The Turkish government has suspended more than 11,000 teachers over suspected links to outlawed Kurdish fighters.
The move on Thursday came as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey was conducting its largest ever operation against PKK fighters in the country’s southeast.
“We will be removing civil servants with links to the PKK,” Erdogan said at a governors’ meeting in Ankara. [This] is a key element of our fight against them.”
A total of 11,285 personnel “linked to a separatist-terrorist organisation have been suspended”, Turkey’s education ministry said on its official Twitter account on Thursday.
The teachers suspended for their alleged links to the PKK, or the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, will be able to receive two thirds of their salaries until the end of a formal investigation, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency.
Turkey regards the PKK as a “terrorist” organisation.
The autonomy-seeking group abandoned a two-year ceasefire in July, reigniting a conflict that has claimed more than 40,000 lives since 1984.
The government has accused the PKK of a series of attacks in the southeast of Turkey in recent weeks
Earlier this month, during a visit to the predominantly Kurdish southeastern city of Diyarbakir, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said some 14,000 teachers serving in the region were suspected of being linked to “terrorist” groups.
“Of the 14,000, how many of them have connections to terrorist organisations will be revealed with investigations,” he said.
“We’ve spoken to our education ministry and all of the suspected teachers will be suspended and won’t be assigned in the new term.”
Addressing a group of governors, who are tasked with putting together lists of PKK-linked suspects, Erdogan urged the officials to be “determined” but “just” when deciding on which civil servants are included.
“I don’t want you to get into a race about who is going to suspend [the highest number of] civil servants,” he said. “I just want you to be just.”
But at the same meeting, Yildirim told governors not to be “hesitant” or “timid” about any suspensions.
“Do not allow the country’s resources to be turned into bullets against the security forces. This is a sin and a huge responsibility. Do not hesitate one bit.”
The teachers’ suspensions came as Ankara pushes ahead with a purge against tens of thousands of supporters of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused by Turkey of orchestrating an attempted coup in July.