The arbitrary dismissal of more than 100,000 public sector workers in Turkey following a post-coup crackdown has devastated the lives of tens of thousands of citizens, leaving families struggling to survive economically and socially ostracized.
On July 15, 2016, sections of Turkey’s armed forces launched a coup attempt against the government. The Turkish parliament was bombed, national media was shut down, and other state infrastructure was attacked, leaving 234 people dead.
The coup, which was swiftly put down, marked a critical juncture in the country’s political history. What followed was an unprecedented purge of Turkey’s state institutions.
At least 47,000 people were arrested, 156 media organizations permanently shuttered, and hundreds of NGOs were closed. Amid mass detentions, the army and police were purged, and more than 100,000 public sector workers were fired from their jobs under a series of emergency decrees passed by the government. Over 30,000 teachers, 6,000 doctors, 5,000 academics and more than 4,000 judges found themselves suddenly dismissed.
The loss of once secure public sector jobs has left families in dire economic straits, with most blacklisted from working in state institutions, according to new report from Amnesty International. The rights group conducted interviews with sixty-one former public sector employees, who say they are struggling to survive without social security benefits, the cancellation of their pensions, and few alternative employment opportunities.
Dismissed employees had no option to appeal their firing. None of the workers Amnesty spoke to were given any explanation for their sacking, beyond allegations of being linked to terrorist groups. Many of the workers had their passports cancelled, preventing them from seeking work abroad. For those allowed to seek work in the private sector, opportunities are few and far between.
“Cutting 100,000 people off from access to work is akin to professional annihilation on a massive scale and is clearly part of the wider political purge against real or perceived political opponents,” Andrew Gardner, Turkey researcher at Amnesty International, said in the report.
While some dismissals in the army and police may be legitimate following a coup attempt, the Turkish government has not issued specific justifications for the mass firing of public sector employees beyond a policy of eradicating “terrorism.”
With workers branded as “terrorists” or “Gulenists,” bringing social shame and alienation and with no recourse, some former employees have taken extreme measures to protest the loss of their livelihoods. Nuriye Gülmen, a professor of literature, and Semih Özakça, a primary school teacher, entered the 75th day of a hunger strike last week. Fearing their protest could evolve into a larger movement, police have detained the two educators.
“The authorities must end these arbitrary dismissals immediately, and reinstate all those who are found not to be guilty of wrongdoing. Those who have been dismissed should be given access to a swift and effective appeal procedure in order that they can clear their names, be compensated and return to their careers,” Gardner said.