"It would be in Turkey's benefit to extend the state of emergency for three months," Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday at a meeting of provincial leaders in the capital, Ankara, before suggesting that it could be prolonged even further. "They say one year isn't right for Turkey. Let's wait and see. Maybe 12 months won't be enough."
Erdogan — whose post is supposed to be ceremonial under Turkey's parliamentary system — technically doesn't have the authority to enact such measures. But they are decreed by the government's National Security Council, which convenes under Erdogan's direction and announced its intention to continue the state of emergency a day before his remarks.
The coup attempt was launched in Istanbul and Ankara on July 15 by a mutinous faction of the military; it claimed the lives of 240 people, including many protesting civilians, before it was quashed. Erdogan and his allies pin the blame on the shadowy network of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose supporters allegedly have infiltrated major organs of the state, including the military, judiciary, police and other elements of the civil bureaucracy. Gulen lives in self-imposed exile in the United States.
According to Reuters, more than 100,000 public officials, including members of the police, civil service and military, have been dismissed or suspended from their jobs in the ensuing crackdown. About 40,000 people have been detained. The justice minister announced Wednesday that about 32,000 people have been formally arrested as part of the investigation into the suspected Gulenist network.
Critics of the purge say that it's tantamount to a witch hunt aimed at further consolidating Erdogan's grip on power and that of his ruling Justice and Development Party. Dozens of journalists, human rights activists and other members of civil society also have been ensnared in the round-ups, leading to formal complaints by international rights groups.
Turkish authorities, though, say it's part of a necessary reckoning with Gulenist infiltration. In the months since the coup attempt, Turkey has also got itself enmeshed more deeply in the region's conflicts — escalating its offensive against a Kurdish separatist insurgency within its borders while also marching into war-torn Syria for the first time.
Analysts see Erdogan profiting from a groundswell of nationalist feeling. Al-Monitor columnist Mustafa Akyol wrote about a new film that Turkish students were made to watch in schools at the start of the academic semester this month:
A seven-minute film prepared by the Ministry of Education was an important part of the campaign. The film, which you can see online
, first reminds students of the great historical battles the nation has won, such as the Gallipoli campaign of 1915 and the War of Liberation fought between 1919-22. Then it moves on to the night of July 15, with impressive scenes of citizens resisting the tanks and flags flying in the shade of mosques. In the background, you hear President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
reciting the lines of the national anthem, especially the parts about the independence of the Turks and their glory against enemies.
"The narrative depicts a black-and-white universe, where patriots defend the nation against enemies inside and out. It also depicts a commander in chief who guides the whole nation against these numerous threats," Akyol observes, commenting on what's now a recurring theme in Erdogan's political rhetoric. "There is no trace of any self-criticism or soul-searching."
And so the state of emergency — and the purge — rolls on.