Erdogan’s crackdown targets every aspect of Turkish society

Erdogan’s crackdown targets every aspect of Turkish society


MILES O’BRIEN: It has now been more than a
year since that failed coup in Turkey. You will recall, elements of the military
tried and failed to overthrow the government. Since then, the government has mounted a widespread
purge in the name of security. Critics of the regime claim this has led to
a fierce campaign to silence criticism across all aspects of society. Special correspondent Nick Schifrin reports
from Istanbul. NICK SCHIFRIN: Thirty-nine-year-old Aynur
Barkin has long been a proud member of Turkey’s opposition. She’s always known her activism carried risks,
but she never anticipated being labeled an enemy of the state. AYNUR BARKIN, Activist (through translator):
They want us to teach the way they like. They want us to dress the way they like. They want us to obey them wherever we go. And we say no. We have our own identities and values that
we believe in. We believe in democracy. NICK SCHIFRIN: For the last 15 years, she’s
been a third-grade teacher, the kind who takes selfies with her 8-year-olds. But she’s also a self-described leftist who’s
opposed the government’s education policies. And one day in February, she looked online
and learned she had lost her job. AYNUR BARKIN (through translator): They do
not take your statement or give any notice. There was just one sentence that read, they
might be in contact with terrorist groups. Might. They do not have conclusive evidence. It’s all hearsay. NICK SCHIFRIN: She and these other fired teachers
lost their jobs because the government said they supported terrorists, in other words,
supported last July’s failed coup. The government says elements of the military
tried unsuccessfully to overthrow the administration, even sending tanks toward downtown Istanbul. By the end of the night, 234 died and more
than 2,000 were injured. Five days later, the government declared a
state of emergency, saying the coup was organized by religious leader Fethullah Gulen, who runs
a widespread social movement in Turkey and lives in exile in Pennsylvania. In front of millions of supporters, President
Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to crush the coup plotters and what he described as Gulen’s
society-wide conspiracy. RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, Turkish President (through
translator): From now on, we will examine very carefully who we have under us. We will see who we have in the military, who
we have in the judiciary, and throw the others out of the door. NICK SCHIFRIN: Under the state of the emergency,
the impact has been enormous; 50,000 people have been arrested; 150,000 people have either
lost their jobs or been suspended. The purge has targeted every aspect of society. The fired teachers often clash with police. Two of them started a hunger strike to protest
what they describe as the government’s forcing them to submit or starve. AYNUR BARKIN (through translator): If we apply
for a new job, the possible employer will find a code that says person was dismissed
by decree. So nobody is willing to employ you. They are willing me to starve. DR. OZDEMIR AKTAN, General Surgeon: I’m a physician,
and I’m a doctor, and I’m an academic. And I ask questions. And now our system is prohibiting asking questions. NICK SCHIFRIN: Dr. Ozdemir Aktan is a general
surgeon at a private upscale Istanbul hospital. He’s also been a prominent critic of the government’s
politics and health policy. He was the head of the Turkish equivalent
of the American Medical Association. And in February, he was fired from his government
hospital and teaching job for — quote — “links to terrorist groups.” DR. OZDEMIR AKTAN: I was one of the academics
who have signed the letter asking for peace. And that was considered as a support for PKK. NICK SCHIFRIN: The PKK is a Kurdish militant
organization considered a terrorist group by Turkey and the U.S. It’s declared a desire for independence, and
targeted state institutions, like this police station last year. On Turkish TV, Erdogan labeled Aktan and other
academics who pushed for peace talks with the PKK enemies of the state. RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN (through translator):
They have titles before their names, like professor and assistant professor, but that
doesn’t make them intellectuals. They’re unenlightened. They’re vile. Those who side with the cruel are cruel. Those who side with massacre commit massacre. NICK SCHIFRIN: That was five months before
the coup, which means the coup only accelerated the President Erdogan’s crackdown already
in progress, says Dr. Aktan. DR. OZDEMIR AKTAN: Turkey always looked to the
West, and tried to be more to be like a Western country. We want democracy. Well, we want freedom. But now we are getting away and away from
the Western population. That means less democracy. YENAL KUCUKER, Turkish Heritage Organization:
I don’t think this is an identity change. This is about priorities. And the national security of the country is
very important. NICK SCHIFRIN: The government declined our
interview request. But Turkish Heritage Organization executive
director Yenal Kucuker echoes the government argument when he says government structures
had to cleanse themselves of people who support Fethullah Gulen, especially the military. YENAL KUCUKER: In specific divisions, there
are certain generals, commanders, different ranks getting their instructions from — not
from the military, but from those who were outside of the military. There was a cleanup campaign, so to speak,
to eliminate those who are affiliated with Gulen movement. NICK SCHIFRIN: That campaign has extended
into journalism, and it’s a fight that the Cumhuriyet newspaper knows well. Turhan Gunay is the newspaper’s books, magazine
editor. He shows off mementos and the newspaper’s
century-old tradition of opposition. What happens to people in Turkey right now
if they oppose the government? TURHAN GUNAY, Cumhuriyet (through translator):
I can only answer this question through my own experience, and that is, you are thrown
into jail. The government has no tolerance for the slightest
criticism. NICK SCHIFRIN: Today, Gunay is free, surrounded
by a fraction of the books he’s spent the last 33 years reviewing. But he spent nine months in prison with his
colleagues. And they were just released last month. That’s him on the left in the blue. They had been accused of aiding a terrorist
organization. Did they provide any evidence? TURHAN GUNAY (through translator): No, they
didn’t. There was only the accusation, aiding and
abetting the PKK. But we have no connection to them. After all, we are just journalists. NICK SCHIFRIN: Cumhuriyet journalists have
been arrested by previous Turkish governments, and Turkey has suffered three previous successful
coups, the last one in 1980. But Gunay says today feels different. Since last year’s coup, 150 media outlets
have been closed. And like all critics who’ve been jailed or
fired, his passport’s been taken away, so he can’t leave a country that he says is becoming
an open-air prison. TURHAN GUNAY (through translator): Turkey
is a civilized, secular, and Muslim country. It was founded on that and molded on that. But, today, the people we call secular, modern,
or civilized are cornered into certain spaces, and the areas they live in are fast being
destroyed. NICK SCHIFRIN: The government has stood by
its characterization of the Cumhuriyet newspaper as pro-coup. And last month, one year to the minute after
the coup, Erdogan recommitted himself to what he describes as strengthening the state. RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN (through translator):
The July 15 coup attempt wasn’t the first attack against our country, and it won’t be
the last. For that reason, we will first rip the heads
off these traitors. We will cut their heads off. NICK SCHIFRIN: The crowd responded, “We want
executions, we want executions,” even though the country banned the death penalty 13 years
ago. What is the state of the justice system in
Turkey? OMER KAVILI, Attorney (through translator):
People have become afraid of saying what they have seen or standing as a witness to what
they have witnessed. NICK SCHIFRIN: Omer Kavili is a lawyer for
a 33-year-old 1st lieutenant in the Turkish air force. That’s him on the right with his family. He’s accused of being a coup participant. In total, thousands of Turkish service members
are on trial, part of the largest legal proceedings in Turkey’s modern history. Kavili says his client didn’t help the coup
plotters, and the only evidence the government has presented is a video during the coup of
his client walking in a hallway. Can your client get a fair trial? OMER KAVILI (through translator): This is
no trial. As he gives his testimony, we should be able
to ask questions. But our microphones are turned off. I can’t speak to my client because, between
us, there is a wall of armed police. We don’t know the evidence against us. We don’t know who testified against us. If you call that a fair trial, to hell with
it. NICK SCHIFRIN: Kavili shows me how, every
time he goes into court, authorities cover up his phone’s cameras. He says, in this environment, the defenders
feel like the persecuted. OMER KAVILI (through translator): They are
already tailing me and tapping my phone. I’m under constant surveillance. They can detain me anytime they want. NICK SCHIFRIN: The government’s defenders
acknowledge the coup was a turning point, but they argue it was for the better: The
people prevailed, and the military learned its lesson. YENAL KUCUKER: This was the first attempt
coup attempt the Turkish people were able to stop. This is democracy, and this is an elected
government. The only way for the elected government to
be — to leave this post is basically with elections, with the ballot, not with bullets. NICK SCHIFRIN: Today, amidst Istanbul’s high-rises,
posters depict failed takeover attempts and men labeled martyrs who died defending the
government. Authorities here are keenly watching their
own people. And, in the name of preventing another coup,
they’re targeting all their perceived enemies. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Nick Schifrin
in Istanbul.

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