Erdogan Wages War on Professors, Scholars Fight Back for Academic Freedom

Erdogan Wages War on Professors, Scholars Fight Back for Academic Freedom © AFP 2016/ ADEM ALTAN

20:56 14.01.2016(updated 22:24 14.01.2016) Get short URL

Following the crackdown on journalists, the Turkish government has now targeted the academic community in a desperate attempt to curb freedom of speech in the country, Turkish Professors Tahsin Yesildere and Fatih Yasli told Sputnik in an interview.

It all started after 1,128 academics from 89 Turkish universities, as well as some foreign scholars, signed a document urging the government “to stop the massacre” of Kurds in the southeastern part of the country. Turkish academics called on the government to return to negotiations and said they no longer wanted to be “the accomplices of this crime.”
The publication of the the document enraged President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who subsequently lashed out at the professors.

“Hey, you so-called intellectuals! You aren’t enlightened, you’re dark people… You’re ignorant and know nothing about the situation in the East and South-East [of Turkey],” Erdogan said during his speech in an annual meeting with Turkish diplomats in Ankara.

Following Erdogan’s speech, a harassment campaign targeting universities and professors with various inspections and disciplinary actions began. Turkey’s Council of Higher Education announced it would start taking legal action against Turkish professors who signed the document protesting Erdogan’s policies against Kurds.

“What was so enraging that the professors said in their appeal? They simply asked the government to restore peace in the region… And the reply was the angry criticism and threats to our address,” Professor Tahsin Yesildere, the Chairman of Turkey’s Association of University Professors, told Sputnik.

Academia Strikes Back at Erdogan

As a response to Erdogan’s actions, Turkish scholars expressed a unified position on behalf of all the professors in the country. The official response of Turkish academics stated that all universities in the country must have a right to freely express their point of view and all the government sanctions against academia are illegal.

“The situation must be viewed in conjunction with the issue of the freedom of universities and faculty. Unfortunately, the Council of Higher Education and rectors in many Turkish universities still don’t understand what academic freedom is,” Yesildere said.

If Turkey’s Council of Higher Education was independent, it would have stood to protect academic freedom of professors from the government’s attempts to suppress it. Instead, professors, who criticized the government, were told to leave their positions or withdraw their signatures from the protest document, Yesildere said.

“This situation demonstartes that there are no democratic freedoms in Turkey,” Yesildere told Sputnik.

That’s why, Yesildere thinks it’s important that this issue should be discussed in public.

Meanwhile, another public campaign, supposedly signed by some Turkish academics, in support of President Erdogan has been launched. In this petition, a group of Turkish academics appeared condemning the actions of their colleagues, who are trying to fight for academic freedom.

However, the new campaign in support of Erdogan has been exposed as a fake, after Professor Fatih Yasli saw his name on the petition even though he hadn’t signed it.

“I didn’t even know about this campaign. After I saw my name among the signatories, I immediately published an official rebuttal on Twitter,” Yasli told Sputnik.

Yasli also noticed the names of his colleagues whom he knows for sure would never support the petition, which condemn the actions of university professors fighting for their freedom of speech.

“This shows that this campaign is carried out illegally, it published the names of people who don’t even suspect that their names are on it,” Yasli said, adding that he himself actively supports his colleagues and is determined to fight for the protection of academic freedom in Turkey.

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