Turkey to Kurdish doctors: 'You have no place here'

Turkey's post-coup attempt purges have zeroed in on another target. 

In Diyarbakır, the largest city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, some 150 doctors and 350 healthcare workers have recently been dismissed from their positions by presidential decree. Similarly, many medical school graduates have been denied positions for “security reasons.”

Healthcare is just the latest industry to be targeted by Ankara's purges following the July 2016 coup attempt. Critics say a recently passed healthcare law will make doctors even more vulnerable to dismissal, fail to protect healthcare workers from violence, further privatize the healthcare system, and force medical school graduates to pass a security test before accepting work in a public hospital.

Beginning with the declaration of a state of emergency in July 2016 and continuing after the Turkish constitution was amended by referendum to make Turkey a presidential system in early 2017, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been regularly issuing executive orders, which have the force of law.

Some of these executive orders consist of nothing more than lists of people who are to be dismissed from their positions. They cannot be rehired in their field or leave the country. These lists have affected one profession after another: first civil servants, then teachers, then professors, then lawyers and now healthcare professionals.

The state of emergency ended in July 2018, curbing the president’s power to issue executive orders. Still, certain bills in parliament threaten to enshrine the spirit and content of those orders in law. One such bill recently passed, affecting healthcare professionals dismissed by executive order.

The fifth article of the bill says that any medical professional accused of supporting a terrorist organization shall be dismissed and that any medical reports he or she has issued are made invalid.

Kemal Karadaş, who was dismissed two years ago after 25 years as a surgeon at Eyubbi Public Hospital, said the fifth article had no legal basis whatsoever and was further evidence that the executive is merely making up whatever laws it wants. He said that in making laws according to their whim, they’re trampling the medical profession. There’s no logic nor humanity to it.

Until now, doctors dismissed from public hospitals were still able to work in private ones. But the wording of the new law prevents any hospital that accepts the state’s health insurance from hiring these doctors and prevents these doctors from treating anyone who is covered by the state’s health insurance. Doctors are unable to practice their profession.

Dr. Karadaş travelled to Edirne, at the border of Greece, with a group of doctors who had been dismissed and attempted to renounce his Turkish citizenship. None of them were allowed to leave the country.

This law also applies to medical students, who are now required to pass a security screening in order to practice. Dr. Karadaş pointed out that this law compounds institutional racism against Kurds. It was already more difficult for Kurdish citizens to enter prestigious public professions such as professors, judges, lawyers, generals, mayors or governors. Now it will be more difficult for them to become doctors as well.

During the ongoing conflict between the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish government, over 40,000 people have lost their lives. How many Kurdish families could pass a security screening? In a region that has seen so much conflict, nearly every family has one member who has been arrested, accused, or linked to an outlawed group. This systematic of exclusion Kurds from public service is a form of racial exclusion, according to Dr. Karadaş.

Doctors who have invested years of their lives in education and training to pursue their profession, will suddenly be forced to turn to other ways of making a living or be forced to leave the country. His own daughter, who studied law, was told to give up her hope of being a judge. Since her father’s name had been on the purge list, she was told she had no chance. What will such young people do?

During World War II, many professors and other professionals dismissed from their professions by the Nazis settled in Turkey where they founded universities and educated an entire generation of Turkish students. Karadaş suggests that Turkish professors and doctors may be forced to do the reverse -- go from Turkey to European countries. Because of this phenomenon, some people in Turkey have dubbed this law the “Nazi Law.”

Dr. Veysi Ülgen, who was dismissed from his post after 28 years, lamented the state of Turkey’s healthcare system. He said that hospitals don’t have the necessary supplies. There are long lines, even in private hospitals. He claims that this law is related to austerity during the current economic crisis but says that healthcare should not be cut as a cost saving measure. Cutting healthcare budgets will lead to death and illness.

He says that the other parts of the bill are equally dangerous. It’s meant to impoverish the general public and make them more dependent. By leaving doctors unemployed, they’re sending a message that no occupation is sacred. If this is made into law, it will be a great blow to the profession and this will have dire consequences for access to healthcare.

The dismissed and decertified doctors, healthcare workers, and medical students of Diyarbakir recently gathered to protest, and they have vowed to resist attacks on their professions and ability to make a living.

Mehmet Şerif Demir, who is also president of the Diyarbakır Doctor’s Union, said that since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) took power they have used executive orders and omnibus bills to get their agenda passed, sneaking healthcare legislation onto bills focused on other subjects. This has created a fiasco for healthcare, which is increasingly being privatized and made into a for-profit industry.

Doctors are no longer motivated to treat workers well, according to Dr. Demir, and they approach patients as customers rather than as a public service. Violence against healthcare workers has become increasingly common.

“We fought for legislation to prevent violence against healthcare workers,” said Dr. Demir. “In the bill that was eventually passed, all references to violence against healthcare workers had been taken out and in its place they had inserted articles that made our public health system worse. Instead of preventing violence, which was what the bill purported to do, it contributed to privatization of healthcare and the favouring of certain private parties by the state.”

“Now, we’re at the point where a student who has studied for six years to enter this profession has to pass an arbitrary security test, and if they cannot then they cannot practice medicine,” he added. “This is civil death. There’s no law like this in any other country.”

Rojin Yılmaz, a 22-year-old medical school graduate, was recently informed that she would not be allowed to practice medicine because she had failed to pass a security test. She said most of her graduating class hasn’t been appointed to any position for the same reason, despite having no criminal record. Since she was never formally informed in writing, she has no way to know why she failed the test, and thus no way to appeal the decision.

Yüksel Tekin Avcı, who worked as a nurse until she was dismissed two years ago, now teaches at a technical high school that prepares students for the healthcare field. She says this law sent her one message: “We are giving you no chance of survival and no place in society.”