Kin Liability

Erdogan recently picked a fight[1] with Germany over the refusal of party rallies for upcoming referendum, which will grant him sweeping powers over all branches of government. The move is a well-practiced one, as Erdogan regularly demonized internal or external groups or states before elections, increasing polarization in the society. However, as Erdogan blames Germany for “Nazi Practices”, one cannot help but notice similarities between “Erdogan Practices” regarding the ongoing massive purge and the many similar examples in history including Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.

Parallel practices between Erdogan and tyrants of the past has not been covered well and deserves much more attention from the international community. One striking aspect that needs particular attention is the practice of “Kin Liability”. The collective punishment of family members for a crime or alleged crime is nothing new. During Great Purge of Stalin, the kin liability was formalized under the Criminal code. Family members were dubbed “Traitor of the Motherland family members” and automatically convicted and sent to labor camps. During Mao’s revolution, families were afraid of liability so much that they would denounce the family members right away as death through horrible methods were ensured if acted otherwise.  Hitler exercised kin liability or “Sippenhaft” after Operation Valkyrie, a suicide attempt against Hitler by German resistance.

Unlike the staged coup in Turkey on 15 July, which had no apparent plan or objective and had seen an execution more theatrical than military, Operation Valkyrie was a well-planned and fairly good executed attempt only to be thwarted by factors that could be associated with faith. In the aftermath of the unsuccessful attempt, 7000 people were arrested and 5000 executed, which included family members of any potential opponents and suspected plotters along with themselves.

Erdogan, who once gave Hitler’s Germany as an example of effective government[2], to justify his quest for presidency, is following his footsteps when dealing with potential opponents. More than 140,000 people were purged[3] and approximately 50000 are in jail awaiting uncertain future. In addition to many other aspects[4], kin liability practice carries a very strong resemblance to Hitler era purge. Brothers, Sisters, wifes, sons, daughters and even the second-degree relatives are purged due to a larger scheme of “Guilt by Association”. The practice is especially observable in Armed Forces. One former officer describes his phone conversation with headquarters intelligence division as “When I asked why I was purged, the intel officer couldn’t help but say that a secret classified directive from the department of defense asked us to discharge anyone that has a first-degree relative already discharged”.

Cruel practices involving family members were adapted in Erdogan’s purge. One such practice is to interrogate husband and wives together and threaten each with torture to the other. Another more widely used one is to threaten the jailed military personnel with their wives and kids. As the trials started recently many personnel got to express in court that their testimony was either taken through torture to themselves or in the face of threats against their families. One such personnel exclaimed that he would have even confessed to setting Rome in fire had they asked, as they were threatening to harm his family.  Another practice is to purge wives, take away any license they might have to practice a profession and freeze bank accounts thus rendering the wives unable to care for themselves or kids. When asked about how the purged families are supposed to survive, one high ranking AKP official replied as “They should eat roots of trees.[5]

The cruelty of kin liability practice has surpassed the predecessors at times. Even in Great Purge of Stalin, “wives with breast-feeding children, those who were ill, or with ill children were not to be arrested”[6]. Erdogan’s purge does not adhere to this exception policy. Recently wives of jailed officers were subjected to psychological abuse under the guise of a test cheating investigation regarding a government placement test in 2010. Despite the fact that some of the wives did not even take that test and others had not been a suspect in the previous investigation of the same case in 2013, wives were taken into detainment in a gym. The regime did not abstain from openly declaring that wives were targeted due to purged husbands[7]. Interestingly, the interrogations were conducted by National Intelligence Agency rather than police or government investigators, where wives were asked to “give names” rather than exam related questions. They were told that their husbands would be set free if they give names and both would be jailed otherwise. After one week of detainment during which they were denied contact with lawyers or family members, 80 of them were jailed[8]. Those with breast feeding children were not able to do so. Children were denied their mothers on top of their fathers.  One grandmother taking care of a small child with severe health problems said that the child kept repeating “where is my mother?”  for days.

Much like purge during Mao’ s revolution, in which families felt obliged to turn in any member that does not support Mao, Erdogan’s purge has had a similar effect. Kin liability practice has driven large rift within the families. In fear of persecution, families distance themselves from the purged members. Immediate effect for the victims is the lack of support as the family is the most important part of traditional support mechanisms within the society. Severed family relations will constitute a large barrier to trust in the future, even if the purged personnel regains their rights.

As Erdogan is employing the playbook of tyrants, no doubts results will be the same unless stopped. In each case, immense number of people either lost their lives, spent the lifetime in prison or left scarred for life. Also the very countries they claimed to be on the road to greatness were left in ruins. There is no reason to think that social laws that govern people’s lives will yield a different result despite same inputs. What is left for the world to ponder about is whether to turn a blind eye to the victims and therefore appease the tyrant or deliver upon much spoken universal human rights and democratic values.




[3] The number just includes the Government employees, number of people fired from seized private businesses is not included.






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