Skip to main content

Turkey sacks 10,000 public staff as Gulenist hunt continues

Ankara accelerates sackings of suspended workers, as clues emerge of critiera being used to identify supporters of Fethullah Gulen
More than 80,000 people are estimated to have been arrested, dismissed or suspended from their jobs (AFP)

ISTANBUL, Turkey – Turkey on Friday accelerated the process of converting suspensions of public workers allegedly affiliated to the Fethullah Gulen movement into permanent sackings as further clues also emerged about the criteria used to identify Gulenists.

A decree published in the Official Gazette on 1 September announced the sacking of more than 10,000 public sector workers, ranging from academics to healthcare personnel.

In public universities, 2,346 academics were dismissed while the number of sackings by the health ministry stood at 1,825 including administrative and healthcare staff.

On Thursday 820 soldiers were also dismissed, the defence ministry announced. Of those dismissed 648 were already under arrest.  

Authorities blame Gulen, a Turkish preacher who lives in the US, and his followers in the Hizmet (service) movement of masterminding the failed coup attempt of 15 July.

They are also accused of infiltrating all levels of state mechanisms since the 1980s to eventually be able to topple the constitutionally legitimate system.

The three-month state of emergency declared on 20 July allows the government to circumvent parliament and rule by decree.

Concerns have abounded over how Gulen followers, particularly those not directly involved in the coup attempt, are identified. Details have started becoming clearer on what evidence is being used to root out alleged Gulenists, as they are called.

Suheyb Ogut, executive director at the Bosphorus Centre for Global Affairs, an NGO known for strongly supporting the ruling AKP government, said two main criteria used to identify rank-and-file Gulenists is their accounts in Islamic bank Bank Asya and the use of Bylocka little-known messaging service.

He said either of these was a good starting point and then if further investigations provided more evidence, action could be taken.

“A very strong indicator of someone being a Gulenist is those that kept using Bank Asya after the events of December 2013,” Ogut told a group of journalists during a roundtable conference on 1 September.

“Regular people and all AKP supporters quit using Bank Asya in droves after those events,” he said.

Bank Asya was considered to be the primary source handling the Gulen movement’s financial activities.

On 18 July the bank’s activities were completely suspended. The bank was run by state administrators since 2015.

Sadik Unay, director of economic research at the pro-government SETA Foundation, said investigating irregularities by big Gulen corporations is relatively easier since administrators can investigate all company records and also their financial activity on the stock exchange if applicable.

Police and prosecutors allegedly affiliated to Gulen on 17 and 25 December 2013 tried to implicate President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his close circle in a major corruption probe.

The government called it a coup attempt and the erstwhile allies became implacable foes.  

Ogut also said the Bylock messaging system is an indicator of being a Gulenist.

A senior Turkish official had previously confirmed that the obscure and amateurish messaging system was hacked by Turkish intelligence and used to identify about 56,000 Gulenists living in Turkey.

Officials have said that there are around 150,000 Bylock users.     

Since the crackdown began, more than 80,000 people are estimated to have been arrested, dismissed or suspended from their jobs. These include soldiers, civil servants, academics, governors, prosecutors, judges, businessmen, diplomats, prison guards, football officials and even forestry officials. 

Many have had their assets frozen or confiscated shortly after their arrest or dismissal, although authorities promise that all those found innocent will eventually be allowed to return to work and clear their names.

Those suspended from the public sector continue to receive two-thirds of their salaries until investigations are complete. If reinstated they are reimbursed the remaining one-third.   

Turkey has introduced an early release scheme to free up space in its prisons.

"As of yesterday evening, 33,838 prisoners and detainees have been released," Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said during a ministerial meeting in Ankara on Friday led by Prime Minister Binali Yildirim that was broadcast live.

According to state-run Anadolu news agency, the total capacity of Turkey's prisons is 187,351 people.

Since July 15, the number of those in custody has swelled to more than 200,000.

Yildirim said that 40,000 people had been detained in July, of which 20,000 were remanded in custody.

The EU had criticised the crackdown and expressed alarms at reports of maltreatment of detained coup suspects.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.