The War on Education in Turkey
Crisis of Higher Education in Turkey
The state of human rights in Turkey continues to deteriorate, as the Turkish government continues to drift away from democracy and the rule of law. Since the notorious military insurrection on July 15, 2016, which resulted with a two-year long nationwide state of emergency rule, academic freedom and the autonomy of universities remain very much at risk in Turkey. Following the arrest of hundreds of academics over terrorism charges and the civil death of thousands of others who lost their jobs, passports, and livelihoods, the Turkish government has been restructuring higher education in a unilateral, anti-democratic manner through top-down appointments and presidential executive decrees It is vital, then, to show our solidarity with academics in Turkey.
On July 26, 2020, the general secretariat of Turkey’s Constitutional Court held a meeting to examine individual judicial review applications from 10 Peace academics who had been sentenced to between 15 months and 3 years in prison for having signed the Academics for Peace petition calling for peaceful resolution of the decades-long armed conflict between the Turkish state and Kurdish rebels. Their appeal requested a constitutional overview of their cases and withdrawal of terrorism-related charges; among those individual applicants were Professor Fusun Ustel, who was incarcerated in Eskisehir Women’s Prison from May 8 to July 22, 2019. The high court decided to overturn terrorism charges for not only the ten individual applicants but all Peace academics on grounds of their scholarly work and freedom of association and demanded retrial. However, as of August 2021, COVID-19-related contingencies have so slowed the daily conduct of bureaucracy that most of the 6,000+ academics who had lost their jobs and passports are still in an extremely precarious position waiting for the return of their passports and reinstatement of their faculty positions. Among them is Tuna Altinel, professor of mathematics at Lyon-1 University in France, who was acquitted of all charges in January 2020, finally received his passport on May 28, 2021, and on June 11 returned to France, where he was welcomed at Lyon-Saint Exupery Airport by his colleagues and the members of academic solidarity networks.
On January 1, 2021, the government launched a new attack against academic freedom, targeting one of the most prestigious universities of the country. With a midnight executive decree, the Turkish president Erdogan appointed Professor Melih Bulu the new rector of Bogazici University. The decision was met with outrage from faculty members and the student body, who interpreted Bulu’s appointment as an assault on academic freedom and institutional autonomy. Since the notorious 1980 military coup d’état, Bulu was to be the first rector chosen from outside the university community. Following six months of protests in Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir, on June 15, 2021, Bulu was removed from his post by a presidential decree. On August 21, 2021, President Erdogan appointed Naci Inci as the new rector despite the dissenting vote of 95 percent of the faculty. Throughout the protests in support of the Bogazici community’s struggle for academic freedom and institutional autonomy, the police used excessive force against peaceful protestors. Trials are still in progress over charges against 108 people, mostly students, who were taken into custody on February 1 and released after giving their statements, as are court hearings in a lawsuit filed on April 19, 2021, against 97 people who joined the protests in Istanbul.
Endangered Scholars Worldwide remains concerned with the condition of academics and the future of higher education in Turkey. For the past five years, ESW has been monitoring the struggle of academics in Turkey case by case, making inquiries on a daily basis. The ongoing tensions in Turkey have a profoundly unsettling effect on academic freedom and pose a grave threat to higher education on a national scale. We at ESW consider the Constitutional Court decision as a significant development, and look forward to sharing the news of full acquittal and reinstatement of those who were dismissed from their positions due to peaceful exercise of their freedom of expression and association, conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Turkey is party.
We at Endangered Scholars Worldwide urge our readers not 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 with “hardly the time, let alone the inclination, to stop and think.” For this reason, the subsequent solidarity petitions are crucial. 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 intellectuals despite the challenges they face in their own country.
Please send appeals to the following:
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
The Office of the President
06560 Beştepe, Ankara
Fax: +90 312 525 58 31
Minister of Justice
06669 Kızılay, Ankara
Fax: +90 312 419 3370