Turkey celebrated this year’s Teachers Day with grief since around 60,000 teachers have been the victims of a purge launched by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, while many educators have committed suicide or died under police custody since a coup attempt on July 15.
Teachers Day in Turkey is celebrated on Nov. 24, which marks the day when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, was declared the nation’s head teacher 86 years ago.
Yet this year, teachers’ celebrations are bittersweet because 41,667 employees at the Education Ministry have been sacked by the Turkish government, while the licenses of 21,000 teachers working in private schools have been revoked since the failed coup attempt.
All these teachers are the victims of a purge carried out by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his heavy-handed attempt to root out supporters of Fethullah Gülen, the US-based scholar accused of orchestrating the failed coup attempt.
However, sacked teachers are not the only part of Turkish education feeling the impact. The Turkish government has closed 1,285 schools, 800 dormitories and 560 foundations over alleged links to the Gülen movement in the aftermath of the attempt.
Sacked teachers and their families also live in a fear of sudden arrest, torture or death under suspicious circumstances. For instance, Gökhan Açıkkollu, a history teacher detained as part of operations against the movement, died after he reportedly felt faint in İstanbul’s Ümraniye Prison, on Aug. 5. At least 21 people have reportedly committed suicide either after they were imprisoned over ties to the movement or after being linked to the movement outside prison. The relatives of most of them claim that the detainees are not the kind of people to commit suicide, shedding doubt on the official narrative. Rumors also have it that some of the detainees were killed after being subjected to torture under custody.
According to reports that appeared in the Turkish media, there are around 7,000 teachers in Turkish prisons. Amnesty International warned of “evidence of torture including rape” of detainees in Turkey.
There are also credible reports of the suicide of teachers. Fifty-year-old Mustafa Güneyler, who was working as an electrical and electronics engineering teacher at a public school in the Osmaneli district of Bilecik province, committed suicide at home by leaving the natural gas on before he went to bed, late on Sept. 6. Güneyler was one of thousands of teachers dismissed from their jobs.
In another example, the lifeless body of a kindergarten principal, Ali Derebaşı, whose wife was among thousands of teachers who have been suspended from their posts due to alleged links to the Gülen movement, was found hanging in his school in Kayseri province on the first day of the new academic year in Turkey.