Turkey sacked nearly 150 NATO military envoys last month, adding to a large list of officials being disciplined for a failed coup attempt in July, Reuters reported Wednesday.
A classified military dispatch revealed that notices were posted at NATO sites in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Britain on Sept. 27 ordering Turkish officials to return home within three days. Upon their arrival, most were dismissed, arrested and imprisoned, according to a Turkish military official at NATO. This was further confirmed by two farewell letters sent by sacked officials to colleagues. One of these letters accused Turkey of conducting a "witch hunt" of airforce commanders posted overseas.
Dismissed officials have claimed that those with Western-educated, secular backgrounds are being targeted by Turkish President Recip Tayyib Erdogan's conservative, religious government. As a result, a number of notified officials have not returned, fearing jail time in Turkey. Those who do not heed the government's warning face more severe sanctions including frozen passports, pensions and bank accounts. Spouses and family members also faced punishment, according to the letters.
The latest purge puts the total number of sacked military envoys at about 400, according to a Turkish military official. Over 100,000 other public servants including judges, police, teachers and soldiers have been suspended or fired in wake of the July coup attempt, in which a faction of rebel military officers bombarded government buildings, killing 240 people, mostly civilians.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevut Cavusoglu defended the massive crackdown against government officials in a speech to the Council of Europe Wednesday in Strasbourg. He claimed "terrorist organizations" had infiltrated the Turkish state institutions for 15 years, training for civil service exams and strategically planting members in positions of power and influence. The Council of Europe, an international organization that promotes human rights, democracy and rule of law, called on Turkey to end its state of emergency that has been in effect since July. The organization accused Turkey of exploiting the situation to eliminate any opposition to Erdogan. Cavusoglu stated that Turkey "had no other choice" in order to maintain its security.
This latest development comes as Erdogan meets with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Thursday in Riyadh to discuss regional security and enhance ties between the two nations. Turkey and Saudi Arabia, along with the United States, actively support the opposition to Bashar al-Assad's government in Syria, however Turkey's ties with the West have been complicated recently as it moves to develop further relations with Russia.