Updated: Apr 26, 2019
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 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 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."