For Turkey’s Purged, Tortuous Path Ahead To Regain Rights

Months after being sacked from public service by the government under the state of emergency, hundreds of former public officials first time gathered together to map out a joint strategy in what seems an arduous battle to reinstate their rights.

Nearly 150 public servants who lost their jobs overnight without any investigation, or a due process over the past 7 months, convened in Istanbul on Tuesday to discuss what can be done and how fast they would get their jobs back.

The epic scale of post-coup purge has left the public service in shambles and chaos while plunging more than 135,000 sacked officials into a disheartening state of unemployment, and abject poverty in many cases after systematic dispossession of their properties by authorities.

To deal with that unsettling social mayhem has become a matter of urgency and the former public servants, including professors, spoke about the ordeal they experienced in their individual lives and contemplated ways to end discrimination, social alienation, and mobbing.

Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, former president of the Islamist-oriented human rights organization MAZLUMDER, and Professor Cihangir Islam, husband of former lawmaker Merve Kavakci who was expelled from Parliament during oath ceremony in 1999 over wearing a headscarf, were among the participants and offered roadmaps for an effective battle to regain their rights.

Both names had also been dismissed from universities as part of the government purge to reshape Turkey’s academia and to rid universities of critical professors.

It is far from clear how long their struggle would last, but some of the participants offered a sober, well-judged review that it would take 15 years given the legal roadblocks erected by the government.

After mounting international liberal umbrage and criticism, the Turkish government moved to set up a special commission in January to offer ways for domestic legal remedies for dismissed public officials.

With the declaration of the state of emergency after the failed coup attempt on July 15, the Turkish government has suspended the implementation of its obligations regarding the European Convention on Human Rights.

The government’s central motive for the formation of a commission was to stunt applications from the Turkish citizens affected by the purge to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg. The court still signaled that it would continue to oversee applications by the Turkish people even if domestic legal channels are not entirely exhausted given the legal blocks that people face during the state of emergency.

Mindful of potential lawsuits and costly compensations, the Turkish government pledged to review cases of sacked public officials who deny any wrongdoing and want to be restored to their posts back.

No action has been taken during three months after the announcement about the setup of the parliamentary commission. The government’s foot-dragging fuels skepticism that the commission project would be a window dressing rather than a matter of substance.

Offering a vivid, riveting account of the surreal nature of government purge, Mr. Gergerlioglu said people are declared terrorist overnight without an investigation, a trial.

“You learn from internet or television that a new list is made public and your name is on the list. From that moment on, you appear to be linked with terrorist groups, or outright become a terrorist,” he said in deep lamentation over the arbitrariness of the government decrees.

“This cannot happen in a state with the rule of law. Some people [give a] verdict about you without a trial,” he vented his frustration over the socio-political witch-hunt that became commonplace in the aftermath of the coup.

He said the purged public servants demand trial or investigation into their cases but courts reject their calls.

“They block us from pursuing a legal battle at courts for our rights. Administrative court refuses our appeals [applications],” he added in elaborating the legal challenges emanating from courts’ rejectionist policies.

Both local and high courts seemingly do not want to involve in purge-related cases for fear of political backlash, many observers and critics believe.

According to Mr. Gergerlioglu, even Constitutional Court refused to take up complaints of fired officials on the ground that Turkey’s top court would only consider reviewing cases after Emergency Commission’s tackling with the individual cases of each people.

But there emerges the most daunting of the challenges. The commission has yet to take any form of a substance despite public pledge and lip service. Mr. Gergerlioglu questioned the practicality of such a commission.

“It was announced on Jan. 23 that a commission of 7 members would be formed. How can 7 members look into cases of 250,000 people? They can’t. They can only look at the cover of the files,” he said.

“Failure after exhaustion of domestic legal channels and applying to ECtHR is the path that awaits us. 250,000 files mean at least 15-year process,” he argued, revealing the painful truth about the tortured process ahead, tamping down expectations for any steady and fast restoration of rights.

For him, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag’s taunt about activating the commission may be in July, the first anniversary of the coup attempt, is an insult to the victims of the purge. He slammed the minister for out-of-touch elitism, not being aware of the human cost of the government purge on a grand scale.

He also lamented the lack of public awareness of the human tragedies, gut-wrenching stories of purge victims whose lives turned upside down overnight, losing their status, jobs, and properties.

“We did nothing wrong to be ashamed of. Do not try to prove to anyone that you are not a traitor,” Professor Islam told the audience about his nasty social encounters, advising the crowd to reject a defensive tone.

“If someone calls me a traitor, I spit to his face and even do not give a napkin. We will not retreat to defense,” he said, adding that “We will first ask. “What charges you level to me and why are you keeping courts closed?”

To Mr. Islam, such state of lawlessness has no precedents in recent memory, even during post-war trial courts in the aftermath of the War of Independence when critics of the new Republican regime stood trial.

Mr. Islam who was also a victim of post-modern military intervention which led to the removal of an Islamist prime minister and his government in 1997 went on to claim that this government’s repression of opponents passed well beyond that era. His wife, Merve Kavakci, was expelled from Parliament in 1999.

He said he received much information about sexual abuse and torture in prisons and detention centers, called on the prime minister and ministers to examine the claims.

Three public servants, one gendarmerie officer who was wounded during counter-insurgency operations in Southeast, another disabled public worker, and a dismissed personnel of Istanbul Municipality all detailed economic hardships, social isolation and psychological trauma that they had endured after being sacked.

Their stories are only a tiny example of more than 135,000 public workers. Roughly, considering families of the purged, nearly half a million people go through extreme difficulties, poverty, unemployment, and state of despondency. The decrees revoked licenses of more than 50,000 teachers, do not allow fired police officers to work even as private guards, canceling their social security and health insurance, depriving them of every form of social benefits.

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