The security and political situation in Turkey witnessed gradual changes since the attempted coup in July 2016. The level of violence reportedly subsided in the past two years. The Kurdish dominated region, southeast of the country, remains contentious. Armed confrontations between the Turkish security forces and the Kurdish rebel guerrilla, Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan (PKK), have scaled down and are mostly contained to rural areas. Terror attacks also diminished. This is mainly attributed to the government’s stepped up measures against members of the PKK and the so-called Islamic State (IS). Security forces have carried massive nationwide counterterror operations, which resulted in arrests and detention of hundreds of suspects.
Turkey further escalated its military operations in northern Syria and northern Iraq. In January 2018, the Turkish army launched an offensive, code-named Olive Branch, aimed at targeting the Syrian Kurdish forces’, Yekîneyên Parastina Gel (YPG), hegemonic ambitions in the region. In addition, the offensive further seeks to secure a buffer zone (established during operation ‘Euphrates Shield’) along the Turkish-Syrian border. Turkey’s observatory role in the de-escalation zones in Idlib has given
President Erdogan another foothold in Syria. Idlib, an eminent target for the Syrian army’s upcoming offensives, hosts tens of thousands of radically-minded rebel fighters, affiliated to various rivaling groups (exp. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham), who were previously relocated to the north as a result of the Syrian army’s takeover of earlier rebel-held areas in other parts of the country. Their presence in the Turkish-controlled demilitarization zone in northwestern Syria increases the fragility of the region, especially Idlib. A potential Syrian offensive on Idlib is likely to trigger a refugee wave towards the Turkish border. Subsequently prompting a humanitarian crises which could have serious implications for Turkey, who today hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees in the Middle East region (3.5 million refugees). A military escalation could also lead to a direct confrontation between Turkey - a NATO member- and the Assad regime. The meeting between Presidents Putin and Erdogan on September 17, thwarted a full-scale offensive in Idlib. Both leaders agreed to uphold a demilitarization zone between the rebel groups and the Syrian forces, as well as stripping the rebel groups from heavy weapons, tanks and mortars. The question remains as to whether Russia can continue to contain Assad’s belligerent ambitions to, once and for all, break the last frontier of resistance in northwestern Syria. Another question is whether Turkey will be able to fulfill its part of the deal of disarming and relocating the rebel groups outside Idlib.
The political situation is also uncertain. The recent presidential and parliamentarian elections, held in June this year, may have secured Erdogan the presidency (by over 50% of the votes) for another five years, it did not however give his party (Adalet ve Kalikinma Partisi (AKP)) the parliamentarian majority to govern freely. Erdogan’s failure to secure an absolute majority in the 600-seat parliament has prompted him to form a coalition with the Nationalist party – Milliyetci Hareket Partisi (MHP). How the alliance is likely to shape politics in parliament and Erdogan’s ability share power remains to be seen.
The two-year-long emergency rule, imposed in the wake of the coup attempt, came to end in on July 19 2018. Shortly thereafter the parliament ratified a new terrorism law, proposed by the AKP. The law strengthens the authorities’ powers in detaining suspects, as well as restricting their movements. The legislation further authorizes the government to dismiss public servants (as well as personnel within the security sector and judiciary) suspected of links to a terror organization.
The prevailing situation has had a negative impact on civilians. The government continues to crackdown on members of the Gülenist Movement and other persons suspected of affiliation to the coup attempt, or with connection to presumptive terror organizations. The numbers of dismissals appear to have decreased in figures, but not in intensity. More than 150,000 persons have been dismissed since July 2016, and around 50,000 are currently awaiting trial, on charges pertaining to the coup attempt. The outcome remains uncertain. Prospects of reinstatement for those who lost their jobs following the coup attempt remain bleak. Those effected did not only lose their livelihood, but also social benefits and pensions. The social isolation and the stigma that many face as a result has also hampered any future prospects of reintegration into society, be it within the labor market or otherwise.
Several major, politically motivated trials against alleged coup plotters, mainly within the military and police force, as well as journalists and activists, have resulted in harsh and long prison sentences, some of which amounting to multiple life sentences.
Cases of torture and ill-treatment in police custody is further reported, especially against persons detained for connections with the Gülenist Movement, and PKK, as well as other terror related activities.
Groups mostly effected by the developments following the purge are predominately human rights activists, journalists and civil servants. Secondary groups also effected by the unfolding events of the last two years are lawyers, defending those standing trial on charges connected to the coup attempt. Another particular group of interest presented in the report is the situation of the Syrian refugee population. Syrian refugees were not directly targeted as a result of the coup attempt. However, Turkey’s ongoing intervention in northern Syria and the continuous influx of Syrian refugees to Turkey has given rise to tensions between locals and the Syrian refugee population residing in various parts of Turkey today. Public services in local Turkish communities, such as health and education, are economically strained and overstretched by the rapid expansion in the number of Syrian refugees that have arrived since the Syrian crises began in 2011. This has led to mounting tensions between refugee groups and the local population, as refugees compete over low-wage jobs and access to public services. The potential for anti-refugee violence is particularly noticeable in larger cities, such as Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara. There have also been allegations that local authorities in a number provinces are forcibly returning Syrian refugees trying to cross into Turkey illegally. Turkish migration authorities have denied the allegations.