World

Year after Turkish coup, thousands feel wrongfully punished

Abdullah Korkmaz worked as a teacher and elementary school principal in Turkey for 18 years before he was caught up, like more than 100,000 other public sector workers, in the expansive crackdown on civil servants that followed an attempted military coup a year ago.

Barred from his profession as a result of the purge the government says is targeting terrorists, the 48-year-old veteran educator now struggles to make ends meet. Private employers are reluctant to hire people on the government's blacklist, so Korkmaz opened a small restaurant serving a spicy raw meatball delicacy at a in the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir.

"You wake up early every morning to turn the heating on, you paint the school's walls, you replace the windows even though you are not given a budget, and then you get expelled," Korkmaz told The Associated Press in his restaurant.

The failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan killed some 250 people and injured 2,000 on July 15, 2016. But the unsuccessful takeover also upended Turkish society and institutions, as well as the lives of and livelihoods of individual Turks who have been linked directly or indirectly.

In the weeks and months since, about 150,000 people have been detained, one-third of them formally arrested. Some were soldiers who took part in the failed insurrection. Others were accused of links to Fetullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric who the government says was the coup's mastermind.

In addition, about 3 percent of the country's public sector workforce, including teachers, university professors and civil servants, has been dismissed. Many have had their passports confiscated, preventing them from seeking employment abroad.

Those caught up in the crackdown also include people who had accounts with a bank affiliated with Gulen, parents who sent their kids to schools run by the movement, and people who downloaded a secret messaging app allegedly used by coup plotters to communicate.

Human rights groups say the post-coup consequences have been applied unjustly and arbitrarily. Critics allege that many dismissals are politically motivated, with the opposition alleging that dismissed judges and prosecutors are being replaced by people linked to Erdogan's ruling party.

Korkmaz was sacked on Oct. 29. He found out from his wife, whose friend spotted his name in one of the government decrees that list the people who have been summarily fired from their jobs. Few people ensnared by the coup have been willing to talk. Korkmaz himself is worried that people may not frequent his restaurant when they find out that he was dismissed.

Korkmaz says he has no links to Gulen's movement, though he is a member of a left-leaning teachers union that called for a school boycott by parents and teachers in 2015 to protest what the union said were government policies aimed at "Islamizing" the national school curriculum. He said he did not participate in the boycott and still assumes the government will reinstate him and apologize.

"There is absolutely no reason for my dismissal," Korkmaz said. "If I am guilty of anything, then I should be prosecuted or imprisoned."

Defending the crackdown, government officials say the threat from the Gulen movement has not abated. They stress the severity of the attempted coup, when rogue military officers commandeered helicopters, jets and tanks to attack parliament and other state buildings and moved to seize control of TV stations.

Erdogan narrowly escaped an attack on a hotel on the Mediterranean coast where he was vacationing at the time.

"Can you expect us to ignore the coup?" Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak said in an interview. "No state can ever show tolerance to people in its midst that were involved in terrorism and tried to destroy its government."

Nevertheless, Kaynak added, the government is taking steps to address possible injustices, including creating a commission to review complaints and appeals from people dismissed from public jobs.

Human rights groups question whether the commission, whose members would be selected by the government, would have the independence needed to give aggrieved Turks a fair hearing.

Emboldened by an April referendum that approved constitutional changes to increase the powers of his office, Erdogan has vowed to show the coup-plotters no mercy and to maintain the state of emergency that allows the government to rule through decrees until peace is restored.

Government opponents say the post-coup purge has wreaked havoc on Turkish society. Hundreds of news outlets have been closed, while at least 159 journalists are in in jail, according to the Journalists Union of Turkey. Human rights groups have reported beatings and other forms of prisoner abuse. The government says torture and mistreatment is not tolerated and the reports are swiftly investigated.

At least 36 people who were either dismissed or arrested for alleged links to Gulen have committed suicide — seven of them in prisons and one person in a detention center, according to a report by the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP. Eighteen of them were police officers.

On Sunday, CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, completed a 25-day walk from Ankara to Istanbul demanding justice for a party colleague who was sentenced to 25 years in prison on spying charges and others he said have suffered injustices in the crackdown. Tens of thousands marched alongside him.

Derya Keskin Demirer, 48, was dismissed from her position as an assistant professor of labor sociology at northern Turkey's University of Kocaeli in September. The firing came after Demiter joined more than 1,000 academics in signing a petition calling for an end of Turkey's long-running conflict with Kurdish rebels.

Her husband, also an academic, lost his job, too. Now unemployed, she receives some financial aid from a labor union and tries to spend less.

"We (expected) some kind of reaction, but not this much," she said.

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Wieting reported from Kocaeli, Turkey. Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Mucahit Ceylan in Diyarbakir, and Neyran Elden in Istanbul contributed.