California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Letter in Defense of Turkish Scholars

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

January 19, 2016

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu
Office of the Prime Minister
Başbakanlık
06573 Ankara, Turkey
Via fax +90 312 417 0476; +90 312 403 62 82; + 90 312 422 26 67

cc: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Fax +90 312 525 58 31

Speaker of the Grand National Assembly Ismail Kahraman, Fax +90 312 420 51 65

Dear Prime Minister Davutoğlu:

California Scholars for Academic Freedom,* an organization devoted to defending academic freedom and representing more than one hundred and fifty faculty at universities throughout California, wishes to express its concern over reports that the Higher Education Council (Yüksek Öğretim Kurulu, or YÖK) held an emergency meeting to commence an investigation against scholars who signed a petition for peace in the Kurdish regions of the country (“Peace Petition”). YÖK officials are reportedly treating this petition as pro-PKK “terrorist propaganda” that falls outside of the protections of academic freedom. Further, there are reports that YÖK plans to convene university rectors to take additional action against signatories at their universities. These actions by YÖK represent a violation of academic freedom and are consistent with broader efforts on the part of the state to punish critics of state policies.

The government’s actions against the Peace Petition signatories are distressing for at least three reasons. First, investigating the signatories after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticized the campaign in a public address, calling the signatories “traitors,” suggests that YÖK’s actions are inappropriately politicized.  We understand that the government has enhanced YÖK’s regulatory authorities in ways that are inimical to university autonomy. In this environment, it is hardly surprising that universities are proactively taking punitive measures in anticipation of your government’s actions. Within a day of President Erdoğan’s speech and the announcement of the YÖK investigation several universities initiated punitive measures against their faculty. Assistant Professor Hülya Doğan at Bartın University is reportedly under investigation by her university for being a signatory of the petition. Likewise Sivas Cumhuriyet University has reportedly launched an investigation against Professor Ali Çeliksöz for having signed the petition and he was asked for his resignation. Associate Professor Latife Akyüz has been suspended by Düzce University administration, and a criminal investigation has been opened against her for “terrorism propaganda”—all for being a signatory of the petition. The rector of Abdullah Gül University in Kayseri has reportedly demanded the resignation of Professor Bülent Tanju solely on the grounds that he is a signatory of the Peace Petition. The local prosecutor in Kayseri, taking note of the rector’s action, has also initiated a criminal investigation against Professor Tanju under Articles 216 and 301 of the Penal Code. The mere act of signing the Peace Petition has left Professor Tanju facing possible charges for “inflaming hatred and hostility among peoples” and “denigration of the Turkish nation” under these penal provisions. Professor Melih Kırlıdoğlu, Assistant Professors Çetin Gürer Dilşah Deniz Nil Mutluer and Muzaffer Kaya have also been asked to resign by the rector of Nişantaşı University. Lecturer Ümran Roda Suvağcı from Hakkari University has been taken into custody for having signed the petition. Further disciplinary investigations have reportedly been initiated by the rectors of six universities—Samsun Ondokuz Mayıs University, Antalya Akdeniz University, Abant Izzet Baysal University, and Ankara Hacettepe University, Giresun University, Istanbul Arel University—against members of their faculties who are signatories. Halil İbrahim Yenigün, an Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Istanbul Ticaret University lost his job. Many more universities are likely to follow suit, amounting to a wave of punitive actions against academics solely on the grounds that they have criticized the government’s policies in the southeastern provinces. Moreover, within the first week of the release of the Peace Petition, 12 faculty, who are among its signatories, have been temporarily detained and questioned by state prosecutors, and more such investigations have been reported to have taken place in Erzurum, Düzce, Kocaeli, Bolu, Bursa, Van, Bingöl, Zonguldak, Samsun, Bartın, and are expected to continue in the coming weeks in Istanbul and Izmir. In a university system in which rectors are appointed by the state and YÖK is free to initiate politicized investigations of academics, the actions being taken against signatories of the Peace Petition are a disturbing indication of the degree to which restrictions on academic freedom have become a matter of state policy in Turkey.

Second, among the signatories of the petition are scholars whose research is on the Kurds, other minorities, politics, history, and other related fields. That is, their scholarly work is related to the concerns raised in the text of the petition. By treating the Peace Petition as treasonous and launching an investigation of signatories, the government is effectively interfering with the ability of these academics to conduct their research. President Erdoğan suggests that the petition calls for foreigners to intervene to correct the situation in Turkey. In fact, the petition called for national and international independent observers to monitor the situation in the Kurdish region. This is not a call for foreign intervention, but rather an invitation to engage in the kind of independent observation that is the hallmark of both human rights monitoring and academic research. To investigate and criminalize a petition in which scholars call for independent observers to monitor areas under siege and curfew where civilian deaths have been reported is to strike at the heart of the academic enterprise—the ability to conduct independent research.

The politicization of regulatory powers over higher education to punish dissent and silence critics of your government’s policies on various issues, including Kurdish rights, represents a serious violation of academic freedom, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and has cast a long shadow over the democratic credentials of your government.

Third, as a member state of the Council of Europe and a signatory of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Turkey is required to protect freedom of thought, expression and assembly.  Turkey is also a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), all of which protect the rights to freedom of expression and association, which are at the heart of academic freedom. These rights are also enshrined in articles 25-27 of the Turkish Constitution. We urge your government to take all necessary steps to ensure that these rights are protected.

We respectfully ask that your government take immediate steps to ensure that YÖK drop any investigation of or action against the signatories of the Peace Petition and that any actions—including university, YÖK or criminal investigations or charges—against all these academics be reversed. As of this writing reports are emerging about additional disciplinary investigations as well as an independent criminal investigation launched by the Istanbul Public Prosecution Office against all the signatories under Article 301 of the Penal Code and Article 7 of Anti-terror Law alleging “terrorist organization propaganda”; we respectfully demand that any such investigations also be dropped. Against a backdrop of mounting international condemnation of the erosion of democratic rights and freedoms under your administration, taking steps to protect academic freedom and the right to education would be an important step to address concerns about human rights in Turkey.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your positive response.

Yours sincerely,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Emailed to:

Council of Higher Education International Relations Unit

Prof. Dr. Ali HABERAL, Rector, Başkent Üniversitesi

Levent Uysal, Mütevelli Heyeti Başkanı, Nişantaşı Üniversitesi,

Prof. Dr. Mehmet ÇİVİ, Rector, Arel University

Prof. Dr. Muhit MERT, Rector, Fatih Üniversitesi

Prof. Dr. Musa DUMAN, Rector, Fatih Sultan Mehmet Üniversitesi

Prof. Dr. İbrahim Kafi DÖNMEZ, Rector, İstanbul 29 Mayıs Üniversitesi

Prof. Dr. Nazım Ekren, Rector, İstanbul Ticaret Üniversitesi,

Prof. Dr. Şahin KARASAR, Rector, Maltepe Üniversitesi

Prof. Dr. İbrahim Hakkı YILMAZ, Rector, Iğdır Üniversitesi

Contacts:

Sondra Hale, Anthropology and Gender Studies, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); email: sonhale@UCLA.edu; phone: 310-836-5121

Katherine C King, Professor of Comparative Literature, University of California at Los Angeles; email: king@humnet.ucla.edu; phone: 310-822-2830

David Lloyd, Distinguished Professor of English, University of California, Riverside; email: david.lloyd@ucr.edu; Phone: 951-827-1459

**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM is a group of well over 100 academics who teach in 20 California institutions.  The group formed as a response to various violations of academic freedom that were arising from both the post-9/11/2001 climate of civil rights violations and the increasing attacks on progressive educators by neo-conservatives. Many attacks have been aimed at scholars of Arab, Muslim or Middle Eastern descent or at scholars researching and teaching about the Middle East, Arab and Muslim communities.  Our goal of protecting California Scholars based mainly in institutions of higher education has grown broader in scope to include threats to academic freedom across the United States, and where relevant, globally as well. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere.

Further information on CS4AF: https://cascholars4academicfreedom.wordpress.com/author/cs4af/

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February 1, 2016 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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