Dismissal, detention and protest: the tale of a sacked Turkish civil servant

The story of Turkish teacher Acun Karadağ is not unique, but that is what makes it all the more tragic.

She is one of the tens of thousands of people in Turkey who were sacked from their from civil service jobs in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016.

Karadağ shares the fate of the group, who have suffered an effective social death since. The demographic’s majority remains unemployed, battling for basic social services as they deal with the psychological stress of having become social outcasts after being linked to failed putsch.

The teacher spoke to Ahval about her journey, from the ill treatment she received in police custody to her decision to join a group that for years has been protesting in Ankara to be restored to their jobs.

Karadağ’s nightmare began on Oct. 29, 2016, when she was dismissed from her job as a teacher by a presidential decree before being detained by police. She began protesting in front of her school, with no support from her union Eğitim-Sen.

Administration in her school was against the protest, which received support from students and fellow teachers, and the school’s principal eventually managed to end it by way of threats.

At that point, Karadağ decided to join the handful of civil servants who were holding demonstrations on Ankara’s famous Yüksel Street to protest their dismissal from government jobs by decree-laws during the state of emergency declared after the failed putsch.

Their protest continued for years in the capital’s central Kızılay district with the slogan, “I want my job back.” Members of the group are still determined to claim what they say is rightfully theirs, despite having been detained hundreds of times.

Five days after the coup attempt of July 15, 2016, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) declared a state of emergency and began issuing decrees, which saw some 80,000 people placed behind bars and more than 150,000 sacked from their state jobs as part of a crackdown on alleged members of the Gülen movement, a religious group accused of orchestrating the failed putsch.

Karadağ questioned how the government had been able to write up thousands of pages long lists of suspects so quickly after the coup attempt.

The situation was “very suspicious” according to Karadağ. “How do you form an opinion on so many people so quickly? This is why we believe these lists existed beforehand.”

Not only was the sacking of civil servants unlawful, Karadağ said, all avenues were shut for victims to seek their legal rights.

“It is said that a State of Emergency Commission was established, but that is to prevent us from applying to the ECHR,” she said. “Imagine the very people who sacked you examining your dismissal file.”

Launched after the failed putsch, the State of Emergency Procedures Investigation Commission is a government body formed to oversee cases like Karadağ’s.

After being refused by Turkey’s constitutional court, Turkish applicants affected by the decree laws went to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which was faced with a deluge of some 25,000 applications and urged on Turkey to form the commission. The commission issued its first ruling in Dec. 2017.

As of early 2019, 92.7 percent of the applications to the commission have been rejected, with some 60 percent of cases still awaiting resolution.

Speaking on the Yüksel Street protesters in Ankara, Karadağ said the group was acting on concerns over what a government could do after violating the rights of so many people.

Karadağ said the Turkish government was operating in the same way Nazis in the post-putsch period, first by creating enemies out of the least liked segment of society, which was then followed by the slow destruction of other groups.

“This is what happened in Turkey,” she said. “Nowadays everyone is declared a Gülenist, or a member of the PKK or DHKP-C” - all outlawed organisations that are designated terrorist groups by Ankara.

Most dismissed civil servants are accused of links to Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen and his followers, but there were many others who belonged to other opposition groups.

Karadağ underlined that Eğitim-Sen did very little to help the teachers who are in the same predicament as her.

“But I know they are being threatened by the Interior Ministry. Millions have put their support behind us but when you look at Eğitim-Sen’s press conferences, there are 30 people at most,” she said, saying that the union’s membership over the past few years has dropped from 500,000 to 100,000.

“The union’s leadership of this era will go into the trash bins of history,” she added.

Karadağ also spoke on the treatment she received while under police detention.

“The prison guard asked me to remove my clothing. I refused until eventually three guards forcefully removed my clothes,” she explained, adding that she only came to realise this was standard practice when and opposition lawmaker brought the issue to parliament last year.

Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lawmaker and lawyer Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu sparked debate late last year over unlawful strip-searching in Turkey’s prisons, when he reported that around 30 women had been forecefully strip searched in a prison in western Turkey.

The report prompted many women to come out sharing their stories of mistreatment in prisons.

“I told them that unless they put my clothes back on, just as they had stripped me down, I would walk out of the room naked. So they complied,” Karadağ said.