Beyond a petition that calls for peace

Nothing can better describe the current madness which has taken hold of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its mouthpieces in the media — about the witch hunt that threatens the security of more than 1,000 academics who signed the peace petition — than the hate campaign targeting one of them, Aslı Iğsız.

Iğsız, an assistant professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University, is the daughter of a former army commander, Hasan Iğsız. The latter was one of the top figures among the accused in the Ergenekon case, convicted to lifetime imprisonment, but released when the case collapsed due to a series of wrongdoings regarding the evidence.

A brilliant scholar, Aslı Iğsız was among those who signed the petition that called for accountability by the AKP government and a return to peace negotiations.

As the venomous witch hunt from top down was launched against the signatories, soon enough, she and her father found themselves in the line of fire.

As the accusations were no less than “military traitor and daughter,” the former general recently issued a statement through his lawyer, saying that despite disagreeing with the text of the petition campaign, he was deeply concerned that his daughter “whom he had raised by promoting independent and critical mindset should be disrespected this way and that he was worried about the wounds the latest lynch campaign had opened.”

The pro-government media’s response was relentless.

The daily Star on Monday let us know that “Aslı Iğsız is reported to be married to a Spanish Jew by the name of Eduardo Matos Martin.” This is only a simple, single case, illustrating how shameless, poisonous and dangerous the threats are against anybody who expresses dissent, exercises her/his right to protest against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s tightly controlled and conducted hard-line policies in Turkey.

As the polarization increases, also by a series of violence raising concerns about how the “Syrianization” is speeding up, the academics’ petition has apparently come to mean a rupture point in Turkey’s ever-interesting story. It now clarifies a fault line between the pro- and anti-democracy camps, as well as puts to test each sector on where individuals stand in terms of basic freedoms.

In some ways, the fact that academics are joined by some colleagues at home and abroad — by their foreign colleagues — and others are encouraging. Although a few in the media and academia, in the political opposition and the Hizmet movement are still mumbling around “buts” and “ifs,” the support line is widening. Yesterday a total of 624 journalists joined the circles of cinematographers and authors who had backed the campaign. It is a positive sign that the Writers’ and Journalists’ Union (GYV) also joined the ranks, closing the ranks for democratic rights.

And the most peculiar support came from the 27 fan groups of more than 12 football teams — including Fenerbahçe, Beşiktaş and Galatasaray — declaring yesterday that “we shall not be part of this crime,” in support of the scholars.

In many ways, it seemed to me that the petition would be a sharp curve again in Turkey’s story. Just by thuggishly challenging the independence of opinion at academia, the witch hunt against it was crying for big consequences, calling for conscientious choices, and exposing how close Turkey comes to an abyss of despotism, sort of a wake-up call for the apathetic West.

It told everyone that the AKP was now ready to gobble the university freedom up, after bringing the judiciary down to its knees and suffocating the media.

“The current government has been waging a long and systematic drive to take control of Turkish higher education,” wrote Kadir Yıldırım, a research scholar with Rice University, for the Washington Post.

“This latest effort by Erdoğan amounts to no less than a redesign of academia in his own image, as in many other sectors of life in the country. Turkish academia, long considered among conservative circles to be a bastion of secular, modern and anti-religion intelligentsia, is being overhauled. The administrators are fully compliant with the demands of the political top brass… Erdoğan’s attack on the petition-signing scholars is not about the content of the petition. It primarily aims to domesticate the remaining oppositional voices within the academia.”

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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