Turkey’s prosecution of peace academics puts issue in global spotlight - editorial

By prosecuting critics of his country’s alleged massacres of Kurdish civilians, Turkish Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has only created global awareness of the issue, U.S. newspaper the Sacramento Bee said in an editorial. 

A historian with a focus on the early Ottoman era, University of California-Davis professor Baki Tezcan was among the 2,200 academics who signed a 2016 petition criticising the heavy-handed tactics of the Turkish army in the country’s southeast. As a result, he was detained by Turkish authorities last month upon arrival at Istanbul airport and is now on trial, charged with terror propaganda. 

“Until recently, few in our community had ever heard of Tezcan,” said the Bee. “Now his plight has become a regular feature in the news…Now we know how sensitive Erdoğan’s government is about charges that it has deliberately killed Kurdish civilians.”

California, with its sizable Armenian community, is well aware of Turkey’s denial of its killing of some 1.5 million Armenians following World War One. Now they’re doing the same thing with the Kurds, according to the Bee, prosecuting all who signed the 2016 petition. As of January, more than 452 signatories had stood trial over charges of terror propaganda.

In a written statement to the court, Tezcan, who is the first Turkish-American charged in the case, rejected the charges against him and went on to note how the petition had only gained widespread notice after the government decided to crackdown on its signatories. 

“What keeps the Declaration for Peace in the news is not the declaration but the reaction to it in Turkey,” he said. “The Declaration has now been publicized in California’s capital of Sacramento not because of my signature but due to the arrest warrant issued by this court.”

The Bee called on Turkey’s judges to end the prosecution of Tezcan and other academics. 

“To prosecute citizens for free speech is to attack democracy and freedom, and to push Turkey backward instead of forward,” said the editorial. “President Erdoğan’s thin-skinned and overblown response to criticism has done more to highlight the plight of Turkey’s Kurds than any petition ever could.”