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Turkish academics detained after call for peace

Interview with political analyst Cengiz Aktar

Academics who signed the appeal for peace in the Kurdish region

Academics who signed the appeal for peace in the Kurdish region www.agos.com.tr

On Sunday, January 10, the "Group of Academics for Peace", convened in Istanbul , called for the Turkish state to end ist attacks on Kurdish regions in southeastern Anatolia and lift the curfew that is starving the citizens in Sur, Silvan, Cizre, Silopi and other Kurdish towns. The appeal, entitled "We will not be a party to this crime", signed by over 1,000 professors and researchers from 89 universities in Turkey and another 200 from other countries, denounced the serious violations of Turkey’s own laws and international treaties to which Turkey is a party and demands the government to give access to the region to independent national and international observers and to prepare the conditions for negotiations that would lead to a lasting peace, taking into account the demands of the Kurdish political forces.
Two days later President Recep Tayyip Erdogan replied with a harsh speech, given while the country was shocked after the suicide bombing committed by an ISIS militant in Istanbul, which killed 10 German tourists and wounded 15 others. Speaking to Turkish ambassadors in Ankara, the President rejected with indignation the demands by the "pseudo-intellectuals" calling them "ignorants" who "defame Turkey for protecting its land and invite foreign observers to our country to follow the developments. This is nothing but colonialism. Turkey had faced with the betrayal of this mentality a century ago. There were people who believed that only foreigners can solve problems”. He added that "the security forces will remain until the terrorist organizations leave the region completely". After these statements, the Higher Education Board (YOK), responsible for the supervision of universities in Turkey, urgently met and stated that the definition of 'massacre', given by the academics to the state’s struggle against terror in the south-east,“has put our entire academic world under suspicion” and will soon be discussed by all deans and an inter-university council. The first punitive measures have already been taken: 21 professors from Kocaeli University and three academics from Abant İzzet Baysal University are detained, according to Agos weekly newspaper.

Cengis Aktar, a Turkish political analyst, journalist and writer who has long affirmed the need for a peaceful solution of the Kurdish issue, says in this interview to Gariwo that Erdogan’s reaction confirms Turkey risks to turn into an authoritarian system.

How do you consider the President’s harsh speech against the petition?

This initiative did not start with this appeal, it began a few years ago, and it is called “Academicians for Peace”. This time we decided to make another call to the authorities and to the warring parties to stop this bloodshed in the Turkish Kurdistan, because it doesn’t lead anywhere. Turkey has tried to solve the Kurdish problem by force several times and it never worked. And it won’t work this time either. People, and especially civilians, are dying. Moreover we called upon the authorities and upon the parties to become some kind of 'go-between', 'honest broker' or 'third eye', so that this open conflict could cease.
The reaction from the public opinion was quite positive, but from the authorities, as expected, it was more than negative, Mr. Erdogan took the floor and expressed his critics to the academicians. He said absolutely astonishing things about the quality of the researchers and academicians. He completely dismissed them in their scientific personalities and used wicked words to qualify them. I’d like to remind that, in addition to some 2,000 academicians from Turkey, more than 200 academicians from abroad have signed this appeal, people like Immanuel Wallerstein, Etienne Balibar and Noam Chomsky, Judith Butler etc. And Erdogan dismissed all these people and treated all of them as traitors and pro PKK fans.

Having signed the appeal, are you worried about Erdogan’s accuse and his veiled threat that Turkey is facing a treason like hundred years ago?

This morning a mafia-boss called Sedat Peker, who supports the President and is a convicted criminal, issued a letter saying that the blood of these academicians will spill over and he will endorse nationalists, who will take a shower with this blood. This is where we are. And the Higher Education Board has gathered immediately when Mr. Erdogan spoke and indirectly ordered some kind of investigation. He didn’t say clearly that, but he said “they should pay”. We don’t know the result, of course they will take some kind of decision against the academicians and we will see. So far some 10 signatories have been put under investigation or harassed by their universities. This will add more to the existing polarization and climate of hate that is constantly building up in this country.

Given this reaction do you expect consequences, i. e. some academics might be fired or forced to leave the university or school?

Yes, a kind of McCarthyism has started, very bad.

You said the public opinion reacted positively to the appeal, this means the separation between the public opinion and the AKP and government will deepen?

Yes, but half of the Turks still supports the President and government.

And the media cannot do much, with so many journalists recently put in prison and the others under threat. Is it so?

They are closing down the media; there is no more freedom for the media in Turkey.

So what might the International community do to support democracy in Turkey?

The International community should understand very clearly, especially in countries like Italy and German, that this is a obvious path towards fascism, Turkey is heading toward a regular fascist state, like in the 1920s in Italy.

Cengiz Aktar is Senior Scholar at Istanbul Policy Center, expert in minorities issues and supporter of the Turkish-Armenian dialogue, former director at the United Nations for 22 years, writer and columnist at Al-Jazeera network, Today’s Zaman and Taraf dailies, Hrant Dink Foundation's Board member.

by Viviana Vestrucci

15 January 2016

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