Turkish authorities have launched a massive detention operation, arresting more than 1,000 people nationwide on Wednesday. The Turkish government says the arrests are aimed at supporters of the U.S-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for last year’s failed coup attempt.
And these arrests are by no means the end of the operation. Anadolu Agency, a state-run news service, says the government aims to arrest another 2,000 people. Germany’s Deutsche Welle newspaper reports roughly 8,500 police officers undertook raids in all 81 provinces in Turkey.
As NPR’s Peter Kenyon reports, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu says the government is pursuing what they call “secret imams” — a movement that allegedly transmits information and instructions through individuals known as “imams,” who in this context are not necessarily Islamic clerics. Soylu and others in the government say this Gulen-supportive network has infiltrated the Turkish security forces.
The arrests Wednesday merely add to the heaping number of people who have been arrested since the July 15 coup attempt. More than 100,000 people have been fired or arrested since then, and Turkish media reports that more than 47,000 have been charged with crimes related to the failed coup.
This week’s purges also come shortly after Erdogan narrowly won a countrywide referendum that significantly consolidated his power, shifting Turkey from a parliamentary political system to one centered on a strong president.
Critics outside the country’s borders have taken issue with how that vote panned out, saying that voting irregularities undermined the process.
“We don’t know whether the amount of vote fraud was significant enough to change the outcome — or more than 1 percent — but definitely something happened,” Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told NPR earlier this month.
NPR’s Merrit Kennedy noted that Erdogan, who can now stay in office until 2029, decried these international criticisms as part of a “crusader mentality.”
Erdogan has positioned himself as a strong protector of Turkey’s interests — not only against the alleged machinations of Gulen, but also the violence of militants from the Islamic State and the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.