Fifty-three teachers died by suicide in Turkey after being dismissed from their jobs by emergency decree-laws in the aftermath of a coup attempt in July 2016, according to data from the left-wing Education and Science Workers’ Union (Eğitim-Sen), the Stockholm Center for Freedom reported, citing the Deutsche Welle (DW) Turkish service.
Many laborers took their own lives when they could no longer endure the difficulties they encountered during this period or due to social isolation and pressure, İkram Atabay, secretary-general of Eğitim-Sen, himself a dismissed teacher, told DW.
According to Eğitim-Sen a total of 67,609 educators, including teachers and university professors, were dismissed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” since the abortive putsch. An additional 20,000 teachers lost their jobs after the private schools they worked in were shut down by emergency decree-laws due to similar allegations.
In a 2017 report Eğitim-Sen said the number of dismissed educators was far higher than that of military personnel and police officers. “This clearly shows that the real coup was against the education sector and educators,” the report said.
Following the failed coup, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. More than 130,000 public servants, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors, as well as 29,444 members of the armed forces, were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny.
Former public servants were not only fired from their jobs; they were also banned from working again in the public sector and getting a passport. The government also made it difficult for them to work formally in the private sector. Notes were put on the social security database about dismissed public servants to deter potential employers.
“Dismissed teachers are not able to work in the private sector. If the police learn that a workplace employs them, they raid their offices and fine them,” human rights defender and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu told DW.
Police raided 45 educational institutions last Saturday in Aksaray province, joined by auditors from the Social Security Institution (SGK), the Education Ministry and the tax administration. According to the pro-government Sabah daily, the authorities acted on complaints that said the institutions were employing dismissed teachers.
Gergerlioğlu said even if dismissed teachers want to learn new skills to work in another job, the Turkish Employment Agency (İŞKUR) does not allow them to attend free vocational courses.
Last year Nebi Toylak, a former public school teacher, attended a greenhouse cultivation course to explore new career opportunities. Yet, after the first session he received a telephone call from the provincial directorate of agriculture, which was putting the course on together with İŞKUR, telling him he could no longer attend the program because he was a dismissed public servant.
Gergerlioğlu said he met with the education minister about the restrictions on dismissed teachers working in private schools, but the minister said he couldn’t do anything about the situation. “Everyone looks to the [presidential] palace for decisions. One instruction from there determines everything,” Gergerlioğlu said.
According to Atabay both the State of Emergency Procedures Investigation Commission (OHAL Commission) and courts take too much time to process cases filed by the teachers against their dismissal.
“It has been five years, and the commission is unable to finish the cases they have,” Atabay said. “Likewise, it takes ages for courts to rule on cases brought before them by applicants whose cases were denied by the OHAL Commission.”
According to Eğitim-Sen a total of 11,544 cases filed by teachers are pending at the OHAL Commission.
The OHAL Commission was established as an appeals body under pressure from the Council of Europe in order to relieve the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) of a huge workload emanating from tens of thousands of Turkish applicants who couldn’t take their cases to Turkish courts.
According to critics, the commission’s role is simply to delay or prevent possible ECtHR decisions against Turkey. The commission is also accused of bias as it is led by former Justice Ministry deputy undersecretary Selahaddin Menteş, who had been openly supportive of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.