In Wake Of Attempted Coup, Turkish President Vows To Eradicate 'Virus'

Jul 17, 2016
Originally published on July 17, 2016 6:28 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A wide crackdown is underway in Turkey following a failed coup against elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. More than 6,000 people have been detained as Erdogan vowed that he would eradicate what he called a virus. He also called on supporters to continue to take to the streets to watch over Turkey's democracy. At least 290 people were killed in the violence during the failed military takeover. NPR's Leila Fadel joins us now from Istanbul. Leila, welcome back. Thanks for joining us once again.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Thank you.

MARTIN: Can you tell us more about these arrests?

FADEL: Well, they're being referred to as a cleansing operation. So the reaction to this failed coup has been swift and, by some critics' estimation, incredibly severe. So critics are saying that Erdogan is using this as an opportunity to go after his opponents en masse. There are top generals that have been arrested, judges, prosecutors, and they're being accused of belonging to an armed terrorist organization. Now, Erdogan himself has said that this was a gift to clean up the army. Today, he spoke at a funeral in front of hundreds of people.

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RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Foreign language spoken).

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FADEL: So there you can hear the crowds yelling we want execution, and Erdogan responding in a democracy we can't put aside the demands of the people. So this is a situation where the punishment may go further than what the current law allows because there's no death sentence in Turkey.

MARTIN: Can you tell us more about the people who were killed? What accounted for so many deaths? And, as I understand it, you also just came back from a funeral. Can you tell us about that?

FADEL: So in this overnight military takeover, at one point Erdogan called for people to take to the streets and stop the tanks, and so people did. And there were fights in the streets. The police were also confronting the army. There were civilians that were shot. I went to a funeral today of a local mayor - known as a mukhtar of a neighborhood - as well as another man, a 39-year-old father of three - both civilians and both apparently shot by soldiers, according to their relatives.

And it was extremely emotional - people crying, one woman saying what a kind of coup is this that you kill civilians like this? And another woman who said, you know, I'm glad that the military takeover failed, but why did the president call on civilians to deal with a state problem, to confront soldiers in the street? The security forces should have done that. So there's a lot of fear and division, but what's really interesting is that there's really been no indication of who the dead are from the more than 100 people involved, or accused of being involved, in the coup - no funerals announced at all or names.

MARTIN: So, Leila, as was reported, Erdogan blames a cleric who is now living in the United States for being behind all this. Can you tell us any more about this person? And what is the evidence that he was involved somehow?

FADEL: He's an influential Turkish cleric named Fethullah Gulen, and he's based in Pennsylvania. And he was once an Erdogan supporter. They were allies, and now they are bitter, bitter enemies. Erdogan blames him squarely for this coup operation, but really there's been no evidence presented. And Gulen is strongly denying any involvement, but he also suggested that the whole coup could have been staged. And that is a rampant conspiracy theory among Erdogan's opponents right now, that the coup was staged in order to further empower Erdogan and to make this more of an authoritarian state under him.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Leila Fadel joining us now from Istanbul. Leila, thank you so much for speaking with us.

FADEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.