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Banality of Turkey’s Purge And Upended Lives

“Evros River is the one which gives the best punishment to FETO [Gulenists],” wrote news editor of Yeni Turkey (New Turkey), a pro-Erdogan newspaper.

What he wrote about indeed was an incident in which a mother and her one-year-old baby were found dead on the Turkish side of Evros River, the natural frontier between Turkey and Greece that has become a graveyard for thousands of misfortunate asylum seekers.

The mother and baby were tightly holding each other when they were discovered by the Turkish rescue and search teams.

Hatice Akcabay and her three children went missing when a boat capsized during crossing the river in a bid to reach the Greek shore on Wednesday. Akcabay and her husband, Murat Akcabay, had both been dismissed in the post-coup purge and decided to leave Turkey after exhausting all options, trying everything to find a job with a decent payment. But to their dismay, there was no future for them in Turkey, not after the lack of prospect to find a job. They were both teachers before the purge.

In a desperate plea to the Turkish and Greek officials, the father Akcabay on Thursday called for a nonstop search to find the missing family members.

“I am Murat Akcabay. My wife and I are teachers. After July 15, have become unemployed. While trying to cross Evros River to flee the repression of the Erdogan regime, our boat capsized. My wife and three children went missing,” he said. He urged the Turkish and Greek officials to not to halt rescue efforts that had been in place for 36 hours.

Separately, thousands of people mobilized on Twitter to increase the pressure on both the Turkish and Greek authorities to expedite their efforts. It was like a call to arms, an urge for mobilization on social media, a new pattern that has precedents in similar other incidents concerning victims of the government crackdown in Turkey.

But on Friday, the Turkish teams reached bodies of the mother and the little baby.

When the tragic news quickly filtered through social media, a sense of despair and resignation swept through the victims of purge and new members of an emerging diaspora who left Turkey to build new lives abroad.

The reaction to the death of a mother and her little baby vividly exposed the corrosion of social decorum and the breakdown of civic norms in Turkey. The journalist’s praise of Evros River as a natural killer of people affiliated with Gulen Movement serves as a stark reminder of the hate deeply ingrained in the physique of society toward the certain purge victims.

There was little empathy, but mostly no expression of understanding or sympathy for even the death of a mother and baby who, after all, had no relation to the coup attempt in 2016.

Journalist and new lawmaker Ahmet Sik, young politician Tuna Beklevic, several other lawmakers and a few independent journalists were the ones who lamented about the lack of awareness regarding fatal incidents that struck victims of KHK, the decrees used by the government to purge public servants during the state of emergency.

Victims’ longing for even a small hint of sympathy or empathy during moments of tragedies faces an unpleasant reality of deepening socio-political tribalism and polarization, factors that firmly took hold after the 2016 coup.

Journalist Cevheri Guven, former editor-in-chief of now-defunct Nokta Magazine who lives in Greece at a refugee camp, expressed his resignation over the prospects of social reconciliation or a future for victims of the political crackdown in Turkey.

“This is the comment of Yeni Turkiye journalist after Aras baby who was drowned. Not because there is Mr. Tayyip, but because there is such a generation I have no hope from Turkey,” he wrote on Twitter. His tweet was an expression of indignation and disbelief in response to the journalist’s rejoicing of the death of a mother and baby.

But Guven was certainly not alone in his umbrage. Thousands outpoured their angst and distress over the frightening level of indifference toward Akcabay’s tragic death.

And it was not the first incident. In February, a mother and her two children drowned in the cold waters of Evros. The German Bild daily portrayed the river that demarcates the borders between Turkey and Greece as a graveyard. According to estimations, nearly 2,000 bodies lie under the water.

Murat Sarica, the notorious journalist from Yeni Turkiye, was again jubilant back then in February. He even urged authorities to take back children from Gulenists, who intend to be asylum seekers and try to cross Evros, to save children’s lives.

For purge victims, especially of whom linked with the Gulen Movement, Turkey has become an uninhabitable place. The dehumanizing banalities of the purge and hostile social environment make their own country a hell hard to endure 7/24.

The media’s demonizing and dehumanizing discourse combined with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s inflammatory and hate-driven rhetoric automatically removes the chance for other segments of society to develop an empathy toward Gulen people’s plight.

President Erdogan once said: “Do not show mercy to them, do not have any compassion. If you do, you may yourself become pitiable.”

The president’s remarks reflect his mindset of collective punishment. In addition to the official employment of scorched-earth tactics to wipe out the movement’s now past influence from the state and social realm, society is expected to collaborate with the authorities to deny the movement sympathizers any relief or breathing space within the public domain.

More than 150,000 have been dismissed without due process in the aftermath of a coup, which is an epochal, defining moment in contemporary history. The government, without offering a convincing evidence, blamed Gulen Movement for the coup. Both U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and his sympathizers reject any link to the coup, which killed 249 people on July 15, 2016.

What followed was a massive, and as it seems, never-ending crackdown on perceived and affiliated members of the Movement regardless of their actual involvement in the botched putsch. The guilt by association was the dominant driver of the post-coup trials against hundreds of thousands of people. 

No doubt, the ill-executed coup was a windfall for Erdogan who hailed it as a “gift from God.” After becoming the first president in the new executive presidential system, Erdogan reaps the rewards of the post-coup designing of the political landscape in his own image.

Yet, despite acquiring vast new powers at his disposal, the president showed no signs of slowing down his vendetta against his political and social opponents. Correspondingly, the post-coup clampdown also shows no indication of subsiding as hundreds of people are arrested every week.

The lack of fair trial, the fear of torture in prison and the lack of employment drive people, such as Akcabay family, to make desperate moves and take extremely risky endeavors. The sense of despair and helplessness was so strong that people attempt to cross Evros River even after learning the previous fatal events, drownings. Turkey’s unbearable conditions push them to risk their lives and to hedge their bets in risky river crossings.

As things proceed in this shape and pace, the fear for future tragedies appears to be genuine and well-founded. To avoid another Akcabay incident, Turkey’s authorities immediately need to reckon with the calamitous and pernicious impacts of the crackdown.

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