In March, the United Nations once again told the Turkish government enough already with its state of emergency persisting for the last 20 months. More than 100,000 people have been arbitrarily punished with job loss, imprisonment and even torture, on allegations connected to the July 2016 coup attempt.
The Turkish government blames this coup attempt squarely on the sympathizers and loosely affiliated members of the Hizmet movement, inspired by the Muslim scholar, preacher and political figure, Fethullah Gulen. Since 1999, Gulen, who denies any involvement in the coup, has resided in nearby Saylorsburg and has supporters and volunteers worldwide.
The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights released areport in March on Turkey’s human rights abuses conducted, allegedly, to stop terrorism. The abuses are monumental and have succeeded in wrecking families in Turkey and abroad. Quite simply, terrorism, in the eyes of Turkish President Erdogan, seems to be any voice of protest or disagreement and anyone with connections to Gulenists or other oppositional movements.
So who was targeted? The U.N. found that 152,000 civil servants (teachers and academics) were fired and/or arrested; 4,200 judges and prosecutors were fired; 2,474 workers became unemployed with the closing of foundations, trade groups and media outlets; 570 lawyers were arrested; 1,480 other attorneys were prosecuted; 79 lawyers were jailed long-term; 34 bar associations and non-governmental organizations were closed; 166 media outlets were “liquidated,” and finally 100,000 websites were blocked.
Who knows how many passports are now canceled, but 50,000 such documents were recalled by Turkish authorities in July 2016 alone. As an Amnesty International member, I am horrified how this government pursued human rights workers, including the founder of Amnesty International’s Turkish section, attorney Taner Kilic and nine other prominent Amnesty International members. Kilic is accused of using a secure messaging system and a bank account in a Hizmet-affiliated bank.
The thoroughly vindictive nature of this regime was evident recently as it colluded with security agents in neighboring Kosovo to deport six Gulen supporters (five teachers and one doctor) on the premise they could be terrorists. In addition, hundreds of Gulen supporters were forcibly returned to Turkey from Sudan, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
What is behind this aggressively unending witch hunt? Why was Gulen targeted? Some suggest the match that lit this fire was Gulen’s 2013 allegations that government corruption led directly to Erdogan. A scapegoat was needed to absolve the government. Overnight, the Hizmet movement became public enemy No. 1 with the arrests of thousands.
A Lehigh Valley man, who awaits U.S. asylum, says that because Gulen sympathizers were credited with uncovering this grand corruption scandal, the Turkish government utilized this as a pretext to sack everyone it deemed disloyal from the ranks of law enforcement, the judiciary and the military. A long list of “offenders” had been tabulated well before the 2016 coup attempt, explaining why so many were fired immediately after the coup attempt. Being a Gulenist justified this persecution.
Pursuing terrorists is “simply theater,” with the real agenda being to thwart individuals and groups that the government deems oppositional or independent, he says, explaining that immediately after the coup attempt Erdogan declared on TV that “the coup was a gift from God” — justifying a massive purge. Erdogan acts as if he is religious but he uses religion as a tool to become stronger, he adds.
My contact’s father was an educator in the Gulen movement, was jailed for 18 months, and is now hiding in Turkey, having had his passport and those of family members confiscated. Other Turks in the U.S. suffer because family and friends are jailed and sometimes tortured. An option for some has been fleeing by small boat to Greece, but that is dangerous and more than one family has drowned.
Turkish-Americans try to help Turks in Greece with money and support until they can leave Greece with papers for a better life elsewhere. Since January, at least three American delegations went to Greece to assess help measures. According to a U.N. report, one group, Embrace Relief, intended to buy Greek property to create a refugee center for these displaced people, but Greek officials booted them out, not wanting to anger Turkish officials.
Where is this going? The U.N. predicts this witch hunt will end in economic crisis for Turkey as its most accomplished citizens become pariahs as the educational and legal systems vaporize along with the economy. But more important is the hellish suffering and hardship by those targeted, which will affect generations.
Karen Norvig Berry, who lives in Bethlehem Township, is a member of Amnesty International.
Police detain a demonstrator Tuesday during May Day protests in Istanbul, Turkey, as workers and activists mark the day with defiant rallies and marches for better pay and working conditions. (Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)