For Turkey’s Dismissed Public Workers, Even Schools Are Off Limits

Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu

Dr. Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu was working at a hospital in Kocaeli, northwestern Turkey, until he was suspended by the Governor’s Office in October last year. Three months later, he was altogether expelled by a government decree. And now he has found out that he cannot even set foot in his kid’s school as a parent because like everybody else who have been fired from their jobs as part of the Turkish government’s massive post-coup crackdown he is simply barred from entering “public buildings.” At least this is what he was told by the Prime Ministry’s Communication Bureau (BIMER).

Mr. Gergerlioglu is no ordinary physician. He is also a widely-known human rights advocate in the country who previously headed the Istanbul-based Association for Human Rights and Solidarity for the Oppressed (MAZLUMDER). No longer able to practice his profession as a doctor, he says it is now uncertain if he will be allowed to enter a hospital even as a patient since hospitals, too, are “public buildings.”

His ordeal began when he posted a message of peace on Facebook 6 months ago. On Oct. 9 last year, he shared a picture in which two flag-wrapped coffins lie next to each other, one belonging to a member of the Kurdish militant group PKK, a rebel group that has been waging a 33-year armed revolt against Turkey, and other to a Turkish soldier, with women, most likely the mothers and other relatives of the dead, mourning by them. He wrote:

“Look at this picture and you will understand why this war has no meaning other than to drain and consume. The flags are different yet the mothers are the same! We have no differences left when we are dead! Let our kids lively bodies stand next to each other rather than their dead. Equally, brotherly and shoulder to shoulder…”

Given his record as a rights defender, that hardly was Mr. Gergerlioglu’s first message of peace where he sharply challenged the pro-conflict attitudes. However, that particular message was posted at a time when the government was sacking a few thousand people from their jobs each day on average in the aftermath of a vile and failed coup attempt a few months earlier.

It was shared as the government’s post-coup bid clampdown abruptly turned on to teachers, academics, journalists and civilians of all sort of other professions. It came at a time when a massive witch-hunt was looking for more victims. Mr. Gergerlioglu ultimately paid a heavy price, like more than 150,000 people who have lost their jobs and reputations (a staggering proportion of whom also their entire property and freedom) in the process.

As the dismissals went on unabated at a mind-boggling pace, full details as to the further restrictions imposed on the dismissed could only be discerned in time. Only when Mr. Gergerlioglu, also a columnist for the independent news site T24, was recently notified by his kid’s school’s management that he was also removed from the school’s parent-teacher association because he was earlier fired in a post-coup government decree, it became widely-known that purged tens of thousands of people were officially disallowed to enter public buildings anymore either.

Speaking about the latest blanket ban on the dismissed public employees during a TV interview, Mr. Gergerlioglu said: “We are treated like we were lepers. I contacted BIMER about the ban. In the local governor’s office’s correspondence, it was written that we shall not be allowed to enter public buildings. Will I now not be able to enter a courthouse or a hospital? The answer I was given (by BIMER) was: Your appeal was not granted. The administrative decision was orderly. The government approves this. There is no mistake.”

The rule of emergency declared shortly after the July 15 coup attempt has since been extended twice and is still continuing in its 9th month. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that it could further be extended when its latest 3-month period will be over in a few days. That might just produce more victims.

A leading opposition MP mentioned what he called “a major hearsay circulating in Ankara circles,” serving to justify those fears. In a Friday rally in Yalova, Muharrem Ince said, “I’m calling on teachers, police officers, nurses… If the resulf of (Sunday’s) referendum will be ‘Yes’, they will purge 300 thousand (more) civil servants. How can you entrust your rights to the hands of a single man?”

Most pollsters agree the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ votes are neck-to-neck but Mr. Erdogan insists ‘Yes’ has a “wide lead” over ‘No’. Mr. Gergerlioglu disagrees. In his latest T24 column on Friday, he expressed his own prediction for the referendum’s result as ‘No’ winning by a comfortable “56.5%” but cautiously added: “If the result will be ‘Yes’, I’m afraid a Turkey that is worse than today awaits us.”

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