International Work Group: “Academic Liberty and Freedom of Research in Turkey”

16 01 2012


International Work Group: “Academic Liberty and Freedom of Research in Turkey” (Groupe International de Travail “GIT”)

A Critical Situation for Academic Liberty and Freedom of Research

Ragıp Zarakoğlu (L) Büşra Ersanlı (R)

Governmental measures of repression and attacks against academic research, teaching, translation and publication in Turkey have intensified since 2009. They have reached an alarming climax with the recent arrests of the professor and political scientist Büşra Ersanli of MarmaraUniversity, the owner and chief editor of the prestigious Belge publishing Ragip Zarakolu, the editor and translator Deniz Zarakolu, and the 21-year old political science student Büşra Beste Önder. They are being detained within the context of “[anti]-KCK operations,” accused of belonging to the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), an organization allegedly linked to the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The sole objective of these accusations is to silence independent intellectuals and threaten researchers, academics and students. The judicial system in Turkey has collaborated in this process of persecution by systematically upholding detentions under surveillance until trial, and ordering incarcerations (such as those of Ragip and Deniz Zarakolu) to be held in high security prisons, thereby reducing the rights of the defense and harassing the defendant while the state trials are organized – as has been the case with the sociologist Pinar Selek (pursued and acquitted several times) or the investigative journalists Ahmet Şik and Nedim Şener  (accused of “terrorism” within the framework of the “Ergenekon” trials and imprisoned).

Since April 2009, with the systematization of arbitrary arrests and subsequent charges of “membership in a terrorist organization,” the possibility in Turkey of independent research and its diffusion, within academic circles or for the public, is at stake. The work of researchers, professors, students, translators and editors has become perilous because of a permanent threat physically, professionally, and morally. The very act of denying them their freedom of independent research suppresses their basic freedom of thought and expression. In addition to academics, close to seventy journalists are in prison in Turkeyfor having simply practiced their profession. One can add to this, thousands of prisoners of opinion raided within the context of the practices of the [anti]-KCK operations “which have led to approximately 8,000 people held in police custody and 4,000 charged. Each week, dozens of names are added to the list.” (Guillaume Perrier, Le Monde,November 3, 2011). This does not take into account the incarcerated members of the legal Turkish political party “BDP” (the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democrary Party), represented in parliament, nor does it only threaten the pro-Kurdish milieu. Other liberal intellectuals have been arrested because they have questioned the actions of the government, the role of religious organizations, and practices of the State system. The American branch of PEN believes that more than a thousand academics, writers, editors and lawyers have been arrested, while the Turkish association of contemporary lawyers (“CHD”) estimates that 500 students have been incarcerated.

Kurdish politicians arrested as part of the KCK operations

The social sciences – political science, in particular – suffers a great loss with this suppression of scientific and intellectual liberty inTurkey. The simple act of studying or debating concepts such as “democracy” or “human rights,” the simple act of publishing works on the cultural diversity of Turkish society, on the structure of the State or, on the history of minorities (including the Armenian Genocide), can henceforth endanger intellectuals and lead them to be detained in prison for an interminable time while awaiting their trials. After a certain period of leniency during the first part of the 2000 decade, fear tactics have paralyzed once again the Turkish society and its intellectual forces. They could destabilize them permanently. Intimidation is everywhere and at the highest levels of the State and government, as is underlined by the threatening declarations made by Prime Minister Erdoğan on November 18 in Bitlis, against those who question the legality of the recent numerous criminal proceedings. Researchers, professors, editors, translators, students – all those who give life to the scientific and academic field – must from now on constrain and censure themselves if they are to survive. At the very least, they will confront police, the justice system, the courts and trials, not to mention insulting and degrading press campaigns. This is unacceptable. And we protest with them, for them and for what unites us with them, the higher principle of academic liberty and freedom of research.

Initiative for an International Work Group and Research

In solidarity with our colleagues in Turkey, we call on researchers and academics worldwide to participate in an “International Work Group” (Group International de Travail, “GIT”): “Academic Liberty and Freedom of Research inTurkey,” and to create branches in their respective countries. The activities will exist within the habitual parameters and practices of universities, publishing houses, centers of research and organizations that popularize research. The goal of the international groups’ activities will be the production and articulation of a deeper and more precise knowledge regarding the situation of civil liberties inTurkey. These activities will take place through meetings, conferences and seminars in order to analyze the general conditions of research and teaching (inTurkey). They will result in numerous contributions by specialists and will be widely circulated through scientific publications, internet sites, symposiums, conferences, round tables and the general public media. This international work group will also act as a “watch group,” surveying all documentary facts relative to the situation of persecuted researchers, academics, students, editors, and translators. It will be informed of the practice of  liberty of expression and free circulation of information (both critical and non-conventional), as well as the liberty of engagement and association in Turkey, all of which assure the more specific but nevertheless essential academic liberty and freedom of research. The group will examine the ways in which democracy is being constructed inTurkeyand the obstacles it faces, both historically in the specific conditions ofTurkeyand within the recent international context of the “Arab Spring.” In addition, it proposes to create a platform of information, exposing the extent of current intellectual repression inTurkeyand the personal outcome of colleagues that are threatened or imprisoned, as well as legal, political, economic, and social questions relative to the process of democratization. In analyzing the situation inTurkey, the group will also confront these issues as they apply, in the end, to other countries.

Branches of the International Work Group (Group International de Travail, “GIT”): “Academic Liberty and Freedom of Research inTurkey” will be created worldwide. Each of them will function in an independent manner according to the research principles, ethics and objectives mentioned above. The networking of these worldwide branches will be its force and efficiency. GIT, an empirical model of an international academic organization, created for the situation inTurkey, can direct its research towards other countries where academic liberty and freedom of research are threatened. The mobilization of other GIT centers will give voice to the preoccupation and engagement of academics, around the world, who demand universal democratic civil liberties.

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