The total number of arrests and firings is now over 50,000.


Around 50,000 soldiers, police, judges, civil servants and teachers have been suspended or detained since the coup attempt, stirring tensions across the country of 80 million which borders Syria’s chaos and is a Western ally against Islamic State.

“This parallel terrorist organisation will no longer be an effective pawn for any country,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said, referring to what the government has long alleged is a state within a state controlled by followers of Fethullah Gulen.

“We will dig them up by their roots,” he told parliament.

A spokesman for President Tayyip Erdogan said the government was preparing a formal request to the United States for the extradition of Gulen, who Turkey says orchestrated the failed military takeover on Friday in which at least 232 people were killed.

U.S. President Barack Obama discussed the status of Gulen in a telephone call with Erdogan on Tuesday, the White House said, urging Ankara to show restraint as it pursues those responsible for the coup attempt.

In parallel talks, U.S. Defence Secretary Ash Carter and his Turkish counterpart discussed the importance of Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base in the campaign against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the Pentagon said.

The base, which is used by Turkish and U.S. forces in the air campaign against Islamic State, has been without power in the days since the failed coup.

Seventy-five-year-old Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania but has a network of supporters within Turkey, has condemned the abortive coup and denied any role in it.

A former ally-turned critic of Erdogan, he suggested the president staged it as an excuse for a crackdown after a steady accumulation of control during 14 years in power.

On Tuesday, authorities shut down media outlets deemed to be supportive of the cleric and said 15,000 people had been suspended from the education ministry along with 100 intelligence officials. A further 492 people were removed from duty at the Religious Affairs Directorate, 257 at the prime minister’s office and 300 at the energy ministry.

Watching Turkey over the last decade, you were reminded of the frog in a pot of slowly boiling water. Erdogan’s initial efforts to Islamize society were small and subtle. He knew that any sudden moves would bring the army out of its barracks.

The slow pace of change continued. He purged the military, the judiciary, and the bureaucracy of  Fethullah Gulen supporters and started to put pressure on the opposition media.

But it’s only in the last two years that the pace of Islamization has quickened. Erdogan discarded the pretense of modest changes with a  personal grab for power by altering the constitution to concentrate power in the hands of the president. And there has been a heavy crackdown on all media that criticizes him.

Uri Friedman in The Atlantic says that Erdogan “could soon become the most powerful Turkish leader since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded modern Turkey, and arguably the most powerful leader “since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire” in 1923.”

Ataturk used that power to modernize and secularize Turkey. Erdogan is using his newfound clout to bring Turkey back to the dark ages where the rule of law is gone, replaced by the rule of one man.