Turkey’s purge after failed military coup includes thousands of officials suspended Monday

Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hold an effigy of Fethullah Gulen during a rally at Taksim Square in Istanbul in July. They blamed the coup on Gulen's followers.
(Ozan Kose / AFP/Getty Images)

In a third day of government purges after a failed military coup, Turkey on Monday suspended 9,000 Interior Ministry officials, drawing U.S. and European Union warnings for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to keep the crackdown within the boundaries of democracy.

As the total number of military and civilians detained, arrested or suspended reached more than 15,000, Secretary of State John F. Kerry “firmly” urged Turkey to maintain its democratic institutions and the rule of law.

And even as Kerry promised support as Turkey pursues the perpetrators of the coup, he said, “We also caution against a reach that goes well beyond that.”

“A lot of people have been arrested and arrested very quickly,” Kerry said after talks with European Union officials in Brussels. “I think the level of vigilance and scrutiny is obviously going to be significant in the days ahead.”


The 28-nation European Union, membership in which Turkey has long sought, expressed alarm over the crackdown in progress after the coup attempt. The EU had condemned the military uprising within hours of its inception and voiced support for the democratically elected government.

But EU High Representative Federica Mogherini said it is important that the rule of law prevail as Turkey pursues the coup plotters.

“We share concerns about what is happening in the country these hours,” Mogherini said Monday. “We need ... to have Turkey respect democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Kerry echoed Mogherini’s comments and emphasized that Turkey, as a NATO member, has an obligation to respect democracy, and suggested alliance officials will be monitoring whether Ankara follows the rules.

“NATO will indeed measure very carefully what is happening” in Turkey, Kerry said.

A government official said a decision on whether to reintroduce the death penalty would be made by the Turkish parliament, where Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party has an absolute majority.

The coup attempt by a faction of the military began Friday night and was over in less than 24 hours. But even before security forces had cleared the final pockets of resistance Saturday, the Turkish government announced it would detain nearly 3,000 military officers and soldiers and 3,000 members of the judiciary on suspicion of aiding the coup — among them two members of the Constitutional Court, the nation’s highest.

Officials acknowledged that the lists had already been drawn up as part of a continuing investigation into the influence of Erdogan’s onetime political ally, Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who’s lived in self-exile in the U.S. since 1999. Erdogan blames the failed coup on Gulen and demanded his extradition from the United States. Gulen condemned the coup and denied any responsibility.

Gulen’s status has long been a sore point for both countries. Erdogan has labeled the mild-mannered cleric a terrorist and calls Gulen and his supporters the Fethullah Gulen Terror Organization. He seems bitterly determined to remove his erstwhile ally completely from Turkish politics, while the Obama administration maintains it will not consider extradition unless there’s convincing evidence that Gulen broke Turkish law.

On Monday, the government widened the roundup to include about 9,000 Interior Ministry employees, among them nearly 8,000 policemen. Those suspended include 77 provincial or district governors, officials who had been the central government’s key representatives in cities and provinces around the country, as well as the chiefs of police in some cities.

Security officials throughout the country were ordered to appear at police headquarters, where they had to turn in their weapons and police identifications.

The government announced that it had suspended 1,500 employees of the Finance Ministry and canceled all leave for government employees.

Although Gulen has attracted many security and judicial personnel to his movement, which preaches a moderate form of Islam, many of his supposed followers have been ousted in purges over the last two years, and it seems extraordinary that so many could still remain in positions of power.

The fact that so many suspected plotters and sympathizers could be identified, detained or suspended less than 48 hours after the failed coup also raised questions about the government’s claim that the uprising was entirely the work of Gulen’s supporters.

Also Monday, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told reporters that Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and the U.S. military were taken off-guard by the coup attempt.

“The secretary was surprised by the activities on Friday, as others in the U.S. government were,” he said. “And obviously, this was a cause for concern, and he was getting regular updates on what was happening.”

U.S. warplanes were not authorized Saturday by Turkish authorities to take off from Incirlik Air Base, which has been a vital launching point for airstrikes against Islamic State militants. The U.S. was again allowed to fly from Incirlik on Sunday, but commercial power to the base remained cut. The U.S. was using backup generators.

Gutman is a special correspondent. Times staff writers Tracy Wilkinson and W. J. Hennigan in Washington contributed to this report.


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1:20 p.m.: This article was updated with staff reporting and more details.

This article was originally published at 9:35 a.m.