The state of emergency, Esmer argued, has effectively legalized the intimidation of the president’s long-time adversaries. “The purge has become a form of collective punishment,” Esmer said. “It’s not about getting coup plotters. It’s about cleansing the country.”
Among the rivals Erdogan may now be seeking to sideline, with or without explicit reference to the coup attempt, are members of the Kurdish minority. The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) came out publicly against the attempt, and opposes the spread of Gülenist influence in the country; Turkish Kurds generally share few, if any, beliefs with Gülen, who urged Erdogan to be more aggressive in Turkey’s decades-long battle with Kurdish separatists.
Yet Nihat Kiratli, a Kurdish teacher based in the city of Diyarbakir, and Fatma Yildizhan, a Kurdish health worker, were suspended after the coup attempt. Other Kurds have been implicated for attending Gülen-operated schools, which, in less-developed regions of Turkey, are often the only educational facilities available.
Both Kiratli and Yildizhan told their bosses that they had no links to the Gülen movement. Instead, they suspected they had been targeted for participating in a December 2015 protest against the Turkish military’s occupation of Kurdish cities, an operation that began in mid-2015 when a two-year peace process between Erdogan’s government and Kurdish militants broke down and violence erupted. Kiratli told me he hadn’t taken part in other political activities, but had nevertheless been suspended from work after his boss found his name on a list of people who, according to the government, supported “terrorist activities.” The accusation of being a Gülenist—a term that, in post-coup Turkey, increasingly seems to mean the same thing as terrorist—Kiratli said, was absurd. He despises Gülen. “I can’t even stand to see him on TV. Gülen makes me sick,” Kiratli said. “I never let my students go to [his] schools.” Yildizhan has been allowed to return to her job at a Diyarbakir hospital, but Kiratli is still awaiting clearance, fearing his suspension will ban him from teaching positions in the future. Meanwhile, the HDP, which Erdogan considers the political wing of the outlawed Kurdish militant group the PKK, saw its offices raided in August and its co-leaders indicted for spreading “terrorist group propaganda” in a move against the political opposition, apparently unrelated to the coup attempt.
Throughout the turmoil, Erdogan’s approval ratings have soared to 68 percent for the first time in his presidency. The thousands of now-vacant government positions are likely to be reassigned to AKP members or their families in a bid to ensure their loyalty, Sinclair-Webb said. Yet the coup has exposed the Turkish president, Esmer argued. “Erdogan realizes the day he is no longer in power, he will face trials for corruption and human rights violations in the [Kurdish] southeast,” Esmer said. “He knows there are dark days ahead of him if he doesn’t act fast. That’s what we are seeing with this purge.”