Seven ways you can support academics in Turkey

By Chad Kautzer

The situation for academics in Turkey has dramatically worsened since the failed coup on July 15 2016, a matter of increasing importance given the investigations, firings, deportations, trials, and detentions of academics even prior to the coup.

Police trample on robes laid down by academics during protests at Ankara University on Febuary 10 2017. Image courtesy of Academic For Peace

In January of last year, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had already stretched the term “terrorist” enough to apply it to over one thousand members of Academics for Peace for publishing a petition. This threat to academics was foreshadowed in previous attacks on journalists and opposition lawmakers.

We are now in a new era. Shortly after the failed coup carried out by a small faction in the Turkish military, Turkey’s Council of Higher Education (YÖK) called for the resignation of 1,577 deans of public and private universities, instituted a travel ban on academics, and called for academics out of the country to immediately return to Turkey. The firings and investigations have increased. Over 1,000 private schools and 15 universities have been shuttered, over 15,000 employees in the Ministry of Education have been suspended, and over 21,000 teachers have had their licenses revoked. Less than a week after the coup attempt, President Erdoğan declared a three-month state of emergency (allowing him to circumvent Parliament and rule by decree) and suspended the European Convention on Human Rights.

Responding to international pressure, Erdoğan has recently made a conciliatory gesture, withdrawing cases against some of the individuals charged with insulting him (there are over 2,000 such cases), including against some opposition party leaders. While important for the individuals involved, these concessions do not address either the purge of academic institutions or the deep institutional changes that are already underway or planned for the near future. Erdoğan has been clear that he desires the formalization of his rule in an “executive presidency,” which would require an amendment to the Turkish Constitution. As Prime Minister Binali Yildirim recently told a Bloomberg reporter, this system is necessary “for stability and security. Under the presidential system, there will be no one attempting such an adventure [i.e. a coup]. Then, an absolute will be in charge.”

Although the situation is dire, there are actions we can take to support academics being persecuted and silenced in Turkey. Below I list seven possible actions, beginning with the most difficult. If you have suggested additions, email me at academicsus@gmail.com and I’ll create a revised list here.

1. Investigate whether your institution can temporarily host or hire an academic currently at risk in Turkey. Some institutions do this directly and some work with third-party organizations, such as Scholars at Risk. Your institution can also become a member of the Scholars at Risk Network, supporting their work through annual membership dues.

2. Review any academic or financial relations between your institution and academic institutions in Turkey. These might include joint research projects, grants, or faculty and student exchanges. Such relations can be used as leverage to pressure institutions in Turkey to respect academic freedom.

3. Use the resources of your institution and the public platforms available to you to disseminate knowledge about the plight of academics in Turkey. This could involve, for example, organizing talks, exhibitions, and press conferences, or producing films and publications.

4. Organize and participate in political actions and lobbying campaigns directed at Turkish officials and/or officials in your own government. This might be a protest at the Turkish Embassy, making phone calls, or something more creative. Academics for Peace, for example, has a campaign to send letters to university rectors in Turkey, asking them to reinstate academics fired for political reasons. It is particularly important to lobby officials in the United States and European Union member states, given their deep ties to the Turkish government.

5. Connect with others (both individuals and organizations) who care about this issue, so you can stay informed and motivated. Scholars at Risk, Amnesty International, and the Middle East Studies Association, to name just a few, have email alerts. Like Facebook pages that disseminate news about academics in Turkey and information about actions to support them, such as those of Research Institute on Turkey (RIT) and International Solidarity with Academics in Turkey (ISAT), which I recently created. ISAT also has an email list you can subscribe to by emailing academicsus@gmail.com.

6. Ask your college, university, professional organization, or union to publish a statement supporting academics in Turkey and send it to officials in Turkey and in your own government. Here is a letter from the Middle East Studies Association that was endorsed by over 40 professional organizations. You can also create petitions and open letters for others to sign, as with this open letter to U.S. officials and this international petition addressed to Turkish officials.

7. Sign the petitions and open letters. Although this is the easiest action to take, it is still important. These petitions and letters can: (a) communicate the depth and breadth of support to media outlets and government officials, (b) encourage academics in Turkey, and (c) serve as organizing tools to build political networks that facilitate future actions.

This article was first published on the blog of the American Philosophical Association 

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