California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Letter to Recep Erdogan, President of Turkey, re imprisonment of Dr. Ayse Gul Altunay and treatment of Academics for Peace in Turkey



May 29, 2019

H.E. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

President of the Republic of Turkey

T.C. Cumhurbaşkanlığı Genel Sekreterliği

06689 Çankaya, Ankara 

Dear President Erdoğan:

This is the seventh letter we, California Scholars for Academic Freedom*, representing over two hundred faculty at California universities, are writing in solidarity with our Turkish colleagues, who signed the Academics for Peace statement, “We will not be a party to this crime.” As you can read in the letters we sent earlier, we have been following the fate of our colleagues since January 2016. Even though we follow and respond to breaches of academic freedom in the U.S. and the wider world, there has not been any other case about which we have written as many letters. The treatment the Academics for Peace have been subjected to in Turkey is simply unmatched in the democratic world in the twenty-first century. Even such wide scale persecution as was experienced in the U.S. under McCarthyism in the 1950s pales beside the persecution of Academics for Peace. 

What prompted this fourth letter is the sentence of two years and one-month imprisonment that our colleague Prof. Dr. Ayşe Gül Altınay received on May 21, 2019. Dr. Altınay is one of the most accomplished anthropologists of Turkey. She is globally known as a scholar of women’s and gender studies and is an editorial board member of the European Journal of Women’s Studies. In terms of her productivity and scholarly impact, Dr. Altınay is in a league with the most distinguished scholars of her field worldwide. She is the kind of scholar that Turkey should be proud of. Sentencing her for “knowingly and willingly aiding a terrorist organization as a non-member” makes the Turkish justice system lose all of its remaining credibility.

We find it incredible that a petition that calls for peace and was signed by more than 2,200 academics is deemed to be terrorist propaganda. Even more incredible, however, is the way in which the signatories have been treated differently for the same act of signing a petition. As of May 28, 2019, 726 signatories have been on trial. So far 192 sentences have been issued. Out of these 192 sentences, 153 were suspensions and 4 were deferrals. The remaining 35 sentences included convictions that ranged from 15 to 36 months. This kind of discrepancy in the sentencing process for the same alleged crime is unheard of in the annals of legal history and reminds one of Max Weber’s concept of “Kadi justice” (Kadijustiz), which many of us have been critical of as a fiction of Orientalism but which the Turkish Ministry of Justice under your leadership seems determined to actualize in the twenty-first century.

We were shocked to witness the imprisonment of our colleague Prof. Dr. Füsun Üstel about whom we wrote to you in the past. A retired professor who authored three books and many articles on political science focusing on such issues as citizenship and nationalism, Dr. Üstel has educated generations of students at several universities in Turkey. She became the first actual victim of the terrorization of knowledge that we have been witnessing in the cases of the Academics for Peace. We believe that contrary to the accusations of being producers of terrorism propaganda, the signatories of the Peace Petition have been terrorized for exercising their academic freedom in petitioning their government and producing knowledge that is critical of state policies directed toward the inhabitants of the Kurdish majority provinces of Turkey.

As you would remember better than anyone, it was you who presented the “Report on the Kurdish Question” to Mr. Necmettin Erbakan in 1991, acknowledging “state terrorism” (devlet terörü). It was under your government that Turkish public television launched a channel dedicated to broadcasting in Kurdish. You were the first statesman of Turkey who apologized for the state violence perpetrated against the Kurds in Dersim in the 1930s. It was also under your leadership that the peace process between the Turkish state and the PKK started. The Academics for Peace simply demanded a return to this process that was interrupted in the aftermath of the June 2015 elections. 

We stand in solidarity with our persecuted colleagues and demand the dismissal of all their cases at once. Such state supported violence against academic freedom and basic human rights will negatively impact international academic collaboration with Turkish higher education institutions and universities that are complicit in targeting academic freedom. We have no doubt that the decisions made so far in these cases would be overturned once they reach the European Court of Human Rights for individual appeal. Thus, it would be in Turkey’s interest to correct the injustice done to the Academics for Peace before it is forced to do so by international law. Such a correction would also accord a certain degree of credibility to your efforts to appear as a champion of human rights elsewhere in the world, efforts that have become increasingly difficult to take seriously since the summer of 2015. We invite you to join Dr. Altınay’s call to take “new steps … to break out of the cycles of violence that we are living through.”


California Scholars for Academic Freedom


Nancy Gallagher, Ph.D

Professor Emerita of History

University of California, Santa Barbara 

Sherene H. Razack, Ph.D

Distinguished Professor

Penny Kanner Endowed Chair in Women’s Studies

Dept. of Gender Studies, UCLA 

Suad Joseph, Ph.D

Distinguished Research Professor

University of California, Davis.

Rabab Abdulhadi, Ph.D.

AMED Studies

San Francisco State University

cc: Professor Dr. Yusuf Leblecici, President, Sabanci University; 


*CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM (cs4af) is a group of over 200 scholars who defend academic freedom, the right of shared governance, and the First Amendment rights of faculty and students in the academy and beyond. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere. California Scholars for Academic Freedom investigates legislative and administrative infringements on freedom of speech and assembly, and it raises the consciousness of politicians, university regents and administrators, faculty, students and the public at large through open letters, press releases, petitions, statements, and articles.



May 31, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment