Gökhan Bacık
Sep 18 2019

Turkey’s new marginalised minority

According to official Turkish figures, the number of people dismissed from their jobs by emergency decrees since the failed 2016 failed coup attempt, is 125,678. If we include those who lost their jobs in private sector as a result of government’s decisions, the number rises to 131,922.

Losing their jobs is not the final punishment for victims of the decrees. Seen as domestic enemies, they are not allowed to work even for private companies. They are not also allowed to have passports.

Many of them are accused of belonging to the Gülen movement, an Islamist group formerly allied to the ruling party.

The victims can be identified as Turkey’s new post-modern minority, and being so, they are the most recent examples of domestic enemies.

In its first announcement after the 1980 military coup, the generals declared Turkey was under the assault from both foreign and domestic enemies aiming to destroy the country’s independence, statehood and even people.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said this month that domestic enemies blocked Turkey’s progress.

Turkey’s political culture has a habit of seeing some of its citizens as enemies.

But, who is the typical domestic enemy in Turkey?

Domestic enemies are those who happen to have been born in Turkish cities and receive an education just like other citizens.

A reason why the state has been able to punish such large numbers of people is the indifference of other citizens. As historical cases confirm, most people, even if they do not endorse the state’s harsh methods of oppressing the opposition, keep living as if there is no problem in the country. The patterns of state-society relations in Turkey require people to remain silent while state is punishing its domestic enemies.

In the case of the decree victims, the government has put into force many laws and regulations, which virtually jailed those people in invisible prisons that prevent them from returning to normal life.

The issue is usually seen from the perspective of human rights, but it is possible it could trigger new dynamics within society. Most of those dismissed from their jobs are from conservative sectors of society, which is known for a collectivist nature rather than Western-style individualism. But given that these people were abandoned by the state and even by society, it is possible a new individualism could arise. 

Such was the case when many people from the left were similarly punished by the state in the aftermath of the 1971 military coup which purged the growing influence of leftists in the bureaucracy and the military. As a result, leftist groups turned away from the state, which is one of the dynamics to explain their longstanding hegemony over cultural and intellectual life that has even survived 17 years of Islamist rule.

Would those who have lost their jobs as a result of the decrees follow the example of leftist groups after 1971? Some victims of the decrees try to keep a low profile in an effort to get their jobs back.

But the issue reminds us that modern democratic values like individualism are not purely concepts but also methods to survive political obstacles. The dominant narrative of many conservative victims of the decrees, framed in the romantic terminology of religious victimhood, is problematic. They should realise their struggle to survive is also an intellectual effort that should be framed within a better discourse with global society.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.