Turkish authorities detain renowned historian at airport for signing peace call
Updated with Baki Tezcan's release
Turkish authorities on Wednesday detained Baki Tezcan, an associate professor of history at the University of California, upon his arrival in Istanbul due to an arrest warrant issued for signing a peace petition.
Tezcan was detained on Wednesday before passport control and was brought to the Istanbul airport police station. A Twitter account that follows the cases of peace petitioners said on Wednesday evening that Tezcan had been released after giving his testimony.
Tezcan is among the 2,200 academics who signed the 2016 petition, which criticised the heavy-handed tactics employed by the Turkish army in predominantly Kurdish cities in the country, including long curfews and the use of heavy weaponry. The military operations began after a two-and-a-half year ceasefire between the state and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), negotiated by the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, broke down in July 2015.
As of January 30, 2019, 452 signatories had stood trial over charges of terrorism propaganda. The court in Istanbul overseeing Tezcan’s case sent a request to the U.S. Department of Justice asking for the California-based academic to be turned over to give testimony after he missed the first hearing in his trial.
The department responded in January that Tezcan’s signing of the petition was protected by the U.S. first amendment constitutional right to free expression. Declarations such as the petition, it said, could not be punished except in very limited cases in which they posed a clear threat. Since the academics for peace petition did not fall under this category, Tezcan would not be handed over, the department said.
The Istanbul court issued an arrest warrant for Tezcan after receiving the statement from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Tezcan’s detention follows that of Gizem Sayın, another peace petitioner working at Istanbul Kadir Has University, who was taken into police custody on June 11 upon her arrival to the country and released after giving her testimony.
“#BakiTezcan is one of the kindest men I know. He’s a brilliant scholar who has helped rework our understanding of the Ottoman Empire. His return to Turkey is testament to his courage,” Howard Eissenstat , associate professor of Middle East history at St. Lawrence University and a non-resident senior fellow at the Project on Middle East Democracy, said before the historian returned to Turkey.
Baki Tezcan joined the UC Davis History Department in 2002. He was one of the founders of the Middle East/South Asia Studies Program of the university, which he directed from 2012 to 2015.