Turkish academia as a slaughterhouse

When I heard the news on late Tuesday night, I did not know who to pity more than the other. I knew a few of the victims, but the first one I thought was a soft-spoken, elderly gentleman; Prof İbrahim Kaboğlu, from Marmara University, a top Turkish expert on constitution and law.

His civil courage has remained a contrast with his mild manners: he is one of the flag bearers of those who against all odds defend the value of the rule of law. Tuesday night, this senior scholar from Istanbul was ‘awarded’ by being fired, in a most arbitrary way.

With every new decree, tragedy of the dissident elite of Turkey widens, deepens, as it also exposes the underlying intention of those hold power: to maximize efforts for a ‘negative selection’ – as it happened once upon a time in Germany. Decree after decree, what we observe is the victory of intolerant mediocrity over hard-earned merit, and civil courage.

‘Now we can say that the academia in Turkey is done for’ tweeted Kerem Altıparmak, an academic with Ankara University – who as a law expert pursues a fierce battle on injustices at the European Court of Human Rights – on Tuesday night. ‘This applies to us who – for now – are allowed to stay.’


The new decree by the AKP government is by far the most ‘revealing’ of the Great Purge that has taken place. It declared that 330 academicians from 23 universities were sacked from their jobs from the public sector with immediate effect.

The reports were quick to underline that 115 of them were those who had signed a petition early last year, titled ‘We shall not be a party of a crime’, protesting against the atrocities in the mainly Kurdish provinces of Turkey. Simply called ‘Academicians For Peace’, they were then immediately subjected to a severe demonization campaign in pro-government media. They were encouraged by President Erdoğan who had condemned them by a loud statement.

‘You, the so-called intellectuals!’ he had roared then. ‘You are the very darkness yourselves, not intellectuals. You are so dark and ignorant to a degree that you have no idea of the address of those areas!’

Some of the petitioners were already ‘cleansed’ from universities and with this decree, more fear and resentment has spread to all others who feel it will be their turn next. That is the message Altıparmak had, by saying ‘we who stay for now.’

The decree targets the backbone of some of the best established universities in the country. One of them is the Faculty of Political Sciences (SBF) that is part of Ankara University – a school compared to France’s Sciences Po or ENS – where top diplomats and intellectuals graduate from. Here is the verdict of Altıparmak about his school, hit like an earthquake by the decree: ‘SBF is the very foundation of our republic. With the purge, it was finished off. Condolences!’

The decree, in practice, emptied the entire departments of journalism in Ankara University and the University of Marmara in Istanbul. One of the purged, Prof Yüksel Taşkın, who ‘was’ a teacher, and apparently a bloved one by his students, tweeted, in bitterness: ‘This is a pure political ‘cleansing’. But my conscience is clear. Let my students know that I shall never, ever bow down.’

Emre Tansu Keten, from the same school, wrote: ‘I am simply proud to be in the same list along with my senior colleagues who are thrown out because of the opinion they expressed.’

Another blow was delivered to the Department of Theater in the Faculty of Language, History and Geography of Ankara University, where five professors were ‘cleansed’. One the teachers, Prof Süreyya Karacabey, said that there were only four low degree teachers were left.

‘There were six of who signed the peace petition’ he continued. ‘Five of us had remained and now we are sacked. This means that the department is disfunctional; education has been stopped. Four remaining colleagues will not be able to run the operation. There is more to come, I am afraid. It is horrible when one waits for one’s turn to be fired.’

Ercan Şen, a teacher from the school, tweeted:

‘I was sacked just because I had said that I opposed war in this country, that I desired peace. Let it be! I still want peace…’

The decree itself is self-explanatory about the intention to slaughter not only the diversity of opinion, but also striking in its breadth of liquidation. One of the victims, a senior academician, is a legend in her field. Prof Öget Öktem Tanörthe first neuro-psychologist in Turkey. She is also known as the founder of the first laboratory in neuro-psychology. This elderly lady was the wife of late Prof Bülent Tanör, another legendary figure in constitutional law, who as part of the liberal-left in Turkey had devoted his entire life for replacing Turkey’s military-dictated constitution with a democratic one – to no avail.

Prof Kaboğlu, who I first thought of, belongs to the same school of thought and rank. He engaged selflessly for years for a democratic order. A decade ago he was asked by the then-Prime Minister Erdoğan to prepare a detailed report on minority rights and how to proceed with reconciliation over the past atrocities of the state, and ways of devolution of power. He worked intensely with another senior scholar, Prof Baskın Oran and issued the report. Only to find out months after that both of them would be charged by the prosecutors on ‘insulting Turkishness’. Charges were dropped later, but so was the valuable report, buried to oblivion.

Here we are, I thought, reading the list of the purged. This is the most vicious of the circles of all. This is the traditional way of a state, now seized by a primitevly power-hungry, and equally mediocre political stable, to show gratitude to its hard-won, independent intellectuals: alienation and punishment. Widening more by each and every decree, this is now a country resembling Germany of 1930, which ended up chasing out its elite beyond its borders. What I know for certain, that there will no longer be any possibilites for our academicians ‘cleansed’ to find work and, live in decency and honor. This bitter fact legitimizes a repeat of history: an exodus inevitable. Turkey is losing its blood, and we all know who is responsible.


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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