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Trial of Academics in Turkey: Yasemin Gülsüm Acar's Statement of Defense

February 24, 2018

We are publishing the statement of defense of Özyeğin University professor Yasemin Gülsüm Acar, who was tried at the Istanbul 32nd Heavy Penal Court in Çağlayan for having signed the Academics for Peace declaration entitled "We will not be a party to this crime."

 

Like my colleagues who have found themselves here in the last weeks, and who will continue to come here in the coming months, I am here because I tried to use my academic identity to voice a need for peace. I'm an assistant professor of social psychology, and have been living and working here in Istanbul for the past six years. I chose social psychology because I am the child of immigrants, and as such, felt that the places I lived and the collective history I shared shaped me into the person I am, but also left my identities fragmented between different places and cultures. I study identity, groups, collective action, and conflict. Some of my work also focuses on post-conflict peace. My work informs who I am. It helps shape me, and I hope, in some small way, the work that I do also shapes the world around me.

 

Social psychology has taught me the importance of thinking critically. I have learned, and now I teach, that critical thought and critical action help to better shape our communities. Social psychology reminds us that blind followership, that dumb silence, helps no one. Criticism may not bring popularity, but it is the best way to serve the community as a whole, because the intent is to make our situations, and ourselves, better.

 

When the petition came out it was a time when many of us were feeling hopeless. The peace process was over, there were curfews in a number of cities and towns, and though we couldn't see everything that was happening, we heard, from friends and family, and we read from the many national and international reports that came out of the region. So often at that time, the question "but what can we do?" was answered by "nothing."

 

In social psychological research on collective action, we ask people about levels of engagement. That is, when people want to make their voices heard, how do they do so? In our measures, the least, the absolute minimum we use, is for a person to sign a petition. It is, at the same time, the most traditional and simple way for citizens to engage in political participation in democratic countries. I signed this petition, like many of my colleagues, because it was the least I can do, and because it was more than "nothing."

 

Many of my colleagues on trial here are seasoned professors. Others are still PhD students, and others, like me, are just at the start of their careers. But all of us saw something that we wanted to speak out against, and found that, if nothing else, we could use our academic identities to do that. Maybe, we said, if we use this one social identity, this one aspect of ourselves, that we may be able to gain some attention to this issue.

 

I didn't grow up in this country, but this is the home I chose. I haven't witnessed history here the same way many of my colleagues have, but that doesn't mean I don't know what violence looks like, or that I don't know the pain that conflict can cause. It is my duty as an academic to draw on my knowledge and my insight, to use my academic freedom and my freedom of speech, to better serve my community. That's what I did, and what I will continue to do. I reject the charges that have been made against me and my colleagues.

 

I reject them because there is nothing in the petition that legitimizes violent action. It does not praise or legitimize any organization, as the prosecutor attests. It is nothing more than a call made to the state, within the scope of academic freedom and freedom of speech, to stop the deaths of civilians due to the ongoing conflict. The prosecutor's interpretation of the individual words of this text is an attempt to subvert the overall meaning of the text, which as it stands is a call for peace, and should not and cannot be interpreted as any sort of call to criminality or violence. Therefore, even the filing of a lawsuit based on this petition is a violation of freedom of expression, which is a constitutional right and guaranteed under international conventions (Article 10 ECHR).

 

The prosecutor has tried, through this lawsuit, to add unwritten intent to this petition, and subverted it to suggest a forced association with an organization. I've been living in Turkey for six years. I made a choice to live here and make a life here. This case and my being here at all goes against my work as an academic, my ability to engage in free thought, and my personal beliefs.

 

Therefore, I request that an immediate acquittal be made, considering that there is no action that can be taken based on the peace declaration. 

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