The government had claimed that the purges — conducted at a stroke via legislative decrees — would target supporters of US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, the accused mastermind of the putsch. After coming to power in 2002, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had opened dozens of new universities, and a large number of Gulenists had been appointed to their faculties as the alliance between the AKP and Gulen flourished. Indeed, the initial legislative decrees were largely aimed at scholars known as Gulenists.
But soon things changed, and academics of various stripes critical of the government came into the crosshairs. The latest legislative decree of Feb. 7 dealt perhaps the most devastating blow in this respect. More than 300 academics were expelled from their universities, including signatories of a Peace Declaration in January 2016, which had condemned a military crackdown in Kurdish-majority cities and towns. Academics who did not sign the original declaration but issued a separate one later to defend the right to free speech after their colleagues faced a judicial onslaught were not spared either. Illustrating just how wide the net was cast, the list included medical professor Cihangir Islam, a prominent Islamic activist and husband of Merve Kavakci, the first veiled woman to be elected to the Turkish parliament.