Turkey: Accused just for being a (Kurdish) public sector worker

In the last few years, public employees have been identified by Erdoğan as the cornerstones of a solidarity coalition which emerged between the “left” and the Kurds… and they are unjustly losing their jobs for that reason

by Marcelo Netto

Emin Bayran, 45 (medical secretary); Berivan Alptekin, 37 (nurse); Gülistan Içer, 28 (nurse); and Dinçer Külçek, 45 (electrical technician who works for the Health Department) are among the eight public sector worker members of SES (the Trade Union of Public Employees in Health and Social Services) in Ağrı (part of the unofficial “Turkish Kurdistan”) who temporarily lost their jobs and are still facing trial for having participated in a peaceful demonstration against the 2015 Suruç bombing — a massacre which claimed 33 lives and wounded 104 on the border of Kobanî. The government accuses them of making “terrorist propaganda” for behaving as if they were PKK members

It has been just a week since the failed military coup against Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took place and the president of Turkey has already managed to detain, suspend or put under investigation around 60,000 civil servants, teachers, judges, police and soldiers.

Some say he had a list of arrests already prepared. Others, that it was a staged coup planned by Erdoğan himself for the purpose of strengthening his authority and getting rid of his adversaries.

Two things we know for sure.

First, the purge is not over. Days ago, Erdoğan suspended the European Convention on Human Rights for the three months that the recently approved State of Emergency will be in place.

Such a move will finally lift one of the last barriers he has been facing for years in order to successfully condemn his enemies — especially due to its Articles 10 and 11, which deal, respectively, with the right to freedom of expression and with the right to freedom of assembly and association, including the right to form trade unions.

Second, the purge didn’t start now in reaction to the failed coup, like he is trying to make us believe.

Public Services International (PSI) and the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) have been attending countless trials against their affiliates since back then when Erdoğan — elected president in 2014 — served as Prime Minister of Turkey, from 2003 to 2014.

The most recent one — against 11 public sector workers from Ağrı, the capital city of the Ağrı Province (one of the about 20 provinces that make up the unofficial “Turkish Kurdistan”) — took place on the 31st May 2016 and it is still undergoing, since its final verdict has been postponed twice: initially to 23rd June and then to 18th October.

Ağrı is the capital city of the Ağrı Province. Its mayor, Sirri Sakik, is from the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish and pro-minority political party — which is treated by Erdoğan as one of his main adversaries. On the other hand, the governor of the Ağrı Province, Musa Işın, is from the Justice and Development Party (AKP) — the same as Erdoğan

“It’s like that”, explains a member of SES (the Trade Union of Public Employees in Health and Social Services), who came from Ankara to attend the trial on 31st May.

“The court always postpones its verdict as long as it can, mainly because they are Kurds. The aim is to put psychological pressure on them. To create an atmosphere of fear and suspicion so their neighbours and work colleagues start thinking they are, for real, from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).”

In fact, in the last few years, public employees in Turkey (especially the Kurds) have been identified by Erdoğan as the cornerstones of the solidarity coalition which emerged between the “left” and the Kurds.

Cem Şapak (Turk), Deniz Sağlamtaş (Arab) and Mehmet Uz (Kurd) are the three education support workers affiliated to Eğitim-Sen who are among the 11 public workers facing trial (Eğitim-Sen is affiliated to KESK and to Education International (EI))

Out of the 11 public workers being accused, nine are Kurds, one is Turk and one is Arab.

All of them belong to KESK (the Confederation of Public Employees’ Trade Unions) — eight are members of SES (a trade union affiliated to PSI/EPSU) and three are affiliated to Eğitim-Sen (the Education and Science Workers’ Union).

The “methodology” used by the police to come up with such lists of names usually follows the same protocol: they watch footage of demonstrations looking for public workers. In this case, 11 of them were picked out of 500 people who attended a peaceful march against the 2015 Suruç bombing — a massacre which claimed 33 lives and wounded 104 on the border with Kobanî (Syria).

This is the peaceful demostration in which 11 public workers took part and the Turkish government is accusing them of making “terrorist propaganda”

The case

On 20th July 2015, young activists who had travelled from different cities of Turkey to the city of Suruç, with the aim to send humanitarian aid to Kobanî (part of the “Syrian Kurdistan”), were gathered in a community cultural centre when a suicide bomber, allegedly recruited by ISIS, exploded himself.

Young activists killed in the Suruç bombing, in May 2015

The bombing created outrage and the massacre was condemned by many national and international organisations — as well as by the president and the prime minister themselves.

Many people believe that Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MIT) is behind the attack or, at a minimum, that they had turned a blind eye to the incident.

KESK and other confederations and trade unions released a statement to their affiliates asking them to organize protest activities against the massacre. On the next day, Ağrı branches of KESK, DISK (the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey, TTB (the The Turkish Medical Association) and civil society organisations took to the streets.

Berivan Alptekin (front row in blue) during the demo in Ağrı on the 21st of July/2015

After one month, on 28th August, 11 public employees who had taken part in the demonstration were temporarily laid off, and disciplinary proceedings were opened against them by the decision of the governor of the Ağrı Province, Musa Işın, a member of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) — the same party as Erdoğan.

The case was then transferred to the High Discipline Committees of related ministeries which maintained the dismissals before any court decision had been taken — a procedure which completly subverts the order in cases like this, since normally the committes should wait for the court’s final verdict before they can finalize their investigation.

“Once, Erdoğan even said, literally, to the governors: ‘You don’t have to obey the rules’,” remembers a member of SES.

Besides this “guideline”, the High Discipline Committees backs up their attitude also based on a circular — issued on17th February this year by the former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu — which violates the right to organise and freedom of association guaranteed to public employees and that includes several contradictions with national laws and international conventions, like the European Convention on Human Rights.

Four out of the eight Ağrı board members of SES who temporarily lost their jobs and are still facing trial appear on the beginning of this text: Emin Bayran, 45 (medical secretary for over 20 years); Berivan Alptekin, 37 (nurse for 16 years); Gülistan Içer, 28 (nurse for 3 years); and Dinçer Külçek, 45 (electrical technician who has been working for 26 years in the Health Department).

For the sake of just taking part in the demonstration against the 2015 Suruç bombing, the government accuses them and the others of making “terrorist propaganda” in the sense that “they are behaving like members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)” — which is considered a terrorist organization in Turkey.

Besides them, two other SES members face another trial. SES Ağrı branch co-president Recep Altindağ and board member Sait Doğan, who after being dismissed for visiting a peace tent built in Ağrı, endep up being arrested on 7th June and are still in prison.

The trial on 31st May

SES members based in Ankara, including its co-president Gönül Erden, travelled to Ağrı to attend the trial. The co-president of KESK, Lami Özgen, was also present along with a PSI/EPSU representative who flew in from Geneva.

SES members wait outside of the Palace of Justice in Ağrı minutes before….
KESK co-president, Lami Özge, and SES co-president, Gönül Erden, negotiate with the police to obtain the right for the PSI representative to enter…
…while inside, lawyers and Dirayet Taşdemir (second woman from the right), member of Parliament for Ağrı from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), talk.
Berivan’s mother, a nurse herself who also was persecuted in the 80s during the military dictatorship, came to follow the trial…
… but the final verdict was postponed to 18th October.

--

--

Public Services International is a global trade union representing 30 million working women and men who deliver vital public services in 154 countries

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store