It was just before New Year when the reversal came, and since then suspended members have successively returned to their jobs. This has particularly been the case for the members of the teachers’ union Egitim-Sen, which is the largest of the twelve unions in the Confederation of Public Employees’ Trade Unions (Kesk).

– We are very happy. A large number of our members have already started working or are on their way back, says Havva Karahanci, chairman of Egitim-Sen in Diyarbakir. For a city of a million inhabitants, the impact of government’s post-coup purge was particularly hard. Around 4400 teachers in the city were suspended from work last semester. That is half of the total of Egtim-Sen members in Diyarbakir. The consequences were catastrophic for schools, forcing three of four lessons to be ‘self-studies’ due to the missing teachers.

– Our members are still being investigated for crimes. They are accused of ”participation in terrorism”.

According to present law, an employee can not be suspended for more than three months awaiting a criminal case to be opened. This is the reason for their return, despite still being under investigation.

The actions of terrorism they are accused of is a demonstration that occured almost two years before the attempted coup. The union protested that the civil war taking place in the surrounding countryside between government forces and PKK rebels had suddenly moved into urban environments.

– We felt enough was enough when many of our pupils were shot and killed by the military, for breaking the curfew rules that had been in place for months.

The ongoing conflict had cost several hundred lives on both sides of the barricades, forcing over half a million people to seek refuge. The curfew is still in place in certain quarters inside the medieval city wall that is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.

A heritage now in ruins.

Both Amnesty and the UN have documented the battles within the city wall through witness statements, and they have demanded that the actions and damages be examined by independent experts.

So far, the Turkish government have rejected demands.

– In our country, there can be no distinction between union rights and other human rights, says Havva Karahanci. This was about our children, about our pupils’ lives. It was our duty as a union to react. No prosecutor in the country could call our peace protest a terrorist activity.

– Although then again, we no longer get surprised. In our country all oppositional politicans, journalists and union representatives are prosecuted as terrorists.

Far from all teachers are getting their jobs back.

The public employees who have been stopped from working through suspension, or have either been given notice or been fired, are relatively few.

The largest group are those who have been subject to ”ihraç”, which is an expulsion and a professional ban. The government figures for this group is 95000, while the opposition count 145 000.

Havva Karahanci and three of her colleagues in the board of the Diyarbakir chapter have all been expelled, without any limitations on duration.

– It’s like a life sentence. This often happens to union activists. It means that my colleagues and I  will never again be allowed to work as teachers.

These penalties have consequences beyond the afflicted members. The finacial strain on the union can break it. They have been forced to raise membership fees dramatically in order to provide for members who no longer have a salary to live on.

– Every month we get support from the union of around half of a monthly wage.

Kesk has appealed all of these expulsions both to local adminstrative courts, the Constitutional Court in Ankara, and the European Court in Strasbourg.

As Arbetet Global recently reported, the government has formed a new board of appeals to deal with the many cases that have arisen due to the state of emergency declared after last year’s attempted coup.

The main purpose of the new board is to avoid cases being taken to Strasbourg. There are around 100 000 cases that have been brought before the Constitutional Court, which will now be shifted to the new board, along with cases from local courts.

If the board’s seven members can get through 10 cases per day, and in fortunate circumstances that means that employees that have been given professional bans, as well as jailed journalists, may have to wait one hundred years to clear their names.

Esref Okumus

(Translation Ravi Dar)