Muftah has extensively covered the ongoing deterioration of press freedom in Turkey. As journalists have been imprisoned and newspapers co-opted by the government, a parallel campaign has targeted Turkey’s academics and universities.
In January 2016, hundreds of Turkish academics both in Turkey and abroad, as well as prominent non-Turks like Noam Chomsky and Judith Butler, signed the Academics for Peace declaration, opposing the Turkish government’s crackdown on Turkey’s Kurdish minority. The professors and researchers who participated in this protest were particularly singled out for repercussions. They are not, however, the only academics who have been targeted.
Since the coup attempt last summer, academics working in both public and private universities have been punished for alleged support of either the Gulen Movement, which the government believes was behind the coup attempt, or the PKK, the Kurdish guerrilla organization that has fought the Turkish state for more than thirty years. Without due process, Turkish academics have been subject to punishments that have ranged from loss of faculty positions to detainment by the police.
Turkey’s once vibrant academic culture and quality universities have been gutted by these practices. Many departments at Ankara University, including political science and theater, do not have enough faculty to function.
The Scholars at Risk network, hosted by New York University, has been tracking assaults on academic freedom in Turkey since 2013. The number of documented incidents jumped dramatically between 2015 to 2016.
To respond to these large-scale purges of faculty at Turkish universities, two new initiatives have been launched in the last month. The UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies is working with Scholars at Risk and the Scholar Rescue Fund to host a visiting scholar from Turkey next academic year. They are currently seeking donations to support this initiative. You can read more here and donate here.
A handful of Turkey-focused, grassroots organizations have also launched a crowdfunding campaign, to support scholars in Turkey who have lost their livelihood. The Solidarity for Purged Academics for Peace in Turkey campaign is raising funds to specifically support those academics who lost their position as a result of signing the Academics for Peace letter. These funds are desperately needed. In addition to losing their jobs, many of those who have been dismissed in the past year have had their passports and those of their spouses canceled. The current state of emergency decree also restricts the travel of civil servants, which includes all public university professors. Under these circumstances, it is very difficult if not impossible for most Turkish scholars, both those who have been fired and those who are still employed, to look for work elsewhere.
The Solidarity for Purged Academics will support thirty-five academics for six months in collaboration with the Turkish education union. You can find out more about this initiative and make a donation here.