Fatma Muge Gocek
Nov 10 2017

"Harassment of Turkish academics in the West should be stopped"

For the last couple of decades, I have lived outside Turkey as an academic working on politically sensitive topics.

I can personally attest that I have been constantly harassed by the Turkish state because of my work. This harassment has taken the form of online slander campaigns, anonymous threats traced back to Turkey, and people at my talks planted by the Turkish state who try to challenge and demean me.

I have encountered this harassment both in the United States and in Europe, despite the fact I have only given lectures at universities. Once, the FBI had to be called in to investigate a personal threat I received.

This situation, which was already bad and completely antithetical to the freedom of expression and opinion, has become worse this year.

First, academics living and working in Turkey were prevented from attending a workshop I organised with a colleague in Berlin due to pressure on their universities.

Then, the leader and members of a Turkish ultra-nationalist party travelled to Berlin, held a press conference to speak against our meeting and then sent protesters to the workshop venue. There they not only heckled and filmed participants, but also tried to break into our meeting.

Finally, Turkish newspapers reported our activities as a bizarre conspiracy to attempt to control Turkey and create a second Israel there.

The harassment also targeted specific participants. It reached such a level that, after having experienced it, I decided to turn down a fellowship to spend the next academic year in Berlin, afraid of possible attacks by the Turkish state against my presence there.

The harassment continued to claim another victim, an academic colleague of mine living and working in Germany, Prof Kader Konuk. She very conscientiously helped establish an “academy in exile” for the thousands of academics in Turkey who have been illegally and unjustly harassed and fired from their jobs in the last two years for asking for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue rather than the violence the state engaged and still engages in.

She too was slandered, with Turkish newspapers in Germany as well as those in Turkey accusing her of being a traitor to the nation. Her location and position were cited in the piece, turning her into a target.

Other colleagues in Paris and London have faced similar pressures from the Turkish state for some time.

I am still filled with grief after witnessing how Turkish state harassment operated against my friend, the journalist Hrant Dink. Accused of treason on entirely illegal grounds, with the Turkish public prosecutor and the Turkish court wilfully misinterpreting his newspaper editorials, the targeting began with him being tried in a kangaroo court.

In 2007, just as Dink was about to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights, he was assassinated. While the person who pulled the trigger was caught, those who actually ordered him to kill Dink, operating deep inside the state, have not been identified, tried and punished to this day, 10 years later.

The Turkish state got away with murder. This lack of accountability has produced one consistent result: the repetition Turkish state harassment and violence over and over again.

What is most disturbing for me is not only the persistence of Turkish state violence in Turkey, but its extension outside the country, as I have experienced in Europe and the United States.

It is time for the West to take an effective stand against this escalating harassment on its own soil. I believe that such harassment differs from terrorist violence only by degree as both intend to challenge, undermine and destabilise Western norms and values.

Only by taking an effective stand against foreign state harassment would the West be able to contain the lack of accountability for violence that exists within such authoritarian countries like Turkey.