Renowned Turkish academic resigns, saying resistance is meaningless

Turkish human rights lawyer and academic Kerem Altıparmak has resigned from Ankara University, saying it could not be called a university anymore.

Altıparmak, known for fighting freedom of expression cases and his numerous reports on human rights, last year complained he had been refused permission on five occasions to leave the country to attend conferences on human rights.

The university in 2017 also shut down the Human Rights Centre of Ankara University’s Department of Political Science (SBF), which was established in 1978. Altıparmak was one of the academics working at the centre.

“The Human Rights Centre of the SBF, the honour of Turkish academia, which has served for 40 years and which I entered 21 years ago is shut down. We took down the plaque with our own hands. Of course our struggle for human rights has not ended, we will keep on defending what is right,” Altıparmak said on Twitter.

But on Monday, Altıparmak announced his decision to resign from the university and penned a farewell letter explaining the reasons.

“Let me first explain that, when I started working as an academic, I dreamed of leaving its door one day as a retired person, just like many of my friends who were sacked from their jobs over the last two years,” Altıparmak said. “From this perspective, it is obvious that my resignation is not something like ‘I have found a better job, and I am leaving’, or in other words it is not a voluntary departure.”

Altıparmak said it was also not fair to say he had resigned because he faced pressure, as there were many who were under more severe pressure than to him and he could have stayed, if he had wanted.

“I am leaving not because I found a better job, but because the place I am working has become something too different from the place I had hoped to retire from, somewhere which cannot be called a university anymore,” he said. “Under the circumstances, resisting also loses its meaning. It would be meaningful to resist and to continue for the sake of the university and academia, but what is left has nothing to do with those two.”

The Turkish government has sacked thousands of academics in the last two years, including those accused of being part of the Islamist Gülen movement the government blames for the 2016 coup attempt and hundreds who signed a 2015 petition calling for a peaceful end to the Kurdish conflict.

Human Rights Watch said in March the dismissals, as well as attempts to interfere the academics’ work, led to censorship and undermined academic freedom.