The 70,000 post-coup arrests are now at the heart of the Turkish government's propaganda war

From high-ranking military officials to university professors, those imprisoned since the attempted coup now total 70,756 - although some have been released

Robert Fisk
Saturday 08 October 2016 21:59 BST
President Erdogan addresses the Turkish National Assembly earlier this month (Getty)
President Erdogan addresses the Turkish National Assembly earlier this month (Getty)

In a part of the world where state security prisoners are a state secret, Turkey has been dribbling out the figures of the tens of thousands of soldiers, cops, judges, prosecutors, academics and others arrested after the attempted coup of 15 July. From leaks to local journalists and occasional bulletins by the government, the nearest statistic for the total number of Turks imprisoned – even for a few weeks – now comes to a grand (and shocking) total of 70,756.

Any Arab state would arrest a citizen who merely uttered such figures – but these revelations are now part of the government’s propaganda war in Turkey. You know nothing yet, the authorities are telling their people – just look at the figures! The plot was larger than even you believed! Whether the public do believe this, they must surely know the arrests will continue.

The most striking figure shows how deeply the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has struck at the heart of the military, supposedly the guardian of the Turkish state since Mustafa Kamal Ataturk founded the nation after the First World War. The numbers show that an astounding 7,028 members of the Turkish armed forces have now been arrested. These include 164 generals and admirals, 287 colonels, 222 lieutenant colonels, 351 majors, 471 captains, and 1,091 lieutenants. And this, remember, is the largest army in Nato.

Of the "Poor Bloody Infantry", as they used to be known in the British army – which never suffered arrests on this scale in its entire history – figures amassed by Turkish journalist Fevzi Cakir suggest that 1,161 non-commissioned officers (NCOs) have been arrested, along with 1,400 colour sergeants, 619 military school students and 528 conscripts. On top of this, 194 military judges and prosecutors have been jailed. But the civil judiciary has suffered almost as badly as the military.

These arrests include 2,385 judges, two of them members of the Turkish Supreme Court, 108 members of the High Court, 48 from high administrative courts, and five from the Higher Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors. At least 200 of the rest are more lowly judges and public prosecutors. Among local dignitaries, 19 governors have been arrested, 76 deputy governors and 59 local municipal governors. The figures show that six mayors and two deputy mayors have been detained. So have three heads of the Turkish Bar Association and 245 lawyers. And if you think this is a big bite out of the echelons of Turkish society, take a look at what’s happened to the police.

Well over 7,000 have been picked up, including 629 city security directors, 47 assistant police directors – effectively police intelligence operatives – as well as 361 police chief officers, 649 superintendents, 1,110 assistant superintendents and 4,220 ordinary police officers. These figures may be considerably higher after 800 more but largely unspecified arrests in the past 48 hours. A government website has been sending detention figures to local journalists each morning, but it is almost impossible to keep pace with the overall figure.

For example, of the total of 70,756 taken into custody since the attempted coup by supposed followers of exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, 31,048 were served with arrest warrants, 1,304 are still “under questioning” but 1,436 were later set free. Whether their original detention was by mistake or design has not been clarified. Another 22,305 are under "judicial control" – which appears to include house arrest or regular appearances at local police stations – but more than 5,000 seem to have actually appeared in court and been set free. Just how this miracle occurred is not clear. If the evidence of a "Gulenist" plot is to be proved, there must have been a lot of doubtful evidence – even though the attempted coup against Erdogan was all too real.

In addition, it seems that 3,278 arrest warrants appear to have been issued for military officers, police and judiciary – even for university dons – who till now have managed to elude capture. But having arrested so many of the security forces, it could well be that the government is finding it difficult to muster enough soldiers and policemen to continue the hunt. Another 638 have been freed from prison – presumably without trial.

And so we turn to the Turkish universities. According to the figures printed in one paper last week, four university rectors, four provosts, five deans, 193 professors, 11 university administrative directors and a further 407 administrative staff have been picked up. Another 685 janitors and lower grade staff have also been arrested.

As the security temperature heats up or cools down in the freshly renewed Turkish 90-day state of emergency, we shall no doubt see the detention figures rise and fall accordingly. No figures for arrested journalists have been disclosed. But these days, it’s probably safer to be a bus driver or a street cleaner than a member of the Turkish elite. Unless, of course, you are a loyal supporter of the current President of Turkey.

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