Jul 08 2019

Turkey's crackdown on academics represses history -- NY Times

Turkey’s ongoing repression of its academia will cost future generations knowledge that is vital not only to overcoming past trauma, but also to easing the perpetuation of conflict, wrote journalist Brennan Cusack in an article in the New York Times.

The New York Times article pointed to the “Academics for Peace” group, which has been subject to severe repercussions after presenting over 2,000 signatures to the Turkish government in a petition criticising the heavy-handed tactics employed by the Turkish army in the country’s predominantly Kurdish cities.

The military operations in the south east began in July, 2015 after the breakdown of a two-and-a-half year ceasefire between the state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), negotiated by the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. 

Inhabitants of cities and towns across Turkey’s south eastern region were forced to endure long curfews or leave their homes when the military responded to declarations of autonomy from groups said to be linked to the PKK with heavy weaponry.

Nearly 700 of the petition’s signatories have been put on trial and over 450 were removed from their posts by government decree or direct action from their own university, Cusak said.

These academics are only a fraction of the thousands of academics being silenced under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s purge of academic institutions, according to the article, which stressed the chance being missed in the pivotal role the country’s scholars play in openly confronting Turkey’s painful past.

The mass killings of the Armenians by the Ottomans during World War I, and the decades-long oppression of the Turkey’s Kurds have long haunted Turkey, Cusak wrote.

It was only in the 2000s that Turkish academics began to challenge these issues, he said.

The ascension to power of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, 17 years ago, turned militarism; religious, sectarian and ethnic exclusions; gender politics; and, eventually, the Armenian genocide into academic research and societal debate, the New York Times article said.

But it was his power too, that has since removed and criminalised scholarly discussion of these issues.

A few important events flipped the parameters of scholarly discourse in Turkey. The 2013 Gezi Park protests, a response to Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian rule, resulted in a violent crackdown.

Two years later, the peace process between the government and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) came to an end, killing hopes of addressing Turkey’s decades-long Kurdish problem. Finally, the government crackdown in the wake of the July 2016 failed coup attempt has hit the country’s academic hard.

‘’Academic activism on sensitive subjects like the Armenian and Kurdish issues quickly flipped from an act of social progression to near treason, and the Turkish government issued decrees that removed more than 5,800 academics and shuttered over a hundred universities. One wave of dismissals nearly gutted Ankara University’s departments of law and of political science,’’ Cusack wrote.

Some academics fled to safety abroad, where they have largely remained quiet, worried their words will be used against family members and colleagues back home, the article said. Others are forced to remain in the country due to government restrictions and are unable to find work.