Turks sacked by government decree band together to demand rights

Many of the thousands of people summarily dismissed from their jobs in Turkey after the 2016 failed coup have given up keeping a low profile in the hope of being one day able to return to work in the public sector or claiming benefits and instead have launched media platforms and associations to demand their rights.

More than 125,000 public employees were dismissed by statutory decree (KHK) during a two-year state of emergency after the July 2016 coup attempt. Most are accused of links to the now banned Gülen movement, a secretive Islamist group once allied to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling party, but many belonged to other opposition groups.

The president accused the Gülenists of infiltrating the civil service, judiciary, military, police and media in an attempt to create a parallel state and grab power from within, then mounting a coup when the government sought crack down on the group.

But many of those dismissed from their jobs have not faced any charges, while the decree against them remains on their official records, leaving them ostracised and often unable to find work or receive public benefits.

In the early days of emergency rule, even defending dismissed workers could lead to legal trouble. But the state of emergency ended in July 2018, and now many victims of the KHKs are banding together in cities across Turkey to raise awareness about their struggles.

Their platforms focus on efforts to win back KHK victims’ legal rights, but also providing social, educational, and health services to the members and their families.

They have also set up influential social media networks including KHK TV, a YouTube channel set up by some purged public officials from southern provinces and led by Haluk Savaş, a famous psychiatrist, and Ahmet Erkan, a journalist.

The victims keep their struggle on the agenda, publish individual tragedies, and strengthen internal solidarity through these channels.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of a handful of people, including Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a member of parliament for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and Sezgin Tanrıkulu, a deputy for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the struggle has taken a national dimension.

In some places, like a southeastern city of Diyarbakır, KHK victims have set up separate platforms based on their ideological affiliations.

Mustafa Kaya, a member of the Diyarbakır KHK Platform, underlines the power of solidarity among the victims.

“Ours is a late struggle. If we had defended the rights of the first dismissed victims, the government could not have continued with the subsequent expulsions. Though it is late, our struggle is invaluable. We must include every KHK victim without any discrimination,” Kaya said.

This solidarity is especially important for a cause that comprises individuals from diverse backgrounds, said Hüda Yıldırım, an executive for the Istanbul KHK Platform.

The Gülen religious movement, which Turkey’s government blames for the 2016 coup attempt, was the main group targeted by Turkish authorities during the state of emergency. But many people affiliated with left-wing organisations, or the Kurdish political movement also became victims of the decrees.

“I have campaigned for democracy and human rights for years. My struggle entered a new phase with the KHK process,” Yıldırım said.

“In my previous struggles, I focused on the right to education in my mother tongue (in Kurdish), and free and secular education under the umbrella of the Confederation of Public Workers’ Unions, a left-wing organisation. But now, in the KHK process, we are fighting for our rights together with dismissed victims from diverse political backgrounds. We have an inclusive campaign for all,” Yıldırım told Ahval.

Deniz Cankoçak, from the Ankara KHK Platform, believes this solidarity has had a deep social impact by eliminating ideological barriers among the victims.

“Though thousands of us still prefer to remain silent, we have created a platform in a short period, providing economic and social support for our members,” Cankoçak said.

That support will be crucial for victims of a process that Amnesty International’s Andrew Gardner said had left people excluded from the workforce and facing both intense financial strain and deep social stigma, often triggering serious psychological difficulties.

Sixty people committed suicide after being dismissed by decree, Yıldırım said.

Turkey established a state of emergency commission in 2017 to address appeals submitted by KHK victims. As of October 2019, the commission has reviewed 92,000 out of 126,200 applications. Only 8,100 of those appeals have been accepted, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.