Turkey’s post-coup dismissals leave army of highly qualified jobless

The Turkish government’s sacking of tens of thousands of teachers, doctors, academics and other professionals following the 2016 failed coup has created an army of highly qualified unemployed people still struggling to find work.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist government blames the coup on its erstwhile allies in the Gülen movement, acolytes of the reclusive U.S.-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen who encouraged graduates of his schools and universities to take up influential jobs in Turkey’s civil service, military, police, judiciary and media.

After the coup failed, the government used emergency powers to summarily dismiss more than 130,000 public sector workers it deemed to have links to what it said were terrorist organisations or other groups posing a threat to national security.

“Their dismissals did not include specific evidence or details of their alleged wrongdoing,” watchdog Amnesty International said in a 2018 report. “Instead, the decrees offered a generalised justification that they ‘had links to, were part of, were connected to, or in communication with’ proscribed groups.”

The state of emergency was lifted after two years. But nearly three years after the coup many of those dismissed remain unemployed and struggling to provide for themselves and their families.

Emine was arrested and jailed while working as a literature teacher in the western province of Izmir. The school was later shut down by government decree.

"I haven't had a job for two years, I can't use my diploma as a teacher of literature. At 45 years of age, I am unfortunately unemployed, without a (valid) diploma, desperate and I am being prosecuted by a criminal court for being member of a terrorist organisation. I didn't throw a stone to kill a sparrow, even during my childhood," she said.

Her story is typical. The mass dismissals have had a devastating financial impact on individuals and families. At a time when the country is in a recession and unemployment stands at nearly 15 percent, having a black mark against your name for having been sacked from the public sector for alleged links to coup plotters does not help.

Maide's husband was a lawyer at a state institution. He was suspended after the failed coup and then sacked by decree. First, they moved to a new city, then her husband started working in a cafe.

"It was appreciated that he was able to speak English with the incoming tourists,” Maide said. “He was a waiter with a PhD.”

Nearly three years after the dismissals began, thousands are living in limbo. Branded terrorists and stripped of their livelihoods, their professional and family lives have been shattered.

Banned from working in the public sector, sacked workers have no option but to shift to the private sector. Employers are often unwilling to give jobs to those sacked by the government and linked to an alleged terrorist group.

Yalçın is a physician. After being dismissed by decree, he could not afford to pay the rent and the landlord evicted him and his family. Yalçın said hospitals that tried to recruit him before the coup now refused to see him.

"My wife went to her mother's house in order not to get affected psychologically during this period since she was pregnant. Meanwhile, I started looking for a job. Some hospital owners didn't even let me in the hospital," Yalçın said.