Fresh from facing down a coup attempt this weekend, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has hammered the police, judiciary and civil service so hard that some analysts warn of lasting damage to the state.
Around 50,000 officials have been sacked, including judges, police commanders and university deans.
The education ministry has revoked the licences of 21,000 teachers working in private institutions and banned other teachers from traveling abroad, Turkish media said Wednesday.
The military is badly hit. Around 100 generals and admirals are said to be awaiting trial, with dozens of others still being questioned over their roles in the attempted putsch.
“Nobody in Turkey has won in the long-term,” Hugh Pope and Nigar Goksel of International Crisis Group wrote in a report Sunday. “The damage to the army — more important than ever, given the turmoil in Turkey’s neighborhood — will be severe.”
For decades, Turkey has lurched between civilian autocracy and military reversals. The armed forces intervened with coups in 1960, 1971 and 1980 and enforced a change of government in 1997.
The government this time is pointing the finger at Fethullah Gulen, a spiritual leader who lives in self-imposed exile in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania. Gulen denies involvement and has suggested that the coup was staged.
Erdogan’s administration accuses Gulen of orchestrating terrorism through his vast network of supporters, who are well represented in Turkish education circles.
“This parallel terrorist organization will no longer be an effective pawn of any country,” Reuters quoted Prime Minister Binali Yildirim as saying. “We will dig them up by their roots.”
Gulen’s foundation runs schools in Turkey that teach a primarily secular curriculum.
Analysts say the purge carries three main risks:
Firing swaths of administrative talent may weaken state institutions. Washington and the European Union have urged Erdogan to strengthen democracy not settle scores.
“We support completely the efforts to bring the perpetrators of the coup to justice. We just also caution against any kind of overreach that goes beyond that,” U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner told a news briefing Tuesday.
It is not a useful time to weaken the military. The Islamic State group controls territory over the border in Syria and is thought to have been behind six major attacks inside Turkey over the past year. Around 2.7 million refugees from Syria have passed through Turkey or settled there.
“Any downward development in the country is most likely to have major repercussions not only in the region but well beyond it,” Amin Saikal, director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University, wrote in an email. “The people of Japan should be paying attention to Turkey’s performance in the fight against IS and the country’s relations with the U.S. and EU.”
Erdogan has disenchanted his opponents. Although he retains large numbers of supporters, he will need to tread carefully to bridge the divide and ease frustrations.
“(Erdogan’s) legitimacy as ruler of all of Turkey is diminished with each drop in Turkey’s cruising altitude,” wrote Pope and Goksel. “For the first time in years, parliamentary parties united on Saturday to condemn the coup attempt — including Kurdish nationalists. As Erdogan seeks to uncover those behind the attempted coup, he would be wise to build on this outstretched hand and abide by the rule of law.”
For some inside Turkey, despair is running high.
“The country is unmanageable right now,” Reuters quoted an unnamed government critic as saying. “There are no functioning laws to take the heat out.”