1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Turkey's state of emergency persists

Sebnem Arsu
January 19, 2017

Turkey is set to begin its third state of emergency period, first declared after the failed coup. Thousands of people have since been detained or imprisoned. A referendum on constitutional changes may soon follow.

Türkei | Polizei blockiert Straße um Proteste vor dem Parlament gegen die Verfassungsänderung zu verhindern
Image: Reuters/U. Bektas

On January 20, Turkey begins its third state of emergency period. Politically, judicially and economically, the emergency laws enacted after the failed coup attempt on July 15 have had a significant impact. State of emergency rule once only affected Turkey's southeast, where heavy fighting with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) peaked in 1990s and interrupted civilian life. Now, for the first time, it encompasses the entire country.

The emergency laws in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish region, which became synonymous with human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings, finally came to an end in 2002 under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, chaired by the now-President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Today, the same government has come under fire for of abusing its extended executive powers under the current emergency rule to consolidate its political strength. The government, however, argues that the judiciary and police have exercised their stretched authority primarily against supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the Muslim cleric in US exile who is accused of masterminding the coup attempt.

Terrorist attacks during state of emergency

In the wake of the coup attempt, the crackdown by security authorities was present in almost all walks of life. But despite all the extraordinary measures taken in the first six months under nationwide emergency rule, Turkey is not a safer place. More than 350 people have been killed and scores more wounded in terror attacks during this period, including the 39 victims of a deadly shooting in Istanbul on New Year's Eve, claimed by the so-called "Islamic State" (IS).

Türkei Polizisten vor dem Reina Nachtclub in Istanbul
Thirty-nine people were killed in the New Year's Eve attack at Istanbul's 'Reina' nightclubImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Lp/Yann Foreix/MAXPPP

So far, nearly 90,000 civil servants have been sacked via legislative decrees, and more than 1,500 associations, 15 universities and several trade unions have been shut down. Some 1,656 people have been arrested, 10,000 face investigation and many detainees are in custody pending official charges, according to the Ankara-based Human Rights Association. At least 177 media outlets have been shut down, nearly 10,000 journalists and media members have lost their jobs and 144 journalists have been imprisoned during the state of emergency, the group said in its January report.

The crackdown has also targeted Turkish academia. Critics argue that many government opponents in Turkish universities were intentionally linked to the Gulen movement in order to be dismissed for political reasons.

"The massive illegal network that has surfaced in the aftermath of the coup attempt is truly terrifying," Burhan Senatalar, a professor of economics and social sciences at Istanbul's Bilgi University, told DW. "Security operations have to do with the Fethullah Gulen Organization; however, most of the imprisoned journalists or dismissed academics have nothing to do with Gulen and evidently do not present any threat to national security."

Ruling party avoids in-house purges

Observers believe the government's decision to extend the state of emergency for a third time means security operations against the Gulen movement will likely continue.

Türkei Parlament in Ankara
Turkey's parliament is set to pass constitutional reforms that will vest the presidency will far more powerImage: Reuters/U. Bektas

"Connections of the Gulen Movement to various echelons of the state, and in other institutions, are being eliminated," said Ferhat Kentel, a sociology professor at the Istanbul Sehir University. "However, the ruling [AKP] party, although it has indicated that some of its members were said to be linked to [the Gulen movement], has done no cleansing."

Experts claim that an in-house cleansing is highly unlikely within the AKP before constitutional changes vesting more power in the presidency are approved by parliament. Kentel, meanwhile, believes that the state of emergency makes it easier for the government to pass those constitutional reforms.

While legal experts warn of the impropriety of constitutional changes being passed during a state of emergency, the government seems to have its heart set on a referendum being held in April.

Effects on the economy

Turkey's economy, which was already in a fragile state prior to the coup attempt, has been particularly hard-hit by the state of emergency. In the third quarter of 2016, the economy shrunk around 1.8 percent, foreign investment declined and, in the last three months, the Turkish Lira devalued 25 percent against the US dollar.

Türkei Währung
Turkey's economy has suffered during the state of emergencyImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/P. Giannakouris

Some economists have said there was no need to implement a costly state of emergency, which led to human rights violations and irked investors, when sufficient anti-terror legislation was already in place.

"When the coup attempt had already tarnished the country's brand value, this extreme state of emergency hurt it further, exceeding its core purpose," said Professor Erdal Turkkan, founder of Turkey's Istanbul-based Competition Association. "Establishing a brand value takes years, at a price of billions of dollars, [and] determines the price of all local products. Therefore, any damage to it is never easy to repair. There will surely be a price to pay."

For Professor Kentel, the price that Turkish society has already paid is the missed opportunity for democratic progress.

"While the legitimacy of the coup was crushed in a heavy blow, the moral superiority of the people could have acted as the driving force behind a democratic transformation," Kentel said, adding that civilian democracy has instead been weakened.

"This society, however, needs to heal," he said.

Skip next section Explore more
Skip next section DW's Top Story

DW's Top Story

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a video address in early June
Skip next section More stories from DW
Go to homepage