Turkey’s government is threatening academic freedom

January 24, 2016

Following the arrest of 27 Turkish academics, and a criminal investigation into more than 1200 individuals across 90 Turkish universities, in recent months, the Turkish Government has taken drastic steps towards restricting academic freedoms in Turkey. Fortunately,   all arrested academics have since been released, however, if convicted they could face up 15 years of imprisnmcnt on accounts of "propaganda against the government " and"insulting the Turkish government"

 

 

 

 

Mini Background: 

 

The tensions begun in December 2015,  when an open letter to Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, signed by academics across the world, including Noam Chomsky and David Graeber. Chomsky has been very critical toward the Turkish government treatment of Kurdish minority inside Turkey and other facets of the Erdogan's government. He has raised concerns regarding witch-hunt against academics critical of the AKP government.

 

The petition was initially released on January 11 with over 1,400 academics and researchers signatures.  The Turkish Council of Higher Education (YÖK) immediately responded that it will take the legal action against the Turkish academics signatories of the "Academics for Peace petition". 

 

Read the petition text here

 

 

A petition on Change.org featuring a copy of the original petition has amassed more than 4,000 signatures, and a UK version of the Academics for Peace initiative has collected more than 800 signatures from professors and researchers across British Universities. Sign the petition here.

 

The US embassy has also issued a statement indicating concerns over the arrests of the academics in Turkey, it wasted little time in simultaneously denouncing and rejecting the petition itself. 

 

 

Unfortunately however, The statement indirectly described the petition as containing ‘controversial’ and ‘unpopular’ views, and emphasized that the US does ‘not agree with the opinions expressed by those academics’.

 

Following the release of the initial petition, Erdoğan took to the stage to blatantly insult what he referred to as ‘crappy so-called academics’. More specifically, he warned not all professors to think themselves as ‘so-called intellectuals’. 

 

On his speech, Erdogan called on academics to choose side: "pick a side" i.e. to be either with the Turkish State or with the terrorists must remind us ( as it did Noam Chomsky) when former President G.W. Bush made virtually the same pronouncement over a decade ago following the attack on the twin towers. 

 

 

While academics outside Turkey may not face a specific threat, it would be a grave mistake to forego the fruitful progress that had just begun to make itself felt on Turkish campuses. To allow Turkish academics to be vilified and isolated would be to concede defeat to the most conservative and anti-intellectual impulses of Turkish society. 

 

That is why it is so vital to show our solidarity with academics in Turkey. We at the Endangered Scholars Worldwide invite you to forsake our Turkish colleagues at this crucial time. We must remember  Hannah  Arendt's  warning  that  the  world's  greatest  atrocities  are  not  merely  the  result  of  leaders misusing  their  power,  but  also  of  average  citizens  who  stay  silent  and  go  about  their  business;  “we  have hardly  the  time,  let  alone  the  inclination,  to  stop  and  think." We  like  to  think  that  the atrocities  of  the  past  cannot  be  repeated;  yet,  turning our backs toward our Turkish colleagues and neglecting the shameful government proposal  "to choose a side"  by the  scholarly  community,  we  risk  allowing  a  dangerous  climate  to  intensify—  one  that  we  may  regret  for decades  to  come. This is why the subsequent solidarity petitions are so vital. They indicate to the Turkish Government, and to the world, an ongoing commitment to securing Turkish academia as part of a global community of researchers and intellectuality despite the challenges they face in their own country.  

 

Please sign the petition: 

 

 

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