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Turkey Blames U.S. Scholar For Instigating Attempted Military Coup

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Since a coup attempt in Turkey last month, the government has arrested at least 16,000 people and sacked thousands who held jobs in the civil service. It is also blaming foreigners for having instigated the coup. One of them is Henri Barkey, a scholar who was born in Turkey and now runs the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center here in Washington. Welcome to the show.

HENRI BARKEY: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: On the night of the coup attempt, you were attending a conference in Istanbul, and then Turkey accused you of playing a role in the coup. Before we get into the significance of that, I just have to ask. Did you play any role in this?

BARKEY: (Laughter) Of course not. I mean I was on an island 45 minutes from Istanbul, and actually it was a conference that I had organized - actually a workshop on Iran and its neighbors - had nothing to do with Turkey.

SHAPIRO: What was your reaction when you heard that you were being blamed in part for this?

BARKEY: Well, at first I thought, you know, there are a lot of conspiracy theorists in Turkey, so couple of them decided to go after me. Although there were a couple of worrying signals that this was actually more significant than that because one of the first articles that appeared on me had the exact time I actually went through passport control coming in and going out of Turkey. And this is something only the security services would have, not some columnist who doesn't do much research, and so that was worrying.

And then it turned into a massive campaign against me, America in general, my colleagues at the Wilson Center but also my colleagues who had come with me to Istanbul to do this workshop and, most importantly, my Turkish colleagues who were part of organizing this workshop. So it was actually very upsetting in that sense.

SHAPIRO: What has happened to some of the people in Turkey who have been targeted? What have you heard from your friends and colleagues?

BARKEY: Well, what I've heard is that two of the Turkish participants were suspended from their academic jobs, although only one person's name has appeared in the press. My co-organizer was brought into security headquarters and interrogated about all the details of the conference.

And there are all these stories that they have open court cases or they're planning to open court cases against all the participants, including all the foreigners and myself, obviously. And this one citizen that I know of - he's gone on television to say that he has formally asked a prosecutor to indict me on all kinds of crimes.

SHAPIRO: Why do you think this is happening? What are the larger implications of these accusations?

BARKEY: From the beginning, there was an attempt to essentially pin the blame on the United States. Partially it's the fact that in Turkey, everybody believes in conspiracy theories, and always those conspiracy theories are focused on the United States for a whole variety of reasons. I mean United States is the most powerful country in the world, and therefore it has the capability of doing these things presumably.

Secondly, it's being used for domestic purposes. It's being used to mobilize people, to essentially put the blame on somebody else. And of course the fact that the Turks blame Fethullah Gulen, the self-exile cleric who happens to live in Pennsylvania now - the fact that he's here is convenient of course in completing the narrative.

SHAPIRO: Why do you think Turkey would crack down on scholars and intellectuals specifically?

BARKEY: Well, they're going after everybody they think is a follower of Fethullah Gulen. Now, it's sometimes hard to figure out who's a Fethullah Gulen follower and who is not. I mean they've closed universities which they thought were associated with Fethullah Gulen, so a lot of scholars there who may or may not have been associated with him, who just were, you know, just good, decent academics, lost their jobs. But they're also trying to crack down on other dissent.

SHAPIRO: So you're saying this is a way of cracking down on free expression more generally.

BARKEY: Yes, yes.

SHAPIRO: How far do you think Turkey will go on this path? Do you expect that ultimately it will return to the country we knew before the coup attempt, or is this crackdown on free expression, these mass arrests the new normal for Turkey?

BARKEY: I think Turkey has changed. I think there's been a significant change in Turkey, and there will not be a return to the old Turkey, whatever that was, anytime soon. That is to say you will see a constant pressure on dissent and especially constant pressure on what they think is a Gulen movement, which may be very extensive. But you will see purges continuing for many months and maybe many years to come.

SHAPIRO: Henri Barkey is director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars here in Washington. Thanks very much for your time.

BARKEY: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.