MESA - Middle East Studies Association

Letters on Turkey

6 May 2014

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Office of the Prime Minister
Başbakanlık
06753 Ankara, Turkey
Via facsimile +90 312 417 04 76

Dear Prime Minister Erdoğan:

I write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America and its Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) concerning the ongoing violations of academic freedom at Marmara University’s Faculty of Communications under the leadership of its government-appointed dean, Yusuf Devran. We wrote to you previously in January 2013 concerning Dean Devran’s abusive practices, which have encompassed harassment of students and faculty, including through improper disciplinary proceedings and ethnic and political profiling. We are now writing to follow up on that previous letter due to the continuation of alarming practices, including the improper dismissal of academic staff, under Dean Devran’s leadership.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3,000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

The body that appointed Devran to his current position—the Higher Education Council (Yüksek Öğretim Kurulu, or YÖK)—is a legacy of the 1980 military-coup government’s efforts to regulate and control university activities in Turkey. In the era since Turkey returned to civilian rule, we would expect a less intrusive role for YÖK and a concomitant diminution in the atmosphere of intimidation at the country’s universities. Regrettably, the record of YÖK activities under your government suggests precisely the contrary, with a steady increase in violations of the rights of students and faculty at universities, many of which we have documented in the letters we have written to you in recent years. The case of the Faculty of Communications at Marmara University under Dean Devran represents one of the more troubling examples of the violations of academic freedom that have become unfortunately common on university campuses across the country. The annex to this letter lists allegations against Dean Devran, which were detailed in our earlier letter of 24 January 2013.

The most recent development at the Marmara Communications Faculty was reported by the Education and Science Workers Union (Eğitim-Sen). During a meeting with representatives of the Union, Dean Devran reportedly stated that he will be reappointed as dean by YÖK in July 2014 for another three years. He further noted that during his upcoming term he intends to deny permanent academic positions to anyone who criticized his administration on social media, or signed a petition entitled “Academic Freedom [is Our Freedom],”or received a disciplinary penalty during his tenure, or participated in a two-day strike on 4-5 June 2013, in connection with the Gezi Park protests. In other words, Dean Devran has adopted a policy of denying academic appointment or promotion to those who have been critical of his management of the Communications Faculty or who have been critical of the AKP government’s policies in connection with last summer’s protests. Several days after this meeting, a disciplinary investigation of academic staff who participated in the June 2013 strike was completed, resulting in the dismissal of Dr. Figen Algül and Dr. N. Can Özbaşaran as research assistants. The grounds provided for the dismissals were that these individuals had “deserted work,” which constitutes a basis for dismissal under Article 10 of the Disciplinary Code of Administrators, Faculty and Teaching Staff, and Civil Servants in Institutions of Higher Education. Yet this article specifies that “desertion” involves an unexplained absence of no less than ten days, whereas these individuals were absent for only two days in connection with the strike. Further, this article has now been annulled by YÖK. In addition to these dismissals, eight other faculty members were suspended from work or were fined one month’s salary in connection to the same strike. The imposition of different disciplinary sanctions for the same underlying activity further underscores the arbitrariness of the actions taken against academic staff who participated in the two-day strike.

Subjecting academic staff members to disciplinary proceedings and denying them the opportunity to be considered for permanent positions on the basis of their political opinions is an arbitrary violation of the rights to freedom of expression and association enshrined in articles 25-27 of the Turkish Constitution. Additionally, as a member state of the Council of Europe and a signatory of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Turkey is required to protect freedom of thought, expression and assembly. Further, Turkey is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), all of which protect the rights to freedom of expression and association, which are at the heart of academic freedom. Dean Devran’s threat to take punitive action against faculty members on the basis of their political opinions and speech violates all of these protections and casts a dim light on academic freedom in Turkey.
We urge your government to take all necessary steps to ensure that the disciplinary measures taken against academic staff members at the Marmara Faculty of Communications are not approved by YÖK and that the core academic freedom of faculty and students are protected by government appointed university administrators or other officials. Further, we respectfully request that YÖK require written clarification from Dean Devran that he will not condition academic appointment and promotion decisions on the political views and activities of academic staff at Marmara University’s Faculty of Communications.
Sincerely,

Nathan Brown
MESA President

cc:

Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Cumhurbaşkanı, Abdullah Gül (President of the Turkish Republic)
Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi Başkanı Cemil Çiçek (President of the Turkish Grand National Assembly)
Adalet Bakanı, Bekir Bozdağ (Minister of Justice)
Yüksek Öğretim Kurulu (YÖK) Başkanı, Gökhan Çetinsaya (President of YÖK)
Chair of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights, Barbara Lochbihler
Member of the Cabinet of Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Carl Hartzell
Special Commissioner for EU Enlargement, Štefan Füle
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks

ANNEX TO 24 January 2013 CAFMENA LETTER CONCERNING INCIDENTS AT THE MARMARA UNIVERSITY FACULTY OF COMMUNICATIONS
In our letter, we identified five areas of concern related to recent incidents at Marmara University’s Faculty of Communications under the decanal regime of Yusuf Devran who has served since July 2011 as the government-appointed Dean of the Faculty. In this Annex, we provide additional background on the five areas of concern.

  1. Dean Devran reportedly directed university administrators to designate certain students with a “P” (allegedly standing for “PKK”) on the lists of students registered for the graduate admissions exam, in order to set those designated students apart for special treatment, scrutiny or surveillance on the basis of suspicions concerning their political and ethnic affiliations. Personal reports (also published in the media) state that the dean resorted to this strategy on oral exam committees that he did not chair. According to the graduate admissions process at Marmara Communications, the students would traditionally take a written exam followed by an oral exam. Different committees would be assigned for the oral examination of each graduate school applicant. Reports indicate that last year, not only did Dean Devran chair 8 out 15 oral exam committees, but he also tried to influence the decision-making process in those committees that he did not chair or take part in by pre-marking the list of applicants with such marks as “P.” For example, Azad Bedirhan, a Kurdish student whose name was marked by a “P,” did very well in the graduate school admission exam, but was not admitted reportedly as a result of his “P” designation. The student has affirmed repeatedly that he has no connection to any activity to which the “P” designation might relate and that he has never been the subject of any disciplinary hearing during his exemplary record of four years of undergraduate study. Aside from graduate admissions, it has also been reported that Kurdish and leftist students are identified by colored markings on regular midterm and final exam lists and sent to a separate building for the administration of the exam, apart from other students. If true, this sort of designation or profiling practice amounts to an impermissible singling out of students for disparate treatment, raising serious concerns regarding protection of their right to an education free from discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or political orientation. Further, Dean Devran’s twitter record includes personalized attacks on some students with similar labels, aggravating the poisonous atmosphere on campus and reportedly contributing to serious tensions amongst students.

  1. Academic staff members and others who disapprove of the dean’s policies have allegedly been targeted with various measures that include disciplinary investigations, involuntary detention on campus, and verbal and physical harassment. Associate Professor Necmi Emel Dilmen and research assistants Uraz Aydın and Behlül Çalışkan are among those who have reportedly been singled out for such treatment. Additionally, press records indicate that during the graduate admissions process, a professor who was on the admissions committee was bullied and harassed in an attempt to force her to accept and sign a list of students for admission who had been pre-selected by the dean rather than by criteria of academic achievement and merit as measured by exam results. When this professor refused to sign-off on the dean’s list, she was detained on campus until midnight by the dean’s security personnel. Following this incident, this professor has taken up the practice of coming to campus with a bodyguard to ensure her safety. An additional example of threatening actions undertaken against faculty members is the case of Professor Dilmen who criticized, via Twitter, the campus presence of police and other heightened security measures put in place by Dean Devran. Following this criticism, Dean Devran allegedly physically assaulted Dilmen in the dean’s office and then had him forcibly ejected from his office, accusing him in the process of engaging in “propaganda” against the university.

 

The treatment of research assistants lends further weight to concerns regarding allegations of the arbitrary and abusive exercise of authority by Dean Devran. For instance, research assistant Uraz Aydın’s private email—containing criticisms of the dean—to the Union of Higher Education was intercepted by the dean, who then successfully demanded that the Rectorate of the University open a disciplinary and criminal investigation against Aydın. Likewise, Behlül Çalışkan was reprimanded by the dean for critical “tweets,” while another academic staff member was threatened with disciplinary investigation on the grounds that this person had been seen privately cursing the dean. In another case, Dean Devran suspended a student, Mikail Boz, on the grounds that he had made unflattering comments about the dean on a website. Further reports indicate that Devran has also intercepted Facebook postings and tweets among Kurdish or pro-Kurdish students and used this private communication as a basis to accuse such students of engaging in "separatist activities." These incidents reveal a pattern of harassment and surveillance of academic staff members, faculty and students by the dean, which extends to their personal Facebook and Twitter accounts and private email communications in which they air criticisms of university administration. The surveillance and punishment of speech by academic staff and students is particularly troubling in the case of a Dean of Communications, presiding over a faculty that should be training students to avail themselves of their speech rights in multiple venues rather than seeking to limit speech.

  1. The third issue that we highlighted is the atmosphere of intimidation occasioned by the employment of a large body of private security personnel on campus and the institutionalization of the presence of undercover police officers. For instance, Dean Devran has reportedly stationed police officers in an office adjacent to the space provided for research assistants. The alleged responsibilities of these police officers include monitoring the activities of faculty and research assistants and reporting them to the administration, with a particular focus on any evidence of contact with detained students or planned visits to imprisoned journalists. The heart of the research by academic staff members in a Faculty of Communication is conducted through their interactions with journalists and exploring newsworthy subjects such as the detention of large numbers of civilians—whether they be students, members of the press corps or others. Suggesting that such communication is illicit and establishing surveillance systems to report the research activities of the academic staff to the administration through an overt police presence is inimical to any definition of academic freedom. Further, the guilt-by-association approach to dissent evidenced by these policies is itself threatening to freedom of thought and the free dissemination of information and knowledge. To say that these measures create a hostile campus environment for the conduct of research on the media would be a vast understatement.

 

  1. Dean Devran’s direct interference in the planning and conduct of scheduled academic events is a fourth area of concern. For instance, Dean Devran decided to prohibit the use of university facilities to offer a planned seminar entitled "Journalism, the Government and Freedom of Opinion: Report Card on Ten Years," which would have considered media freedoms during the decade of AKP rule (the seminar ultimately went forward in a separate venue). In addition to this example of an arbitrary attempted-cancellation of a planned seminar, the Dean’s actions have created an intimidating climate in which comparable conferences and workshops are planned off-campus from the outset to avoid his efforts to regulate, control and police academic research and academic speech.

  1. Dean Devran’s interaction with the alumni base of the Faculty of Communications at Marmara University and the broader journalistic community in Turkey is a final area of concern. As we noted, this Faculty has long been an important site for the production of the country’s most influential and active journalists and commentators. Unsurprisingly, then, some of this alumni base has noted and taken exception to the regime of surveillance and intimidation that Dean Devran has instituted on campus. In one telling example, the dean entered into a testy and threatening public exchange with alumnus Ismail Saymaz, a respected journalist with the mainstream wide-circulation newspaper, Radikal. After Saymaz tweeted criticism of the dean’s attempt to cancel the seminar on the AKP’s ten-year record on the media, Dean Devran issued a particularly harsh set of tweets that exemplify his pedagogical approach. Specifically, he wrote that:  

 

“I decide what academic events may be held on the campus of the Faculty. You will no longer be allowed to deceive Marmara Communications students. The liar, Ismail Saymaz, claims that he was barred from entering the campus. Who prevented you from entering the campus? If you cannot prove your claim you are nothing but a liar, Ismail. Know this: Marmara Communications will no longer train deceitful journalists like yourself. Ismail Saymaz at Radikal newspaper is a provocateur and a collaborator. I will sue him.” 
The threats and insults directed at an alumnus for criticizing the censorship of events on Marmara University’s campus, together with the insistence that the Faculty of Communications will henceforth produce the “right” kind of journalist according exclusively to Dean Devran’s standards, exemplifies the repressive campus environment under Devran’s decanal administration.

4 October 2013

October 4, 2013

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Office of the Prime Minister
Başbakanlık
06573 Ankara, Turkey
Via facsimile +90 312 417 0476

Dear Prime Minister Erdoğan:

I write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America and its Committee on Academic Freedom in order to express our dismay and concern over recent reports of reprisal actions against university students and professors as a consequence of their support for public demonstrations held across Turkey in late May and June of 2013, known as the “Gezi Protests.”

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

The reprisal actions with which we are concerned fall into three categories. First, students suspected of having supported the Gezi Protests are reportedly being denied scholarship assistance on the grounds of protected activities involving the non-violent expression of political opinions. Second, there have been credible reports that at least one university is requiring undergraduate students to answer a questionnaire concerning their support for protests and their voting preferences prior to enrolling in courses. Third, faculty members, academics and scholars who have publicly expressed their support for the Gezi Protests have reportedly faced inappropriate disciplinary action. Such actions evince a disregard for principles of academic freedom and freedom of thought and expression that exacerbate a climate of intimidation resulting from the recent spate of government arrests of academics, researchers, journalists and publishers that formed part of the background to the grievances expressed in the Gezi Protests.

With respect to reprisal actions against students, a government circular published by the Higher Education Loans and Dormitories Institution (KYK) on July 29th enumerated the preconditions for the award of scholarships, grants and loans to university students during the 2013-2014 academic year. It stated that those who engage in “protests, boycotts, occupations, vandalism in public spaces, chanting slogans and the like” shall be ineligible for student loans. We understand that this announcement was based on regulations dating back to 1997; however, the timing of its publication and the framing of the preconditions created a widespread perception that the government was deliberately penalizing student protesters and seeking to intimidate other students. The subsequent announcement of a series of measures by your government to prevent university campuses from being the venues for protests further underscores fears that the right to peaceful and nonviolent freedom of expression and freedom of assembly is being curtailed for university students by your government. In particular, the decision to replace private security forces on campuses with police forces and the threat to have plainclothes police officers in addition to uniformed police on campuses has created a climate of intimidation as the new academic year begins.

Also in connection to apparent restrictions targeting students who supported the Gezi Protests, Afyon Kocatepe University has reportedly implemented a new “questionnaire” that undergraduate students are required to fill out in order to register for their courses online. The questions inquire about the students’ voting preferences, whether they have ever attended a political meeting or protests and whether they have social media accounts. When the students raised concerns over these questions, the administration responded that the questionnaire was an instrument for conducting doctoral research but failed to provide any convincing explanation as to why the course enrollment was contingent upon answering the questionnaire or why it was compulsory in order to register for classes. As a consequence, the deployment of the questionnaire raises serious concerns that students’ right to an education is being inappropriately conditioned on their political views. 

Reprisal actions against faculty members and scholars for their support of the Gezi Protests are equally troubling. The disciplinary investigation initiated against Assistant Professor Timuçin Köprülü, after he wore a t-shirt bearing the slogan “Resist” during his speech at the university graduation ceremony, is a case in point. Professor Köprülü, a law professor at Uludağ University, attended the graduation ceremony wearing the t-shirt and addressed the audience with a speech in defense of lawyers who had recently been arrested in connection with the Gezi Protests and criticizing excessive force by the police in their crackdown against peaceful demonstrations. As a consequence of his speech and the t-shirt that he wore, the university administration opened a disciplinary investigation against  him. Such an investigation is in clear violation of basic tenets of freedom of speech and academic freedom, as Professor Köprülü is  accused of  nothing other than the expression of a political view deemed unpopular by the Uludağ University administration.

We have written to you previously about actions by your government that appear designed to intimidate students, researchers, scholars, academics and professors for their political affiliations or political views. In measures adopted and criminal investigations initiated against academics for their political views, research and publications, we have noted a troubling trend of conflating peaceful activities with advocacy of violence. In these most recent instances, we find that both the government and university administrations are acting to suppress freedom of speech and freedom of assembly on university campuses through a combination of regulatory action, deployment of police forces and initiation of disciplinary investigations. Taken together with the previous cases we have brought to your attention, the new forms of crackdown both by the government and by university administrators in response to the Gezi Protests add to a record suggesting that the Turkish government contributes to or passively tolerates serious violations of academic freedom.

As a member state of the Council of Europe and a signatory of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Turkey is required to protect freedom of thought, expression and assembly. Further, Turkey is also a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), all of which protect the rights to freedom of expression and association, which are at the heart of academic freedom. These rights are also enshrined in articles 25-27 of the Turkish Constitution. We urge your government to take all necessary steps to ensure that these rights are protected and that the government refrain from targeting academics for exercising their right to freedom of expression and association. Government and university administration efforts to silence scholars and students who voice support for the political opposition in Turkey send a chilling message to Turkey’s scholarly community.

We respectfully ask you to clarify that university students will not be penalized through the withdrawal of scholarships, grants or loans—or the declaration that they are ineligible to apply for the same—as a consequence of their participation in peaceful demonstrations or their expression of political views. We also ask that you reverse any measures that would deploy police forces on university campuses with the intention of preventing public demonstrations from being organized.

Finally, we ask that your government take all necessary steps to protect researchers, scholars and faculty members from unfair reprisal actions by university administrations on the grounds of their political opinions. In particular, we ask that an investigation be undertaken by appropriate officials in the Turkish Higher Education Council as to the actions by the Uludağ University administration against Professor Köprülü with a view to terminating any disciplinary investigation and reversing any punitive measures adopted against Professor Köprülü. We also urge you to take note of mounting international condemnation of the erosion of democratic rights and freedoms in Turkey.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  I look forward to your positive response.

Peter Sluglett
MESA President
Visiting Research Professor, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore

cc:

Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Cumhurbaşkanı, Abdullah Gül (President of the Turkish Republic)
Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi Başkanı Cemil Çiçek (President of the Turkish Grand National Assembly)
Adalet Bakanı, Sadullah Ergin (Minister of Justice)
Yüksek Öğretim Kurulu (YÖK) Başkanı, Gökhan Çetinsaya (President of YÖK)
Chair of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights, Barbara Lochbihler
Member of the Cabinet of Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Carl Hartzell
Special Commissioner for EU Enlargement, Štefan Füle
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks

4 October 2013

October 4, 2013

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Office of the Prime Minister
Başbakanlık
06573 Ankara, Turkey
Via facsimile +90 312 417 0476

Dear Prime Minister Erdoğan:

I write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America and its Committee on Academic Freedom regarding three mass trials in which academics from a number of fields—including the sciences, engineering, medicine and the law—were tried, together with dozens of others, based on highly politicized charges and without appropriate procedural protections.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

We are concerned that Professors Mehmet Haberal, Fatih Hilmioğlu, Riza Ferit Bernay, Mustafa Abbas Yurtkuran, Kemal Alemdaroğlu, Kemal Gürüz and  Büşra Ersanlı were tried on the basis of the criminalization of their opinions, their research, or their scholarly associations – all this in violation of the most basic principles of academic freedom. We further believe that they were held in unjustifiably prolonged periods of pre-trial detention and that the trials to which they were subjected lacked such basic procedural protections as the presumption of innocence and individualized, credible evidence as a basis for the charges brought against them. We join several other international academic associations in voicing our concerns about the impact of these trials on academic rights and freedoms in Turkey. We draw your attention, in particular, to the recent report by the International Human Rights Network of Academics and Scholarly Societies, the Committee on Human Rights of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and Institute of Medicine (USA) and the Human Rights Committee of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina detailing concerns about the trials and their impact on academics and scientists.[1]

These seven professors and former university rectors were tried under the rubric of three trials—the Ergenekon trial, the Postmodern Coup trial, and the KCK Operations trial—each of which allege that the accused are either members of a terrorist organization or members of a conspiracy to overthrow the government. We have previously written to you to urge that your government release these scholars pending trial and to express our concern that they were being unfairly targeted for their political opinions (letter about  the Ergenekon trial, 29 April 2009, addressing the cases, inter alia, of Professors Haberal, Hilmioğlu, Bernay, Yurtkuran and Gürüz; and letter of  11 November 2011 concerning the case of Professor Ersanlı, who was being detained in connection to the KCK Operations trial and  subsequently released, but is still awaiting the verdict in her case.) The detention of these academics and scientists and the allegations brought against them have created a climate of intimidation on university campuses that negatively impacts teaching, academic research and scholarly production. We write to you now to ask that your government intercede to re-open cases where these scholars have been convicted based on spurious evidence and to release those still being subjected to prolonged detention as they await the completion of pending trials.

We are most concerned about two basic problems related to the trials of these academics: first, that the charges appear to be based on the political opinion or scholarly association of the professors in question and second, that the use of unreliable evidence repeatedly shown to be fabricated has resulted in their being denied fair trials. Beyond these underlying challenges, the sentences that were handed down in the Ergenekon trials on August 5th 2013 were unreasonably long for all of the defendants apart from Professor Haberal, who was released based on time served. Each of the remaining five professors received prison sentences ranging from 10 to 23 years and remains in prison as of this writing.[2] Professor Hilmioğlu received the longest sentence and is expected to remain in prison despite the fact that his prolonged pre-trial detention deprived him of urgently needed medical care to treat his liver cancer. Together with numerous national and international academic associations and human rights organizations around the world, we believe that there was no credible basis on which to judge any of these academics guilty of committing the crimes of which they were accused. We believe that their convictions and sentences are deeply unfair and urge that the government seek to re-open these six cases and exonerate the defendants. We also ask that the government seek to have pending charges against Professor Ersanlı dismissed.

As a member state of the Council of Europe and a signatory of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Turkey is required to protect freedom of thought, expression and assembly. Further, Turkey is also a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), all of which protect the rights to freedom of expression and association, which are at the heart of academic freedom. These rights are also enshrined in articles 25-27 of the Turkish Constitution. We urge your government to take all necessary steps to ensure that these rights are protected and that the government refrain from targeting academics for exercising their right to freedom of expression and association. Government efforts to silence scholars who voice support for liberal secular ideals or for the rights of Kurdish citizens in Turkey send a chilling message to Turkey’s scholarly community which, as you are aware, has rallied to the defense of these academics.

We respectfully ask you to intervene in the cases of Professors Haberal, Hilmioğlu, Gürüz, Bernay, Yurtkuran, Alemdaroğlu and Ersanlı to ensure that all remaining charges are dropped and that the convictions and sentences against them in connection to the Ergenekon trials be reversed with each of the defendants exonerated due to the absence of credible evidence against them. We also urge you to take note of mounting international condemnation of the erosion of democratic rights and freedoms in Turkey.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  I look forward to your positive response.

Sincerely,

Peter Sluglett
MESA President
Visiting Research Professor, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore

cc:

Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Cumhurbaşkanı, Abdullah Gül (President of the Turkish Republic)
Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi Başkanı Cemil Çiçek (President of the Turkish Grand National Assembly)
Adalet Bakanı, Sadullah Ergin (Minister of Justice)
Yüksek Öğretim Kurulu (YÖK) Başkanı, Gökhan Çetinsaya (President of YÖK)
Chair of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights, Barbara Lochbihler
Member of the Cabinet of Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Carl Hartzell
Special Commissioner for EU Enlargement, Štefan Füle
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks

 


[1] International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies, Scientists, Engineers and Medical Doctors in Turkey: A Human Rights Mission (2013).

[2] Professor Hilmioğlu was sentenced to 23 years; Professor Gürüz was sentenced to 13 years and eleven months; Professor Bernay was sentenced to 10 years; Professor Yurtkuran was sentenced to 10 years; and Professor Alemdaroğlu was sentenced to 15 years, eight months and 22 days. Professor Gürüz is continuing to face trial as part of the Postmodern Coup trial in addition to the sentence he received in the Ergenekon trial.

8 May 2013

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Office of the Prime Minister
Başbakanlık
06573 Ankara, Turkey

Dear Prime Minister Erdoğan:

I write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America and its Committee on Academic Freedom regarding troubling incidents at Kilis 7 Aralık University (K7AU). Beginning with the contested re-election of the university rector, Dr. Ismail Güvenç, and his administration on August 14, 2012, a number of incidents at K7AU have targeted individual members of the faculty in apparent reprisal for suspicions that they did not support the rector’s re-election. These practices are in violation of core tenets of academic freedom and the result has been an atmosphere on campus that negatively impacts teaching, academic research and scholarly production. Despite efforts by faculty members at the university to seek redress through the Higher Education Council (YÖK), your office and the office of the presidency, no measures have been taken to date to rectify the situation at K7AU. We write to you now to ask that your government intercede to re-establish norms of academic freedom at the university.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

We are most concerned about five basic problems currently threatening academic freedom at K7AU as a result of events surrounding the re-election of the current university administration. We describe those problem areas briefly here and offer a fuller account of the details giving rise to our concerns in an appendix to this letter. These problems include the following:

  1. the conduct of the K7AU administration immediately following the election in which an investigation was undertaken to identify members of the faculty who had voted against the re-elected administration.
  2. the apparent punitive reassignment of faculty from the School of Education to other departments unrelated to their expertise.
  3. a pattern of disciplinary actions taken against members of the faculty apparently because they were identified as having voted against the administration’s re-election.
  4. the harassment of Dr. Ismail Arslantaş of the School of Education, which has included the confiscation of his laptop computer, depriving him of electronic files related to his research and writing, and the subsequent changing of the lock to his office, thereby preventing him from accessing his own books and files.
  5. the threats against faculty members of the School of Education who have been told that their contracts will not be renewed and have been subjected to various arbitrary actions such as loss of internet and parking privileges. These concerns, taken singly or together, represent serious indications that basic norms of academic freedom have been violated.

The faculty members from the K7AU School of Education who have been targeted have sent complaints to YÖK, the office of the prime minister or the office of the presidency, but their complaints have not triggered the investigations ordinarily undertaken in such circumstances.

We have written to you previously about government-appointed administrators who violate academic freedom and basic rights such as freedom of thought, expression, and association. Taken together with the previous cases we have brought to your attention, the incidents at K7AU add to a record suggesting that the Turkish government contributes to or passively tolerates serious violations of academic freedom.

As a member state of the Council of Europe and a signatory of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Turkey is required to protect freedom of thought, expression and assembly. Further, Turkey is also a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), all of which protect the rights to freedom of expression and association, which are at the heart of academic freedom. These rights are also enshrined in articles 25-27 of the Turkish Constitution. We urge your government to take all necessary steps to ensure that these rights are protected and that arbitrary and unfair reprisal actions by university administrations against faculty members deemed to be political opponents not be tolerated. We request that an investigation of Dr. Güvenç and his administration’s actions targeting faculty at K7AU be undertaken by the appropriate authorities. Finally, we respectfully request that government officials refrain from supporting actions inimical to academic freedom on Turkish public university campuses regardless of family connections to the AKP or governing officials.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to your positive response.

Sincerely,

Peter Sluglett
MESA President
Visiting Research Professor, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore

cc:

Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Cumhurbaşkanı, Abdullah Gül (President of the Turkish Republic)
Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi Başkanı Cemil Çiçek (President of the Turkish Grand National Assembly)
Adalet Bakanı, Sadullah Ergin (Minister of Justice)
Yüksek Öğretim Kurulu (YÖK) Başkanı, Gökhan Çetinsaya (President of YÖK)
Chair of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights, Barbara Lochbihler
Member of the Cabinet of Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Carl Hartzell
Special Commissioner for EU Enlargement, Štefan Füle
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks

Response received 5 June 2013:

Dear Dr. Peter SLUGLET

MESA President and Member of CAF

I am very sorry to hear that you submitted a letter to Higher Education Institution, Prime Ministry, President of Turkey, etc. containing some baseless and misleading information about our University administration on 8 May 2013.

K7AU is governed by laws of the Republic of Turkey. Our University adopted democratic values and highly respects and guarantees academic and individual freedoms. I and my management team support and protect academic freedom and related activities since the time University was founded.

As the University management, we are very disappointed with your letter including misleading information and insulting language. I wonder that why you did not investigate the claims before writing the letter. I want to say that all claims are not true. We kindly invite you to investigate the truth of these claims and then write again a correction to the same people.

Sincerely,

Prof. Dr. Ismail GUVENÇ
Rector

28 February 2013

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Office of the Prime Minister
Başbakanlık
06573 Ankara, Turkey
Via facsimile +90 312 417 0476

Dear Prime Minister Erdoğan:

I write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom regarding police violence at Ankara’s Middle East Technical University (METU) on December 18, 2012. On that day, an extraordinarily large police contingent was deployed during your visit to the METU campus to attend a ceremony for the launching of the Göktürk-2 satellite. Eye-witness reports by METU faculty and the academic personnel association attest that excessive force was used by the police against students who had organized a protest against your government’s policies on the regulation of higher education and the attendant violation of student rights.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

METU academic personnel report that prior to your arrival on campus, students had gathered to protest new government policies affecting the Higher Education Council (Yüksek Öğretim Kurulu, or YÖK), the regulatory institution controlling universities in Turkey. Eye witness accounts by the academic personnel together with media reports confirm that some 3000 police officers arrived on campus in dozens of armored vehicles and 8 TOMA tanks (toplumsal olaylara mudahale araci, or armored riot control vehicles equipped with water cannon and tear gas diffusion machinery) and launched an unprovoked attack against the unarmed students to force their dispersal at least an hour and a half before you arrived on campus. Only after they had been assaulted with tear gas canisters and percussion bombs did the students pick up the projectiles thrown at them by the police along with stones and other objects to respond to the police attack. The excessive force unleashed by the police against the students is captured in gruesome images and footage recorded by faculty and personnel on campus. The sheer size of the police presence and their immediate resort to force to break-up a non-violent protest turned the site into a bloody scene. The violation of the students’ rights of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of association in this police attack is incontrovertible. The damage done to the campus, the disruption of academic teaching and research resulting from the saturation of campus buildings with tear gas, and the endangering of the health of young children at an on-campus daycare facility also inundated with tear gas only add to the tally of harm to university life.

Following these events, faculty and alumni issued statements in support of the students and condemning the scale of police violence. Your comments, Prime Minister Erdoğan, that the METU
faculty is “failing the nation” and would “do well to resign” and that the protesters were not students but “provocateurs” suggest that you fully endorse police actions in violation of basic rights. Your statements regarding students and faculty at METU raise serious questions about your government’s commitment to academic freedom and suggest a troubling erosion of democratic rights in Turkey, including freedom of thought and freedom of association.

In our previous letters, we have addressed many cases involving violations of academic freedom during your premiership, but your statements targeting METU faculty and students are the first example of such violations that you appear explicitly to endorse. Indeed, the suggestion in your remarks that students who would protest government policies are being “badly trained” and that the faculty responsible for such training should resign because of their political views amounts to an unvarnished repudiation of academic freedom. Subsequent to your statements, and perhaps following your lead, the police raided several student apartments and took a number of students into custody, on the grounds of support for terrorism related to their organization of, and/or participation, in the planned student protest against your government’s policies.

YÖK, like the police, also opened an investigation into the student protesters on allegations of support for terrorism. In previous letters we have expressed our disappointment that your government would choose to expand the powers of YÖK—an institution created during the military-coup era of the early 1980s to place university campuses under executive control—and use the institution to undertake inquiries into the activities of university students, tarring them with the brush of terrorism for mounting peaceful, non-violent protests against your government’s education policies. Further, the ongoing role of President Abdullah Gül in appointing the head of YÖK, and President Gül’s record of overruling faculty votes in order to appoint his own preferred candidates as university rectors and presidents, amount to a further impermissible politicization of academic affairs on university campuses. It was precisely these policies and practices that the METU students were protesting when they were confronted first with police violence and then with charges of support for terrorism. These investigations and allegations exacerbate the already severe violations of academic freedoms at METU, suggesting that political protests on campus may now be criminalized by both the police and educational institutions instead of being treated as protected speech in keeping with Turkey’s own constitution as well as its international human rights obligations.

Following your statements targeting METU students and faculty, and the initiation of investigations by both the police and YÖK, several university rectors condemned the “student violence” at METU. In response, students and faculty members in many of these same universities organized protests and issued public statements and press releases in support of students and faculty at METU and condemning their own rectors’ statements as unrepresentative of their university. In the light of your government’s practice of imposing administrators on universities over the objections of faculty and students, this divergence in public statements is unsurprising. We have written to you previously on behalf of CAFMENA about the cases of government-appointed administrators whose actions violate basic tenets of academic freedom (see, for instance, our recent letter concerning Dean Yusuf Devran at Marmara University’s Faculty of Communications). Taken together with the previous cases we have documented, the incidents at METU and responses to them across the country’s campuses contribute to a record suggesting that the Turkish government has undertaken a campaign to inhibit the free dissemination of knowledge, control the conduct of academic research and even restrict the right to an education wherever these protected activities touch on issues deemed politically sensitive.

As a member state of the Council of Europe and a signatory of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Turkey is required to protect freedom of thought, expression and assembly. Further, Turkey is also a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), all of which protect the rights to freedom of expression and association, which are at the heart of academic freedom. These rights are also enshrined in articles 25-27 of the Turkish Constitution. We urge your government to take all necessary steps to ensure that these rights are protected and that police violence on campuses is not tolerated. We call for the investigations and charges against the students to be dropped. Finally, we respectfully request that government officials refrain from making comments inimical to academic freedom, such as those that criminalize activities entitled to fundamental human rights protections. We also would like to take this opportunity to ask your government to reconsider the large role that President Gül and YÖK have been accorded in electing university administrators.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to your positive response.

Sincerely,

Peter Sluglett
MESA President
Visiting Research Professor, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore

cc:

Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Cumhurbaşkanı, Abdullah Gül (President of the Turkish Republic)
Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi Başkanı Cemil Çiçek (President of the Turkish Grand National Assembly)
Adalet Bakanı, Sadullah Ergin (Minister of Justice)
Yüksek Öğretim Kurulu (YÖK) Başkanı, Gökhan Çetinsaya (President of YÖK)
Chair of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights, Barbara Lochbihler
Member of the Cabinet of Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Carl Hartzell
Special Commissioner for EU Enlargement, Štefan Füle
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks

24 January 2013

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Office of the Prime Minister
Başbakanlık
06573 Ankara, Turkey
Via facsimile +90 312 417 0476

Dear Prime Minister Erdoğan:

I write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America and its Committee on Academic Freedom concerning the alarming incidents that have been reported at Marmara University’s Faculty of Communications under the leadership of its government-appointed dean, Yusuf Devran. Since his appointment in July 2011, Dean Devran has reportedly used his position to single out students and faculty for surveillance, verbal and physical harassment, disciplinary proceedings and ethnic and political profiling—including the designation of students as potential PKK affiliates as a result of their involvement in activities deemed critical of the government or of the dean himself, or simply because they are ethnically Kurdish. Beyond the targeting of students and faculty, he has also used his position to cancel academic programs on the basis of objections to their substantive focus in a manner inimical to academic freedom. The mounting reports of intimidation and persecution of students and faculty on Marmara University’s campus are of grave concern, and the alleged actions of Yusuf Devran threaten freedom of thought and freedom of research at the university.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

The body that appointed Devran to his current position – the Higher Education Council (Yüksek Öğretim Kurulu, or YÖK) is a legacy of the 1980 military-coup government’s efforts to regulate and control university activities in Turkey. In the era since Turkey returned to civilian rule, we would expect a less intrusive role for YÖK and a concomitant diminution in the atmosphere of intimidation at the country’s universities. Regrettably, the record of YÖK activities under the AKP-led government suggests precisely the contrary, with a steady increase in incidents violating the rights of students and faculty at universities, many of which we have documented in the letters we have written to you in the last year. The case of the events at the Faculty of Communications at Marmara University since Devran’s appointment as dean by YÖK offers the most troubling and intensive example of violations of academic freedom that are becoming unfortunately common on university campuses across the country.

Based on reports that have emerged through individual testimonials by students and faculty, and in press coverage in Turkey, Dean Devran’s actions can be best described as seeking to establish direct and absolute control over the activities of academic staff and students in the Faculty of Communications, ranging from the content of courses to the organization of academic events, the conduct of examinations, and even to the substance of research and writing. Further, this control has apparently been established through the creation of an atmosphere of physical intimidation, with the institutionalization of a police presence on campus, the initiation of over thirty internal disciplinary investigations and threats of lawsuits against academic staff members in a single year, and even verbal and physical harassment by Dean Devran against academic staff who criticize or resist his policies.

In addition to this overt campaign of intimidation, there are also reports of more covert efforts including pressure brought to bear on faculty members and research assistants to discriminate against Kurdish and leftist students and to alter graduate admissions criteria in accordance with the dean’s personal selection standards, rather than merit-based evaluation. All of these actions constitute massive interference with, and violation of, academic freedom and basic rights such as freedom of thought and the right to an education. In the context of the current government crackdown on professional reporters and given the significant role this Faculty of Communications has historically played in the training of Turkish journalists, it also creates the appearance of furthering a government campaign against the media through the appointment of university administrators who restrict access to education for future journalists and seek to limit critical scholarship at key institutions.

The list of specific incidents violating academic freedom and the right to education at Marmara University’s Faculty of Communications during Devran’s deanship is long and deeply troubling. In this letter, we highlight five areas of significant concern associated with particular incidents and assertions of arbitrary authority to limit or terminate faculty and/or student academic activities or research. We list these areas of concern in summary fashion here and attach a more detailed account of each set of concerns in an annex to this letter:

  • The administration of the graduate admission examination has reportedly been tainted by ethnic and political profiling, with students designated with letter and color codes to set them apart for alleged affiliation with Kurdish or leftist organizations and merit-based admissions criteria set aside in favor of an admission process influenced by such profiling.
  • Academic staff members and research assistants have reportedly been targeted with measures ranging from disciplinary investigations and forcible detention on campus to verbal and physical harassment as a result of their criticism of the university administration on such social media sites as Twitter or their resistance to Dean Devran’s changes to admissions policies.
  • The atmosphere of intimidation created by these measures has been further exacerbated by the introduction of a large body of private security personnel onto the campus together with the institutionalization of the presence of undercover police officers.
  • Dean Devran has directly interfered with the planning and conduct of scheduled academic events that he deems unduly critical of the government – such as a seminar on media freedoms under the AKP.
  • Dean Devran has used Twitter and other social media to threaten the Faculty of Communication’s alumni base of journalists for their criticisms of his actions on campus.

 

The pattern of censorship that emerges from these cases gives the appearance of coordination between the government and university administrators to ensure that certain subjects be excluded from academic scrutiny, which would constitute a clear violation of academic freedom. Indeed, Yusuf Devran, appointed dean of the Faculty of Communication at Marmara University by YÖK, is a concrete and extreme example of the concerns we have raised regarding violations of academic freedom undertaken by government-appointed university administrators.

We have written to you previously on behalf of CAFMENA about the cases of academics working on Kurdish issues who have been detained and whose academic freedom has been violated by your government. Taken together with those cases, actions such as the intervention of government-appointed university administrators to prevent academic publications or events concerning issues deemed sensitive by the government make it appear that the Turkish government has undertaken a campaign to inhibit the dissemination of knowledge, the conduct of academic research and even the right to an education where any of these protected activities overlap with criticism of the government or touch on issues deemed politically sensitive, such as Kurdish rights.

As a member state of the Council of Europe and a signatory of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Turkey is required to protect freedom of thought, expression and assembly. Further, Turkey is also a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), all of which protect the rights to freedom of expression and association, which are at the heart of academic freedom. These rights are also enshrined in articles 25-27 of the Turkish Constitution. We urge your government to take all necessary steps to ensure that no censorship of publications or events be permitted by any government appointed university administrator or other officials. Further, we ask that you take all necessary steps to  preserve academic freedom on all of Turkey’s university campuses.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to your positive response.

Sincerely,

Peter Sluglett
MESA President
Professor, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore
cc:

  • Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Cumhurbaşkanı, Abdullah Gül (Turkish president)
  • Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi Başkanı Cemil Çiçek (President of the Turkish National Assembly)
  • Turkish Justice Minister, Adalet Bakanı Sadullah Ergin
  • President of the Turkish Higher Education Council (Yüksek Öğretim Kurulu-YÖK Başkanı), Gökhan Çetinsaya
  • Chair of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights, Barbara Lochbihler
  • Member of the Cabinet of Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Carl Hartzell
  • Special Commissioner for EU Enlargement, Štefan Füle
  • Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks

 

 

ANNEX TO CAFMENA LETTER CONCERNING INCIDENTS AT THE MARMARA UNIVERSITY FACULTY OF COMMUNICATIONS

In our letter, we identified five areas of concern related to recent incidents at Marmara University’s Faculty of Communications under decanal regime of Yusuf Devran who has served since July 2011 as the government-appointed Dean of the Faculty. In this Annex, we provide additional background on each of the areas of concern highlighted in our letter.

The first issue we draw to your attention consists in reports that Dean Devran directed university administrators to designate certain students with a “P” (allegedly standing for “PKK”) on the lists of students registered for the graduate admissions exam, in order to set those designated students apart for special treatment, scrutiny or surveillance on the basis of suspicions concerning their political and ethnic affiliations. Personal reports (also published in the media) state that the dean resorted to this strategy on those oral exam committees that he did not chair. According to the graduate admissions process at Marmara Communications, the students would traditionally take a written exam followed by an oral exam. Different committees would be assigned for the oral examination of each graduate school applicant. Reports indicate that last year, not only did Dean Devran chair 8 out 15 oral exam committees, but he also tried to influence the decision-making process in those committees that he did not chair or take part in by pre-marking the list of applicants with such marks as “P.” For example, Azad Bedirhan, a Kurdish student whose name was marked by a “P,” did very well in the graduate school admission exam, but was not admitted reportedly as a result of his “P” designation. The student has affirmed repeatedly that he has no connection to any activity to which the “P” designation might relate and that he has never been the subject of any disciplinary hearing during his exemplary record of four years of undergraduate study. Despite this underlying record, Bedirhan appears to have been targeted, leaving only ethnicity as the explanation for the designation. Aside from graduate admissions, it has also been reported that Kurdish and leftist students are identified by colored markings on regular midterm and final exam lists and sent to a separate building for the administration of the exam, apart from other students. If true, this sort of designation or profiling practice amounts to an impermissible singling out of students for disparate treatment, raising serious concerns regarding protection of their right to an education free from discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or political orientation. Further, Dean Devran’s twitter record includes personalized attacks on some students with similar labels, aggravating the poisonous atmosphere on campus and reportedly contributing to serious tensions amongst students.

Our second area of concern is the alleged targeting of academic staff members and others who disapprove of the dean’s policies with various measures that include disciplinary investigations, involuntary detention on campus, and even verbal and physical harassment. Associate professor Necmi Emel Dilmen and research assistants Uraz Aydın and Behlül Çalışkan are among those who have been reported to be singled out for such treatment. Additionally, press records indicate that during the graduate admissions process, a professor who was on the admissions committee was bullied and harassed in an attempt to force her to accept and sign a list of students for admission who had been pre-selected by the dean rather than by criteria of academic achievement and merit as measured by exam results. Notably, the dean’s list excluded students like the Kurdish student discussed above, Azad Bedirhan, despite his record of academic success. When this professor refused to sign-off on the dean’s list, she was detained on campus until midnight by the dean’s security personnel. Following this incident, this professor has taken up the practice of coming to campus with a bodyguard to ensure her safety. An additional example of threatening actions undertaken against faculty members is the case of Associate Professor Necmi Emel Dilmen. After Professor Dilmen criticized, via Twitter, the campus presence of police and other heightened security measures put in place by Dean Devran, the dean allegedly physically assaulted Dilmen in the dean’s office and then had him forcibly ejected from his office, accusing him in the process of engaging in “propaganda” against the university.

The treatment of research assistants lends further weight to this second area of concern regarding allegations of the arbitrary and abusive exercise of authority by Dean Devran. For instance, research assistant Uraz Aydın’s private email—containing criticisms of the dean—to the Union of Higher Education was intercepted by the dean, who then successfully demanded that the Rectorate of the University open a disciplinary and criminal investigation against Aydın. Likewise, Behlül Çalışkan was reprimanded by the dean for critical “tweets,” while another academic staff member was threatened with disciplinary investigation on the grounds that security personnel had seen this person privately cursing the dean. In another case, Dean Devran suspended a student, Mikail Boz, on the grounds that he had made unflattering comments about the dean on a website. Further reports indicate that Devran has also intercepted Facebook postings and tweets among Kurdish or pro-Kurdish students and used this private communication as a basis to accuse such students of engaging in "separatist activities." These incidents reveal a pattern of harassment and surveillance of academic staff members, faculty and students by the dean, which extends to their personal Facebook and Twitter accounts, private email and other social media communications in which they air criticisms of university administration. The surveillance and punishment of speech by academic staff and students is particularly troubling in the case of a Dean of Communications, presiding over a faculty that should be training students to avail themselves of their speech rights in multiple venues rather than seeking to limit speech.

The third issue that we would like to highlight is the exacerbation of this atmosphere of intimidation occasioned by the employment of a large body of private security personnel on campus and the institutionalization of the presence of undercover police officers. For instance, Dean Devran has reportedly stationed police officers in an office adjacent to the space provided for research assistants. The alleged responsibilities of these police officers include monitoring the activities of faculty and research assistants and reporting them to the administration, with a particular focus on any evidence of contact with detained students or planned visits to imprisoned journalists. The heart of the research by academic staff members in a Faculty of Communication is conducted through their interactions with journalists and exploring newsworthy subjects such as the detention of large numbers of civilians—whether they be students, members of the press corps or others. Suggesting that such communication is illicit and establishing surveillance systems to report the research activities of the academic staff to the administration through an overt police presence is inimical to any definition of academic freedom. Further, the guilt-by-association approach to dissent evidenced by these policies is itself threatening to freedom of thought and the free dissemination of information and knowledge. To say that these measures create a hostile campus environment for the conduct of research on the media would be a vast understatement.

The fourth arena in which Dean Devran’s actions threaten academic freedom concerns his direct interference in the planning and conduct of scheduled academic events. For instance, Dean Devran decided to prohibit the use of university facilities to offer a planned seminar entitled "Journalism, the Government and Freedom of Opinion: Report Card on Ten Years," which would have considered media freedoms during the decade of AKP rule (the seminar ultimately went forward in a separate venue). In addition to this example of an arbitrary attempted-cancellation of a planned seminar, the Dean’s actions have created an intimidating climate in which comparable conferences and workshops are planned off-campus from the outset to avoid his efforts to regulate, control and police academic research and academic speech.

Finally, our fifth area of concern stems from the interaction of Dean Devran with the alumni base of the Faculty of Communications at Marmara University and the broader journalistic community in Turkey. As we noted, this Faculty has long been an important site for the production of the country’s most influential and active journalists and commentators. Unsurprisingly, then, some of this alumni base has noted and taken exception to the new regime of surveillance and intimidation that Dean Devran has instituted on campus. In one telling example, the dean entered into a testy and threatening public exchange with alumnus Ismail Saymaz, a respected journalist with the mainstream wide-circulation newspaper, Radikal. After Saymaz tweeted criticism of the dean’s attempt to cancel the seminar on the AKP’s ten-year record on the media, Dean Devran issued a particularly harsh set of tweets that exemplify his pedagogical approach. Specifically, he wrote that:  

“I decide what academic events may be held on the campus of the Faculty. You will no longer be allowed to deceive Marmara Communications students. The liar, Ismail Saymaz, claims that he was barred from entering the campus. Who prevented you from entering the campus? If you cannot prove your claim you are nothing but a liar, Ismail. Know this: Marmara Communications will no longer train deceitful journalists like yourself. Ismail Saymaz at Radikal newspaper is a provocateur and a collaborator. I will sue him.”

The threats and insults directed at an alumnus for criticizing the censorship of events on Marmara University’s campus, together with the insistence that the Faculty of Communications will henceforth produce the “right” kind of journalist according exclusively to Dean Devran’s standards, exemplifies the poisonous atmosphere reported by faculty and students.


12 December 2012

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğ an
Office of the Prime Minister
Başbakanlık
06573 Ankara, Turkey
Via facsimile +90 312 417 0476

Dear Prime Minister Erdoğan:

I write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America and its Committee on Academic Freedom in order to express our dismay and concern over the ongoing pattern of arrests and detentions of academics, scholars and students on the basis of their research and scholarship concerning Kurdish issues. Our concern regarding these violations of academic freedom is aggravated by our awareness that several of these individuals undertook a hunger strike for over two months—beginning on September 12 and ending on November 18th of this year—in protest of their detention.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

We have written to you previously about the cases of Ismail Beşikçi, Büşra Ersanlı and Müge Tuzcuoğlu, each of whom was denied their right to freely express nonviolent opinions in the course of their academic research and scholarship by your government. Actions such as the widespread pattern of detention of professors and students alike for their work on Kurdish issues make it appear that the Turkish government has undertaken a campaign to inhibit the dissemination of knowledge about the conditions affecting the Kurdish community in the country and even to prevent Kurdish , leftist, and other students who support Kurdish rights from pursuing their right to an education. Government efforts to silence scholars who voice support for the rights of Kurdish citizens in Turkey send a chilling message to Turkey’s scholarly community, Kurdish communities in Turkey and beyond, and to scholars working on the region wherever they may be based. We are very concerned about what seems to be a clear and ongoing campaign to arrest those who seek a peaceful political solution to the Kurdish problem.

While all of the cases of academics detained in connection to their work on Kurdish issues should be subject to immediate review and reconsideration, we are particularly concerned about the crackdown against students for engaging in activities protected by basic norms of academic freedom in the course of their studies and research. In this letter, we draw your attention particularly to the circumstances of seven students currently in detention for engaging in nonviolent political speech, attending academic events and conducting research and writing, all of which should be protected by their right to academic freedom. These seven detained students are: Deniz Zarakolu; Mustafa Polat; Erdal Ozmaskan; Derya Goregenli, Mehmet Mesut Tanrıkulu, Gulan Kılıçoğlu and Emine Akman. All seven have been detained on the same grounds, namely that their academic research activities or campus political activism constitutes evidence of their membership in the Union of Kurdish Communities (KCK). In fact, the accusations brought against these students concern what are universally recognized as legitimate academic and scholarly endeavors.

Five of the students were detained and tried as part of a police operation allegedly against the Union of Kurdish Communities (KCK), while the remaining two—Kılıçoğlu and Akman—were detained on similar grounds, but in separate cases. In all seven, the allegations are directly related to activities protected by academic freedom, freedom of thought and freedom of association.

The five students detained and charged pursuant to the anti-KCK operation are: Deniz Zarakolu, a PhD Candidate in the Political Science Department at Istanbul Bilgi University; Mustafa Polat, an undergraduate student in the English Language and Literature Department at Istanbul University; Erdal Ozmaskan, an undergraduate student in the Computer Science Department at Istanbul University; Derya Goregenli, an undergraduate in the Communications and Media Relations Department at Istanbul Bilgi University; and Mehmet Mesut Tanrıkulu, an undergraduate student in the Chemical Engineering Department of Istanbul University. Between the dates of October 4th and October 31st 2011 each of these students was detained and accused of membership in the KCK on the basis of having attended or given lectures at a “Political Academy” sponsored by the Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi (the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP), the legal political party representing Kurdish constituents in the Turkish Grand National Assembly. The BDP Academy was supported by dozens of faculty members from accredited Turkish universities who gave lectures at the Academy concerning Kurdish rights and civil society organizing. Lectures offered at the Academy included such topics as: the social production of gender through public education; the unity of human rights and democracy; emigration; ethics and politics; managing natural resources in the twenty-first century; and identity issues in Turkey. Zarakolu, Polat, Ozmaksan, Goregenli and Tanrikulu  have all been detained for nothing more than their participation in this civil society initiative and leading discussions or joining panels on subjects of ordinary academic inquiry. The evidence submitted in court against these students comprised photographs showing them entering and exiting the BDP Academy building and testimony from the students themselves and others as to course offerings. The ongoing detention of these students based on charges grounded in nothing more than protected academic activities is a direct violation of academic freedom. Further, these students are being prevented from completing their studies by virtue of their detention and unreasonable constraints placed on their right to sit for final examinations or submit their research and writing towards completion of their degrees.

Two additional cases of students charged with terrorism also constitute violations of academic freedom. Gulan Kılıçoğlu was detained on April 1 2010 and has since been tried and convicted of membership in the Union of Kurdish Communities (KCK) based on evidence related entirely to her academic research activities. Kılıçoğlu traveled to Salahaddin University in Arbil, Iraq to complete research that she had undertaken on Kurdish politics as a fourth year student in the faculty of political science at Ankara University. This research trip was cited by the judge as evidence of her membership in the KCK when he announced her conviction under the Anti-Terror Law on March 15, 2012 and sentenced her to a prison term of six years and three months. Arresting a student on the grounds that research on Kurdish language rights is consistent with membership in the KCK—rather than specific and direct evidence of membership—suggests that the Turkish government views all research on political issues as tantamount to engagement in  prohibited activities. That judgment defies reason.

Like Kılıçoğlu, Emine Akman is an undergraduate detained in the course of her undergraduate studies on the basis of allegations that suggest guilt by association resulting from her Kurdish identity and the fact that she is a student of journalism. The formal charges against Akman relate to her alleged presence at a demonstration while completing her studies at the Marmara University Faculty of Journalism. Her attendance at the peaceful demonstration is corroborated only by an out-of-focus photograph and constitutes the only grounds—other than her identity as a Kurdish journalism student—for the claim that she is a member of the KCK. In keeping with allegations by other detained students, Akman’s attorney has reported that Akman has been subjected to ill-treatment in detention and that she has been prohibited from completing her final examinations while in custody.

None of the students whose cases we have highlighted has been accused of using violence, nor is there any evidence that any of them has ever endorsed its use, either publicly or in academic work. Each student appears to have been targeted solely for having exercised his or her right to freedom of expression and association, a right protected by Turkey’s consent to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

As we have previously communicated to you, freedom of speech and free expression of ideas are essential to the mission and purpose of higher education. I respectfully ask you to intervene in the cases of Deniz Zarakolu, Mustafa Polat, Erdal Ozmaskan, Derya Goregenli, Mehmet Mesut Tanrıkulu, Gulan Kılıçoğlu and Emine Akman to see that they are released and that charges and/or convictions against them based on evidence of scholarly activities are reversed and withdrawn. Our association will continue to monitor these detentions as well as those of other students, and we hope that your government will uphold the integrity of Turkish universities by ensuring that the right to academic freedom for students and faculty is protected.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to your positive response.

Sincerely,

Peter Sluglett
MESA President
Professor, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore

cc:     Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Cumhurbaşkanı, Abdullah Gül (Turkish president)
Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi Başkanı Cemil Çiçek (President of the Turkish National Assembly)
Turkish Justice Minister, Adalet Bakanı Sadullah Ergin
Chair of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights, Barbara Lochbihler
Member of the Cabinet of Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Carl Hartzell
Special Commissioner for EU Enlargement, Štefan Füle
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks

12 December 2012

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Office of the Prime Minister
Başbakanlık
06573 Ankara, Turkey
Via facsimile +90 312 417 0476

Dear Prime Minister Erdoğan:

I write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America and its Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) in order to express our dismay and concern over the fourteen-year-long cycle of trials and acquittals that has subjected Pınar Selek, a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of Strasbourg, to prolonged denial of justice. Selek’s plight has also contributed to a climate of intimidation confronting all scholars, within and outside of Turkey, who wish to conduct research and writing on Kurdish issues.

Selek was charged with membership in the PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan- Kurdistan Workers’ Party) on the basis of extremely weak evidence allegedly linking her to an explosion at the Istanbul Spice Market in 1998. The sole basis for this allegation was the testimony of a single individual who retracted his statement in open court and asserted that it had been extracted under torture. Further, multiple expert reports have challenged the claim that the explosion in question was even caused by a bomb. When Selek was first taken into custody she was conducting research on the PKK and during the two years of her detention she herself was subjected to torture by interrogators who demanded that she reveal the names of her interview subjects. Indeed, all of the circumstances attendant to her case suggest that Selek has been on trial for the last fourteen years for her research on the PKK in violation of her right to academic freedom.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

There is no evidence in Selek’s case linking her to the PKK other than her own academic research. Nor is there any evidence of a connection between Selek and the explosion at the Istanbul Spice Market. To the contrary, there is abundant evidence that that explosion was the result of a gas leak rather than any explosive device. Further, the torture to which Selek was subjected during her detention and the demand that she reveal the names of those she interviewed for her research strongly corroborates the view that she was detained, charged, tortured and ultimately tried for nothing more than her academic research. Over the last fourteen years, Selek has been acquitted three times followed in each instance by a reversal, forcing her to undergo a de novo trial. On Thursday, November 22, 2012, the Istanbul 12th High Criminal Court repeated this pattern yet again by revoking the final ruling of acquittal in Selek’s case once more. Furthermore, in this instance the reversal of Selek’s acquittal was accomplished in violation of the Turkish law of criminal procedure. The court acted on November 22nd to reverse its own acquittal of Selek, before the appropriate appellate court—the Court of Cassation—had an opportunity to examine that ruling. This irregular course of conduct—in violation of Articles 223, 287 and 307/3 of the Turkish Penal Procedure Code—was undertaken opportunistically, on the occasion of a leave of absence by the presiding judge, to reverse his decision and rehear the case in his absence. The violation of Turkish criminal procedure and then the accelerated schedule for rehearing appear to be a consequence of the substitute judge’s determination to try Selek for a fourth time, in breach of all known international and Turkish standards concerning double jeopardy and criminal procedure.

Pınar Selek appears to have been prosecuted for exercising her rights to freedom of research and speech, rights that are protected by Turkey’s consent to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The ongoing prosecution of Selek sends a chilling message to the academic community and signifies an ongoing policy of violating the freedom of academic research in Turkey. Selek’s prosecution is also taking place against a backdrop of an increasing pattern of detention and prosecution of academics who conduct research on subjects deemed sensitive by the government. The fact that the government persists in implicating Selek in an explosion that has been established to be the result of an accidental gas leak makes this case all the more worrying. Further, the use of torture to force an academic to reveal the names of interview subjects undermines compliance with ethics rules concerning research involving human subjects that requires the protection of the privacy and rights of interviewees. These violations of academic freedom not only undermine Selek’s ability and freedom to conduct research, but are also likely to intimidate others from participating in academic research studies going forward. Indeed, the prosecution of Selek appears to be part of a government strategy to make an example of her precisely to create an intimidating climate that inhibits the work of other scholars, researchers, students and academic study participants.

I respectfully ask you to intervene in the case of Pınar Selek to see that she is released and that all charges are dropped. I also urge you to take note of mounting international condemnation of the erosion of democratic rights and freedoms in Turkey.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to your positive response.
Sincerely,

Peter Sluglett
MESA President
Professor, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore

cc:  Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Cumhurbaş kanı, Abdullah Gül (Turkish president)
Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi Başkanı Cemil Çiçek (President of the Turkish National Assembly)
Turkish Justice Minister, Adalet Bakanı Sadullah Ergin
Chair of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights, Barbara Lochbihler
Member of the Cabinet of Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Carl Hartzell
Special Commissioner for EU Enlargement, Štefan Füle
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks

12 December 2012

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğ an
Office of the Prime Minister
Başbakanlık
06573 Ankara, Turkey
Via facsimile +90 312 417 0476

Dear Prime Minister Erdoğan:

I write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America and its Committee on Academic Freedom in order to express our dismay and concern over recent allegations of censorship at several Turkish universities where scholarly publications have touched on sensitive subjects such as racism against Africans in Turkey, Kurdish rights or environmental issues. Reports of the forced withdrawal of an article from a refereed journal, a disciplinary investigation and lawsuit against a scientist who drew attention to serious health hazards related to industrial pollution, and the cancellation of conferences due to interference by university administrators are only the most recent examples of ongoing political interference in academic freedom at Turkish universities. The fact that these instances all touch on topics deemed sensitive or controversial by your government gives the appearance of coordination between the government and university administrators to ensure that certain subjects be excluded from academic scrutiny, which would constitute a clear violation of academic freedom.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

An issue of a peer-reviewed journal, Afrika, published by Ankara University’s Africa Studies Center (AÇAUM) was withdrawn by the editors and authors of the articles following an attempt by the Center’s administrator, Doğan Aydal, to censor material in an article reporting on perceptions among Africans living in Istanbul that they experience widespread racism against black people in Turkey. Mr. Aydal commented to the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet that while academics were free to cite to such remarks in the course of their research on the conditions of African nationals living in Turkey, that he considered it his responsibility to “defend the Turkish state” from such claims and accordingly would not allow articles containing such material to be published in a journal associated with the Center. The editor of Afrika, Professor Barış Ünlü, reported that Mr. Aydal announced a new policy of removing articles containing offensive comments concerning Turkey, as well as articles using terms deemed problematic by Mr. Aydal, such as “Kurdistan.” Other professors at the University have made public comments to reporters that they are experiencing increasing restrictions on academic freedom and freedom of scholarly research and publication with every passing day at Ankara University under its current, government-appointed administration.

This trend of intervention in the publication and circulation of academic research by government-appointed administrators appears to be more widespread as evident in another case, that of Professor Onur Hamzaoğlu. Chair of the Department of Public Health at Kocaeli University, Professor Hamzaoğlu’s research revealed the presence of chemicals in the breast milk of test subjects, exemplifying health hazards related to industrial pollution exposure. Upon presentation of his research findings, Professor Hamzaoğlu found himself the subject of lawsuits filed by the Mayors of two affected towns, Kocaeli and Dilovası. In publicizing his findings, Professor Hamzaoğlu stated that: “We have detected zinc, iron, aluminium, lead and cadmium even in maternal breast milk in addition to blood and feces samples, thus, there is an enormous danger.” The mayors took this statement as “evidence” of academic misconduct intended to cause a public panic. Following the filing of these lawsuits, the university administration was also pressured by the government to initiate a disciplinary investigation into Professor Hamzaoğlu’s work. Political motivated lawsuits and disciplinary proceedings intended to impede research concerning the health consequences of environmental pollutants is inimical to academic freedom.

We are also concerned about the cancellation of two conferences at Galatasaray University, apparently under pressure from the government-appointed Rector of that University, Ethem Tolga. The first conference, on gender equality, was to have been held on September 19, 2012, but was canceled because of the anticipated participation by one of the invited speakers, Sebahat Tuncel, an Istanbul deputy for the Peace and Democracy Party (the BDP). The second conference, on prisons, was to have been held on October 3-4, 2012, but was cancelled because the Rector apparently objected to the speakers listed in the program, particularly another BDP deputy, Ertuğrul Kürkçü. Both conferences sought to address in a scholarly, open and critical manner issues of substantive academic interest and they were organized in adherence to all relevant Turkish laws governing public assemblies and academic gatherings. According to published press reports, the reason for the cancellation of both of these conferences was Rector Tolga’s view that the participation of elected deputies from a lawful, pro-Kurdish political party would lead to the airing of undesirable views. Such views are consistent with broader reports that academic publications and events regarding Kurdish issues are increasingly frowned upon and limited by university administrations and that academics studying these issues—particularly those who have leftist tendencies or belong to academic unions—are isolated and vulnerable to punitive action by administrators for engaging in protected academic activities.

I have written to you previously on behalf of CAFMENA about the cases of academics working on Kurdish issues who have been detained and whose academic freedom has been violated by your government. Taken together with those cases, actions such as the intervention of government-appointed university administrators to prevent academic publications or events concerning issues deemed sensitive by the government make it appear that the Turkish government has undertaken a campaign to inhibit the dissemination of knowledge, the conduct of academic research and even the right to an education where any of these protected activities overlap with criticism of the government or a focus on issues deemed politically sensitive, such as Kurdish rights.

As a member state of the Council of Europe and a signatory of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Turkey is required to protect freedom of thought, expression and assembly. Further, Turkey is also signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), all of which protect the rights to freedom of expression and association, which are at the heart of academic freedom. These rights are also enshrined in the Turkish Constitution. We urge your government to take all necessary steps to prevent censorship of publications or the cancellation of events—like the incidents at Ankara University, Kocaeli University and Galatasaray University detailed in this letter—by any government appointed university administrator or other officials. Further, we ask that you take all necessary steps to restore the publication of the censored issue of Afrika, desist from disciplinary and legal proceedings against Professor Hamzaoğlu and permit the rescheduling of conferences that were cancelled due to impermissible interference in academic freedom at Galatasaray University.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  I look forward to your positive response.

Sincerely,

 

Peter Sluglett
MESA President
Professor, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore

cc:     Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Cumhurbaşkanı, Abdullah Gül (Turkish president)
Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi Başkanı Cemil Çiçek (President of the Turkish National Assembly)
Turkish Justice Minister, Adalet Bakanı Sadullah Ergin
Chair of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights, Barbara Lochbihler
Member of the Cabinet of Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Carl Hartzell
Special Commissioner for EU Enlargement, Štefan Füle
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks

September 04, 2012

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Office of the Prime Minister
Başbakanlık
06573 Ankara, Turkey
Via facsimile +90 312 417 0476

Dear Prime Minister Erdoğan:

I write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America and its Committee on Academic Freedom in order to express our dismay and concern at recent remarks by Turkish Minister of the Interior (Içişleri Bakanı) Idris Naim Şahin comparing writing and publishing ideas in support of Kurdish rights to terrorism. These assertions inappropriately conflate peaceful advocacy for Kurdish rights with acts of violence. They also evince a disregard for principles of academic freedom and freedom of thought and expression that exacerbate the climate of intimidation resulting from the recent spate of government arrests and detentions of academics, researchers, journalists and publishers who voice support for the rights of the Kurdish community in Turkey.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

In an address to the Marmara Management Federation (Marmara Yöneticiler Federasyonu, or “MAYFED”) at the Grand Cevahir Hotel on 7 August, 2012, Minister Şahin stated that “the nation’s state of emergency is not limited to the field of battle but also includes the battle of the pen in Istanbul and the battle of the book in Istanbul.” [“Ülkenin olağanüstü gündemi sadece çatışma alanı ile ilgili değildir bu çatışma Istanbul’da kalemle devam ediyor, Istanbul’da kitapla devam ediyor.”] He went on to say that there is no difference between mortar shells lobbed in the southeast of the country and texts in the service of Kurdish rights written in Ankara. In the same speech he also characterized the lawful political party that serves as the de facto representative of Kurdish interests, the BDP (Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi - the Peace and Democracy Party), as a puppet political party, going on to suggest that it is an extension of terrorist organizing. Further, his most recent comments only add to his existing record of treating artistic and scholarly expression as an extension of terrorism – in December he was quoted in another speech arguing that whether painted on a canvas, written in poems or published in scholarly articles, texts advocating Kurdish rights amount to “terrorism propaganda.” Minister Şahin’s characterization of writing, publishing and political organizing as extensions of violent activity or terrorism erases the cardinal distinction between the pen and the sword on which all forms of freedom of expression, association and thought are premised.

We are distressed that a member of your government’s cabinet is willing to publicly elide the distinction between non-violent expression and terrorism in this manner. If indeed this represents your cabinet’s approach to freedom of thought then your government’s stance is anathema to the most important prerequisites of academic freedom. By claiming equivalency between free speech and violence, Minister Şahin is endorsing the targeting of individuals for exercising freedoms that are legally protected by Turkey’s consent to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

This letter follows a recent letter that I sent to you on behalf of CAFMENA concerning the case of Müge Tuzcuoğlu, whose right to academic freedom was violated by your government as a direct result of the conflation of peaceful activities with advocacy of violence. Actions such as these make it appear that the Turkish government has undertaken a campaign to inhibit the dissemination of knowledge about the conditions affecting the Kurdish community in the country. Government efforts to silence scholars, journalists and publishers who voice support for the rights of Kurdish citizens in Turkey send a chilling message to Turkey’s scholarly community, Kurdish communities in Turkey and beyond, and to scholars working on the region wherever they may be based. We are very concerned about what seems to be an ongoing campaign to treat all advocates of a peaceful political solution to the Kurdish problem as potential terrorist threats.

I respectfully ask that you and members of your government exercise greater caution in making public statements that suggest that the Turkish government intends to criminalize peaceful advocacy, free expression and exchange of ideas and opinions concerning the rights of the Kurdish community. I also urge you to take note of mounting international condemnation of the erosion of democratic rights and freedoms in Turkey.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  I look forward to your positive response.

Sincerely,

Fred M. Donner
MESA President
Professor of Near Eastern History, University of Chicago

cc:  Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Cumhurbaskani, Abdullah Gül (Turkish president)
Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi Baskani Cemil Çiçek (President of the Turkish National Assembly)
Turkish Justice Minister, Adalet Bakani Sadullah Ergin

August 07, 2012

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Office of the Prime Minister
Başbakanlık
06573 Ankara, Turkey
Via facsimile +90 312 417 0476

Dear Prime Minister Erdoğan:

I write  on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America and its Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) in order to express our dismay and concern over the March 8th arrest and detention of anthropologist, journalist and independent researcher Müge Tuzcuoğlu who was later charged under the Anti-Terror Law on grounds that her attendance at training workshops (Siyaset Akademisi) organized by the BDP (Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi-Peace and Democracy Party) and her presence at two public demonstrations in support of Kurdish rights allegedly link her to the PKK  (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan- Kurdistan Workers’ Party).

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Tuzcuoğlu is a respected anthropologist and author, well known for her monograph Ben Bir Taşım, an ethnography based on her research on children affected by civil conflict in southeastern Turkey. She has been based in Diyarbakır for over five years, during which time she has conducted additional research on prison conditions for juveniles arrested in connection with their advocacy for Kurdish rights. Tuzcuoğlu was arrested on the grounds that her attendance at lectures organized by the BDP and her presence at two demonstrations establish her links to the PKK. Her arrest prevents her from exercising her academic freedom in conducting research on prison conditions for juvenile detainees. Further, the fact that the indictment issued against Tuzcuoğlu is based on non-violent attendance at events, including educational and political meetings, is a violation of her basic right to freedom of thought.

Tuzcuoğlu has not been accused of using violence, nor has she ever endorsed its use, either publically or in her scholarship or journalism. She appears to have been targeted for having exercised her right to freedom of expression and association, which is protected by Turkey’s consent to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

A letter was sent to you on behalf of CAF by my predecessor, Suad Joseph, in November 2011 about the case of Professor Büşra Ersanlı, whose right to academic freedom was similarly violated by your government. Actions such as these make it appear that the Turkish government has undertaken a campaign to inhibit the dissemination of knowledge about the conditions affecting the Kurdish community in the country. Government efforts to silence scholars who voice support for the rights of Kurdish citizens in Turkey send a chilling message to Turkey’s scholarly community, Kurdish communities in Turkey and beyond, and to scholars working on the region wherever they may be based. We are very concerned about what seems to be a clear and ongoing campaign to arrest those who seek a peaceful political solution to the Kurdish problem.

I respectfully ask you to intervene in the case of Müge Tuzcuoğlu to see that she is released and that all charges are dropped. I also urge you to take note of mounting international condemnation of the erosion of democratic rights and freedoms in Turkey.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  I look forward to your positive response.

Sincerely,

Fred M. Donner
MESA President
Professor of Near Eastern History, University of Chicago

cc:  Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Cumhurbaskani, Abdullah Gül (Turkish president)
Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi Baskani Cemil Çiçek (President of the Turkish National Assembly)
Turkish Justice Minister, Adalet Bakani Sadullah Ergin

November 21, 2011

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Office of the Prime Minister
Başbakanlık
06573 Ankara, Turkey
Via facsimile +90 312 417 0476

Dear Prime Minister Erdoğan:

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America and its Committee on Academic Freedom in order to express our dismay and concern over the October 28th arrest of Professor Büşra Ersanlı, professor of Political Science and International Relations at Marmara University, who was later charged under the Anti-Terror Law on grounds that her membership in the BDP (Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi-Peace and Democracy Party) allegedly links her to the PKK  (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan- Kurdistan Workers’ Party).

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide, including more than a hundred who are scholars, teachers or students at institutions of higher education in Canada. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Professor Ersanlı is the author of over 50 scholarly works on Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Russian Federation, Eurasia, and Turkey. She is also a BDP member and was in the process of assisting the party in preparing draft proposals for the new civilian constitution. Professor Ersanlı was arrested only a day before she was to attend an academic conference at Bilgi University on “Controversial Issues in the History of the Turkish Republic.” Her arrest not only is an infringement of her ability to exercise academic freedom in providing expert advice on constitutional reform; it also prevents her from participating in professional exchanges with other scholars.

Professor Ersanlı has not been accused of using of violence, nor has she ever endorsed its use, either publically or in her scholarship. She appears to have been targeted for having exercised her right to freedom of expression and association, which is protected by Turkey’s consent to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

We wrote to you in September about the case of Professor Beşikçi, whose right to academic freedom was similarly violated by your government.  Government efforts to silence scholars who voice support for the rights of Kurdish citizens in Turkey send a chilling message to Turkey’s scholarly community which, as you are aware, has rallied to Professor Ersanlı’s defense. We are very concerned with what seems to be a clear and ongoing campaign to arrest those who seek a peaceful political solution to the Kurdish problem.

We respectfully ask you to intervene in Professor Ersanlı’s case to see that she is released and that all charges are dropped. We also urge you to take note of mounting international condemnation of the erosion of democratic rights and freedoms in Turkey.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  We look forward to your positive response.

Sincerely,
Suad Joseph
MESA President
Professor of Anthropology and Women and Gender Studies
University of California, Davis

UPDATE:

July 13, 2012 - Professor Ersanli was released from prison although the charges remain and the trial will continue on October 1. (News link)

October 03, 2011

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Office of the Prime Minister
Başbakanlık
06573 Ankara, Turkey
Via facsimile +90 312 417 0476

Dear Prime Minister Erdoğan:

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America and its Committee on Academic Freedom in order to express our dismay and concern over the sentencing of İsmail Beşikçi, in March 2011, to fifteen months in prison for “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” in an article entitled The Right of Self-determination and the Kurds published in Law and Society in Our Age. 

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Professor Beşikçi, as you know, is a highly regarded scholar of Kurdish history and society.  While he has written more than thirty scholarly books over the years on what you yourself have termed “the Kurdish problem,” he continues to be persecuted in his country for his scholarship. Your government has repeatedly insisted that there needs to be a lasting solution to the Kurdish problem; however, the sincerity of these assertions is called into question when those with a deep understanding of Kurdish society and advocates of nonviolent approaches like Professor Beşikçi are silenced.

Professor Beşikçi has become the symbol of a long history of academic repression and harsh censorship in Turkey.  Unfortunately, the problem of intellectual freedom and free speech in Turkey has had a poor record under your stewardship. In 2010, the World Press Freedom Index placed Turkey in 148th place in a list of 175 countries, whereas Turkey was in 99th position when the AKP came to power in 2002.  Despite some minor amendments in 2008, the restrictive 2005 penal code continues to overshadow the positive reforms implemented as part of the country’s bid for European Union membership.  Moreover, constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press and expression are undermined by other provisions, and in practice they are only partially upheld.

İsmail Beşikçi's prosecution for exercising his right to freedom of expression conflicts with Turkey's obligations to recognize the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; the right to freedom of expression; and the right to freedom of assembly and freedom of association as delineated by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Turkey is bound by international law to guarantee these rights and to respect the basic principles of human rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  We ask that you instruct the Prosecutor General to drop all charges against İsmail Beşikçi and revoke his sentence.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  We look forward to your positive response.

Sincerely,

Suad Joseph
MESA President
Professor of Anthropology and Women’s Studies
University of California Davis

cc:
Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Cumhurbaskani, Abdullah Gül (Turkish president)
Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi Baskani Cemil Çiçek (President of the Turkish National Assembly)
Turkish Justice Minister, Adalet Bakani Sadullah Ergin

29 April 2009

Prime Minister Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan
Office of the Prime Minister
Başbakanlık
06573 Ankara, Turkey

Via facsimile +90 312 417 0476

Dear Prime Minister Erdoğan:

I write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our concern regarding a pattern of arrests and detention of university faculty and rectors in connection with the Ergenekon investigation.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

We previously sent you letters in 2005 and 2007 regarding the application of Article 301 to deny the right of individuals to freely express nonviolent opinions. In that correspondence we made reference to specific scholars (Orhan Pamuk, Elif Safak, Hrant Dink, Atilla Yayla) as well as to the cancellation of an academic conference to address issues surrounding the Armenian genocide of 1915. With respect to the Ergenekon affair, we are similarly concerned that an atmosphere of intimidation has been generated that is having a chilling effect on academic and intellectual freedom in the Turkish university system.

We are troubled that the most recent wave of detentions and interrogations targeted members of the scholarly community who have been outspoken in their pro-secular views, in particular Professor Mehmet Haberal, rector of Başkent University, Professor Osman Metin Öztürk, rector of Giresun University, former chairman of YOK Professor Kemal Gürüz, former rectors Professor Fatih Hilmioğlu (İnönü University), Professor Ferit Bernay (Samsun University) and Professor Mustafa Yurtkuran (Uludağ University), as well as Professor Erol Manisalı (former lecturer at Istanbul University), Professor Ayşe Yüksel (Yüzüncü Yıl University), and Professor Türkan Saylan (chairwoman of the ÇYDD). In addition to these senior scholars, junior scholars at 19 Mayıs University, Harran University and Dicle University have also been singled out for questioning. All of this gives the appearance of a disturbing pattern of harassment.

As we have communicated to you before, freedom of speech and free expression of ideas are essential to the mission and purpose of higher education. Our association will continue to monitor these disturbing developments, and we hope that your government will uphold the integrity of Turkish universities by ensuring that the right to academic freedom is protected and that scholars are not harassed for opinions they express. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,
Amy W. Newhall
Executive Director

 


May 27, 2008

Prime Minister Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan
Office of the Prime Minister
Başbakanlık
06573 Ankara
Turkey

Via facsimile +90 312 417 0476

Dear Prime Minister Erdoğan:

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF)in order to express our alarm and grave concern over the forced resignation of Professor Donald Quataert from Chairmanship of the board of governors of the Institute of Turkish Studies (ITS), a not-for-profit educational foundation which overseas the distribution of the proceeds from a $3 million endowment by the Turkish government to support Turkish studies in the United States. Dr. Quataert, an eminent scholar in the field of Ottoman and Turkish studies, is professor of history at Binghamton University, State University of New York and served as Chairman of the ITS board of governors from 2001 until December 13, 2006.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2800 members worldwide.  MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

 The matter of the Turkish government’s interference in the academic freedom of one of our most respected academic colleagues was publicly raised at the annual business meeting of the Turkish Studies Association (TSA) held in Montréal in November 2007 in conjunction with MESA’s annual conference. TSA was founded in 1971 to promote high standards of scholarship and instruction in Turkish and Ottoman studies.  The Association publishes the scholarly Turkish Studies Association Journal, and has more than 500 members internationally. In addition to the Turkish Studies Association Journal, the Association’s activities include sponsorship of Turkish language prizes, awards for scholarly books and articles, graduate papers, and research scholarships. TSA members at the November business meeting were scandalized by the news of Professor Quataert’s mistreatment at the hands of the Institute of Turkish Studies and asked the TSA board to initiate action.  The TSA Board referred the case to CAF and expressed backing for its response.

Dr. Quataert’s relinquishment of his position came after he refused to accede to the request of ITS’s honorary chairman, Ambassador Nebi Şensoy, that he issue a retraction of a scholarly book review he wrote about the killings of Armenians (1915-1918) in the Ottoman Empire.  In that article, Professor Quataert urged academicians in Ottoman and Turkish studies to eschew polemical biases and undertake research based on the use of Ottoman-language source materials and produce scholarship according to the highest professional standards.  It is indisputable that most of the scholarship to date fails to adhere to these standards and as such serves neither the field of Ottoman-Turkish studies nor the interests of the Republic of Turkey and its citizens.

We are enormously concerned that unnamed high officials in Ankara felt it was inappropriate for Professor Quataert to continue as chairman of the board of governors and threatened to revoke the funding for the ITS if he did not publicly retract statements made in his review or separate himself from the Chairmanship of the ITS.  The ITS mission statement declares that it is “an independent, tax exempt organization and does not seek to influence legislation nor advocate particular policies or agendas.” The reputation and integrity of the ITS as a non-political institution funding scholarly projects that meet stringent academic criteria is blackened when there is government interference in and blatant disregard for the principle of academic freedom.  A clear message is sent to those who would apply for ITS funds or participate in ITS activities that the board does not stand behind the principle of academic freedom, and that politics can vitiate professional standards.  It would be a travesty for an association that seeks to provide a more positive image of Turkey and promote the development of Turkish studies in the United States to be viewed in such a counterproductive and negative light. Furthermore the attitude towards Dr. Quataert, sharply contrasts with your government’s recent call to leave the debate regarding the events of 1915 to the independent study and judgment of scholars.

We ask that your government take all necessary steps to press for Professor Quataert’s reinstatement as chairman of the board of governors of ITS, and that the funds for the ITS endowment be placed in an irrevocable trust immune from political interference and infringement of academic freedom.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  We look forward to your positive response.

Sincerely,

Mervat Hatem
MESA President

cc: 
Amb. Nabi Şensoy, ITS Honorary Chairman and Ex-Officio Member of the Board of Governors, Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to the US
Amb. W. Robert Pearson, ret., Chairman
David C. Cuthell, ITS Executive Director
Walter Denny, ITS Secretary-Treasurer, Professor of Art History, University of Massachusetts

ITS MEMBERS OF THE BOARD
Halil Inalcik, Professor of History, Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey and Professor Emeritus of History, The University of Chicago
Heath W. Lowry, Ataturk Professor of Ottoman and Modern Turkish Studies, Princeton University
Justin McCarthy, Professor of History, University of Louisville
Mike M. Mustafoğlu, Trans Global Financial Corporation 
Dr. Kenan Şahin, TIAX LL Corporation
Jenny B. White, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Boston University
Birol Yeşilada, Professor of Political Science, Portland State University

ITS ASSOCIATE MEMBERS
Sarah G. Moment Atis, Professor of Turkish Language and Literature; Chair, Middle East Studies Program, University of Wisconsin at Madison
Carter V. Findley, Professor of History, Ohio State University
Fatma Müge Göçek, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Michigan
Avigdor Levy, Professor of History, Brandeis University
Gülru Necipoğlu-Kafadar, Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Art, Harvard University
Sylvia Önder, Visiting Assistant Professor of Turkish, Georgetown University
Esra Özyurek, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of California, San Diego
Leslie Peirce, Professor of History, New York University
Kemal Silay, Professor of Central Eurasian Studies; Ottoman and Modern Turkish Studies Chair Professor; Director, Turkish Studies Program, Indiana University

President John J. DeGioia, Georgetown University
Andras J. Riedlmayer, TSA President; Bibliographer in Islamic Art and Architecture, Aga Khan Program in Islamic Architecture at Harvard University
Donald Quataert, Professor, Binghamton University, SUNY 

Reply from Nabi Şensoy
Embassy of Turkey
Washington, DC

June 30, 2008

Professor Mervat Hatem
President
Middle East Studies Association
Tucson, Arizona

Dear Professor Hatem,

With your letter addressed to H.E. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, dated May 27, 2008, you insinuate that I, as the Honorary Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Institute of Turkish Studies (ITS), may have improperly influenced Professor Donald Quataert to resign from the board’s Chair on December 13, 2006. I regret to observe that you apparently felt no need to consult or contact me before writing this letter, which would have permitted me to correct some of your grave misperceptions. The quantity of half truths contained in your letter also suggests that the ITS Board of Governors had not been contacted either.

I provide the following corrections so that you can fully appreciate whether allusions to any influence I may have exerted over Prof. Quataert to urge his resignation from the ITS board’s Chair and from the board itself are substantiated or not.

The ITS was founded in 1983.Accodring to its By-Laws, the primary objective of the Institute is to increase knowledge of Turkey, its people, culture and history among the people of the United States by supporting educational research, scholarship and publications in the field of Turkish studies. The efforts and works of the ITS have positively contributed to the development of relations between Turkey and the United States primarily in the academic field.

The ITS’s affairs are managed by its Board of Governors. The Board of Governors is composed of Turkish and American academics and businessmen known for their expertise in their fields. The Board of Governors meets periodically and acts by a simple majority. All decisions, including electing of the chairman are taken by the Board accordingly. As befits a purely academic institution, the ITS and its Board of Governors seek to operate transparently and objectively. It would be a clear violation of academic freedom for the Turkish Government to seek to influence members of the board to act in a certain way, and equally for members of the Board to bow to such pressure.
As the Honorary Chairman of the ITS Board, my one and only right is to attend the meetings of the Board of Governors and to offer, if need be, my views on matters related to its governance. I lack the prerogative to vote and have no authority to appoint or remove any board member or approve or reject any grant requests.

Contrary to recent assertions, I did not call Prof. Quataert to condemn him for a book review he had written in which he opined on the events of 1915. Rather, following the publication of that book review I called Prof. Quataert to enquire into the reason for his change of opinion on that historical dispute, as Mr. Quataert had previously not considered that the events of 1915 constituted genocide. Prof. Quataert replied that the book review was being misunderstood and that his opinion had not changed. I then suggested to Prof. Quataert that if he was being misunderstood, that he should naturally correct this misunderstanding in writing. I expressly added that whatever decision Prof. Quataert would make, both on correcting the misunderstanding and on his interpretation of history, I would respect it. Professor Quataert did not act on my suggestion.

I add that, contrary to what has been claimed, during my conversation with Prof. Quataert, absolutely no mention either of the ITS’ funding or of the subject of Prof. Quataert’s continued service on the ITS board was made.

With  a letter dated December 13, 2006, the then Chairman of the Board of Directors, Prof. Donald Quataert informed the members of the Board of Governors, including me as Honorary Chairman, of his decision to resign from the ITS Chairmanship.

With the attached copy of the letter addressed to Prof. Quataert, dated January 13, 2007, I expressed my regret regarding his decision, underlined his important contributions to the ITS and mentioned my sincere wish to maintain our close friendship in the future.

Following Prof. Quataert’s resignation, Mr Kenan Sahin, a prominent Turkish –American academic and businessman, and then Ambassador Robert Pearson, a former US Ambassador to Turkey, were elected to Chair the ITS by the Board of Governors. Any future Chairman will be independently by the Board as well.

It I obvious that claims contained in your letter insinuating that my actions had forced Professor Quataert to resign from the Chair of the ITS are not only unfounded and misleading, but they also run contrary to the facts. Neither the Turkish government nor I have ever placed any pressure upon the ITS, for such interference would violate the principle of academic freedom, which we earnestly uphold. The Turkish Government and I will be the first to defend ITS from any such pressure. Our past practice stands in testimony to this fact.

I hope this helps you gain a better understanding of the matter.

Finally, as you have published Prof. Quataert’s letter on your website, fairness would demand that my letter also be given an equal public forum.

Sincerely,
Nabi Şensoy

Copy of letter from Nabi Sensoy to Pr. Donald Quataert

January 18, 2007

Professor Donald Quataert
Department of History
Binghamton University
State University of New York

Dear Professor,

Thank you for your letter of December 13, 2006.
I am sorry to learn about your decision to resign as Chairman of the Board of Governors and as Member of the Board of Governors of the Institute of Turkish Studies.

It is indeed very hard on us to lose a distinguished member of the TIS who has been a major intellectual force in support of a better understanding of Turkey.

I believe that the Institute, under your chairmanship has played an important role and maintained its position as a distinguished institution.
Your friendship over the years has been a great asset. It will be an honor to maintain this close friendship.

I look forward to welcoming you here at the Turkish Embassy on future occasions.
With my best wishes, I remain.

Yours sincerely,
Nabi Şensoy


February 13, 2007

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Office of the Prime Minister
Basbakanlik
06573 Ankara, Turkey
Via facsimile +90 312 417 0476

Dear Prime Minister Erdogan:

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom in order to express our dismay and grave concern over the detention and deportation from Turkey of Finnish independent scholar and freelance journalist Dr. Kristiina Koivunen. Dr. Koivunen was stopped at Van Ferit Melen Airport on December 15, 2006, and was held in an officially unacknowledged detention for 46 hours. On December 17 she was put on a flight from Istanbul Ataturk Airport under police surveillance and expelled from Turkey.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2700 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Dr. Kristiina Koivunen is a specialist on the Kurdish question in Turkey. The title of her Ph.D. dissertation is The Invisible War in North Kurdistan (University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences, September 2002). She is also the author of two travelogues (Teetä Kurdistanissa, 2001; Sankarimatkailijan Kaakkois-Turkki, 2006) on eastern Turkey. As a journalist she had published over 200 articles on Turkish affairs and, most recently, she interviewed Turkish Minister of Defense Vecdi Gönül on November 3, 2006. The interview was published by a Finnish newspaper.

Since 1997, she has visited Turkey sixteen times for research purposes. On her last trip, she entered the country on November 29, 2006 and traveled across Turkey without encountering any difficulties. After her detention at the Van airport she was taken first to the anti-terrorism bureau (Terörle Mücadele Subesi) in Van, and was later moved to the foreigner’s bureau (Yabancilar Subesi). The following day she was flown to Istanbul and held at police headquarters in Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. Despite Dr. Koivunen’s and her lawyer’s repeated requests, she was not issued any official documents articulating reasons for, or recognizing the fact of, her detention and her deportation. Dr. Koivunen was informed only verbally by a police chief that her entrance to the country was barred pursuant to a decision by the Ministry of Interior in August 2006. That decision was allegedly made months before her most recent arrival, and she was not provided with any notice of that decision until the time of her detention and removal from the country. In fact, on November 29, she was granted entry without incident. We have been informed that after repeated official appeals for justification, the Finnish Embassy in Ankara was faxed a copy of the Turkish Passport Law with the eighth article circled. We understand (through the fifth paragraph of the article) that she was expelled from the country because the Ministry had ‘foreseen’ that her presence in the country would pose a threat to public order.

Our committee is deeply concerned about the unacceptable treatment of Dr. Koivunen. (1) We regard the Turkish Ministry of Interior’s alleged decision as a clear violation of the right to research. Dr Koivunen had never violated Turkish laws during her numerous previous visits to the country, yet, your Ministry’s prohibition now makes it impossible for Dr. Koivunen to conduct research in Turkey. (2) Notwithstanding the decision of the Turkish Ministry of Interior, Dr. Koivunen was granted permission to enter the country on November 29, which meant her stay in the country would be under legal protection. Yet, her legal right to stay in the country was revoked arbitrarily; no reasons were officially provided for her detention, for the revocation of her visa, nor for her ultimate deportation. Further she was not granted any opportunity to legally challenge the official determination.

We are deeply saddened to observe a radical deterioration of the conditions for carrying out critical intellectual work in Turkey over the past six months. The right of individuals to freely express nonviolent opinions has been progressively undermined in the country, fomenting a climate of intimidation and fear. Critical intellectuals expressing opinions or doing research in Turkey have recently been intimidated either through the application of restrictive (and vaguely formulated) legal statutes (such as Article 301 of Turkish Penal code), through the violent attacks of ultranationalist militants or, as we see in the case of Dr. Koivunen, through official but arbitrary and illegal undertakings. This situation gravely damages the image of Turkey as a committed member of the democratic international community. We hope that you share our concerns and that you will promptly implement measures to preclude any further violations of basic and universally recognized essential liberties, including freedom of expression.

In the case at hand, we urge you to take relevant steps to restore Dr. Kristiina Koivunen’s right to conduct research in Turkey. We also ask that you initiate an investigation into the arbitrary and unjustifiable treatment to which she was subjected.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your positive response.

Sincerely,
Zachary Lockman
MESA President


February 7, 2007

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Office of the Prime Minister
Basbakanlik
06573 Ankara, Turkey
Via facsimile +90 312 417 0476

Dear Prime Minister Erdogan:

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom in order to express our dismay and grave concern over the expulsion of Prof. Dr. Atilla Yayla from his faculty position at Gazi University. Dr. Yayla was summarily dismissed after he spoke on a panel in Izmir organized by the youth branch of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which you lead. Professor Yayla also faces possible prosecution under Law 5816 and/or Article 301 of the Penal Code.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2700 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Because of our mandate, we have previously sent you letters of concern on January 25, 2007 (regarding Dr. Taner Akçam), July 20, 2006 (regarding Elif Safak), November 30, 2005 (regarding Fatih Tas), November 20, 2005 (regarding Orhan Pamuk), June 23, 2005 (regarding Yektan Türkyilmaz), and May 27, 2005 (regarding the cancellation of an academic conference to address issues surrounding the Armenian Genocide of 1915).

In the case of Dr. Yayla, according to the Turkish media, instead of defending academic freedom as is the responsibility of any university, President of Gazi University Rektörü Prof. Dr. Kadri Yamaç denounced Dr. Yayla’s exercise of freedom of expression. Subsequently, the Izmir Public Prosecutor’s office launched an investigation into his “heretical thoughts,” raising the possibility that he, like Pamuk, Safak and others, will be tried for “insulting Turkishness.” The right of individuals to freely express nonviolent opinions has been progressively undermined in Turkey, fomenting a climate of intimidation and fear.

The tolerance for the suppression of critical thought debases the important achievements your government has made in democratic reform. Professor Yayla has done nothing more than to reinterpret the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and to argue that the single-party period under his leadership (1925-1945) fell short of meeting the criteria of a liberal democracy. It is in fact the role of a scholar to foster the pursuit of knowledge, promote the constant development of ideas, and rigorously interrogate beliefs and assumptions. As Dr. Yayla correctly notes, an academic should be “free to think, to search and share findings.”

The Middle East Studies Association is deeply concerned with the deteriorating situation of academic freedom in Turkey. We urge your government to give the highest priority to eliminating Article 301 without delay. This clause has tarnished Turkey’s international image and impedes its ability to meet the standards of free speech as required by the European Union’s accession criteria.

We ask that you instruct the Prosecutor General to drop any criminal charges that may be filed against Professor Yayla and take all necessary steps to press for his reinstatement.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your positive response.

Sincerely,
Zachary Lockman
MESA President


January 25, 2007

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Office of the Prime Minister
Basbakanlik
06573 Ankara, Turkey
Via facsimile +90 312 425-1375

Dear Prime Minister Erdogan:

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom. We wish to express our grave concern over the criminal investigation of Dr. Taner Akçam, a visiting professor of History at the University of Minnesota, for stating that the 1915-1917 deportations and massacres of Armenians constituted a genocide. Charges are pending under Turkish Penal Code Articles 301.1 (“insulting Turkishness”), 214 (“instigation to commit a crime”), 215 (“praise of a crime and criminal”), and 216 (“instigating public animosity and hatred”). The investigation threatens the freedom of expression and academic freedom of Dr. Akçam and contributes to the atmosphere of intellectual and physical intimidation of academics and intellectuals who deal with controversial issues.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2700 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

The criminal investigation of Dr. Akçam was prompted by an article he published on October 6, 2006 in Agos, the Armenian Turkish weekly, in which he defended Armenian Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, who was to be prosecuted under Article 301 for using the term “genocide”. He asserted that he, rather than Mr. Dink, has consistently used the term “genocide” to describe the Armenian deportations and massacres of 1915-17. Dr. Akçam urged his compatriots, whether they agreed with the use of the term or not, to protect the right of others who do so and to de-criminalize the studying and writing of history. Hrant Dink’s murder on January 19, 2007 underscores the seriousness of the criminal investigation of Dr. Taner Akçam, who has been a regular contributor to the weekly Mr. Dink edited. He, and other academics and public intellectuals researching and writing about the Armenian/Turkish issue, operate in an atmosphere of increased intimidation in which they face threats to their security as well as to their academic and civil rights.

The criminal investigation of Dr. Akçam on the basis of Articles 301.1, 214, 215 and 216 of the Turkish Penal Code is a direct violation of his civil and human rights. As a member state of the Council of Europe and a signatory of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and a state party to the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Turkey is required to protect the freedom of expression.

The Middle East Studies Association is concerned over the noticeable deterioration of the situation of academic freedom in Turkey. During the past eighteen months we have written four letters to your government asking that charges brought against academics under Article 301 be dropped. We urge the Government of Turkey to initiate steps necessary to remove Article 301 from the country’s Penal Code. Article 301 criminalizes any “insult to Turkishness,” the Turkish Parliament, the Turkish government, or the military and security forces. It is difficult to imagine how the government could prosecute a person under this law without violating Turkey’s obligations, under Article 10 of the European Human Rights Convention and Article 19 of the ICCPR, to guarantee and protect the freedom of expression. Freedom of expression lies at the core of academic freedom. Furthermore, the repeated prosecutions under Article 301 sharply contrast with your government’s recent call to leave the debate around the controversial events of 1915 to the independent study and judgment of scholars.

We encourage you to immediately stop the criminal investigation against Dr. Taner Akçam and to desist from such investigations in the future which use the provisions of Article 301 of the Penal Code as a way of punishing academics, publishers, public intellectuals and other Turkish citizens who express ideas and views of Turkish history at variance with those of the authorities.

Thank you very much for your attention to this matter, and we look forward to your positive response.

Sincerely,
Zachary Lockman
MESA President


July 20, 2006

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Office of the Prime Minister
Basbakanlik
06573 Ankara, Turkey
Via facsimile +90 312 417 0476

Dear Prime Minister Erdogan:

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, and its Committee on Academic Freedom, in order to express our grave concern over the prosecution of Elif Shafak for allegedly “insulting Turkishness” with respect to comments made by Armenian characters in her novel The Bastard of Istanbul–Baba ve Piç (Metis 2006). Dr. Shafak, a respected scholar and well-known novelist, currently teaches at the University of Arizona and is a member of this association. She faces charges brought under Article 301 of the Penal Code. If she is found guilty, she faces up to 3 years in prison.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) is comprised of 2600 academics worldwide who teach and conduct research on the Middle East and North Africa, and is the preeminent professional association in the field. The association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and is committed to ensuring respect for the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression in the region and in connection with the study of the Middle East and North Africa in North America and elsewhere.

We are saddened to observe that many public intellectuals, journalists, publishers, and academics, such as Orhan Pamuk, Ragip Zarakolu, Hrant Dink, and Baskin Oran, have recently been brought to trial on charges that they violated Article 301 of the Penal Code. This article criminalizes any alleged “insult” to “Turkishness,” the Turkish parliament, the Turkish government, or the military and security forces. These broad prohibitions directly violate the internationally guaranteed right to freedom of expression, and thus cast doubt on the sincerity of Turkey’s commitment to improve her human rights record. Furthermore, the repeated prosecutions under Article 301 sharply contrast with your government’s recent call to leave the debate around the controversial events of 1915 to the independent study and judgment of scholars. 

As a member state of the Council of Europe and a signatory to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and as a state party to the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Turkey is required to protect freedom of expression. We therefore strongly urge you to instruct the Prosecutor General to drop the charges against Dr.Shafak without delay, in the interest of justice and Turkey’s reputation. 

We further urge the government to initiate the steps necessary to remove Article 301 from the country’s Penal Code. It is difficult to imagine how the government could prosecute a person under this law without violating Turkey’s obligations under Article 10 of the European Human Rights Convention and Article 19 of the ICCPR to guarantee and protect freedom of expression. The right to freedom of expression lies at the core of academic freedom. At the very least, we encourage you to instruct the Prosecutor General to desist from bringing any charges in the future under the provisions of Article 301 as a way of punishing and silencing individuals whose ideas may diverge from those of the authorities or influential segments of society.

Thank you very much for your attention to this matter, and we look forward to your positive response.

Sincerely,
Juan R.I. Cole
MESA President


November 30, 2005

Mr. Recep Tayyip Erodgan
Prime Minister
Basbakanlik
06573 Ankara, Turkey
Fax: +90-312-417-0476

Dear Prime Minister Erdogan,

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, and its Committee on Academic Freedom, in order to express our grave concern over the prosecution of Fatih Tas, owner of Aram publishing house, for his publication of the Turkish translation of Professor John Tirman’s, Spoils of War: The Human Cost of America’s Arms Trade (Free Press, 1997). Mr. Tas was called before the court of First Instance of Istanbul on November 17, 2005 on charges of violating paragraphs 1 and 2 of Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. He is accused of humiliating Turkishness, the Turkish Republic, Turkish Soldiers, and the Government. If indicted, Mr. Tas will face up to 5 years in prison.

The Middle East Studies Association of North American (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2600 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Trying Mr. Tas on these charges is a direct violation of his civil and human rights. As a member state of the Council of Europe and a signatory to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and as a state party to the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Turkey is required to protect freedom of expression.

We urge the government of Turkey to initiate the steps necessary to remove article 301 from the country’s Penal Code. Article 301 criminalizes any “insult” to “Turkishness”, the Turkish Parliament, the Turkish government, or the military and security forces. It is difficult to imagine how the government could prosecute a person under this law without violating Turkey’s obligations, under Article 10 of the European Human Rights Convention and Article 19 of the ICCPR, to guarantee and protect freedom of expression. Freedom of expression lies at the core of academic freedom. At the very least we encourage you to instruct the Prosecutor General to drop immediately the charges against Mr. Tas and desist from bringing such charges in the future under the provisions of Article 301 of the Penal Code as a way of punishing and intimidating academics, publishers, public intellectuals and other Turkish citizens who express ideas a views of Turkish history and politics at variance with those of the authorities.

Thank you very much for your attention to this matter, and we look forward to your positive response.

Sincerely,
Juan R.I. Cole
MESA President


September 21, 2005

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Office of the Prime Minister
Basbakanlik
06573 Ankara, Turkey
Via facsimile +90 312 417 0476

Dear Prime Minister Erdogan:

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, and its Committee on Academic Freedom, in order to express our grave concern over the prosecution of Orhan Pamuk for allegedly “denigrating national identity” during an interview published in the Swiss magazine, Das Bild (February 6, 2005). Mr. Pamuk, a world-renowned novelist who has been a visiting scholar at a number of North American universities and a member of this association, is scheduled to appear in court on December 16, 2005 and will be tried under Article 301/3 of the Turkish Penal Law. If he is found guilty, he may face up to 8 years in prison.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) is comprised of 2600 academics worldwide who teach and conduct research on the Middle East and North Africa, and is the preeminent professional association in the field. The association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies, and is committed to ensuring respect for the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression in the region and in connection with the study of the Middle East and North Africa in North America and elsewhere.

Trying Mr. Pamuk on these charges is in direct violation of his civil and human rights. As a member state of the Council of Europe and a signatory to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and as a state party to the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Turkey is required to protect freedom of expression.

Because these rights are also enshrined in the Turkish Constitution of 1982, a judge will have every reason to throw out the case on the first hearing. We urge strongly your government avoid this embarrassment and act now to dismiss the charges against Mr. Pamuk, in the interest of justice and Turkey’s reputation.

We further urge the government of Turkey to initiate the steps necessary to remove Article 301 from the country’s Penal Code. Article 301 criminalizes any “insult” to “Turkishness,” the Turkish parliament, the Turkish government, or the military and security forces. It is difficult to imagine how the government could prosecute a person under this law without violating Turkey’s obligations, under Article 10 of the European Human Rights Convention and Article 19 of the  ICCPR, to guarantee and to protect freedom of expression. Freedom of expression lies at the core of academic freedom. At the very least, we encourage you to instruct the Prosecutor General to drop immediately the charges against Mr. Pamuk and desist from bringing any such charges in the future under the provisions of Article 301 of the Penal Code as a way of punishing and intimidating academics, public intellectuals, and other Turkish citizens who express ideas or views of Turkish history at variance with those of the authorities.

Thank you very much for your attention to this matter, and we look forward to your positive response.

Sincerely,
Ali Banuazizi
MESA President


May 27, 2005

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Office of the Prime Minister
Basbakanlik
06573 Ankara, Turkey
Via facsimile +90 312 417 0476

Dear Prime Minister Erdogan:

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, and its Committee on Academic Freedom, in order to express our grave concern over actions taken by members of your government which precipitated the decision of the rector of Bosphorus University to cancel an academic conference entitled, “Ottoman Armenians in the Period of the Empire’s Collapse.” These actions violate the academic freedom and human rights of Turkish scholars, a number of whom are members of our association.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) comprises 2600 academics worldwide who teach and conduct research on the Middle East and North Africa. It is the preeminent professional association in the field and publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies. MESA is committed to ensuring respect for the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression in the region and in connection with the study of the Middle East and North Africa. The organization also counts among its membership many of the world’s leading experts on the history of the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey.

The conference was to have been held May 25-27, 2005 at Bosphorus University in Istanbul. Organized by members of the history, sociology and comparative literature faculties of both Bosphorus and Sabanci universities, the conference sought to address in a scholarly, open and critical manner issues surrounding the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Aided by an international advisory committee of academics from Turkey and abroad, the conference’s organizers adhered in their preparations to all Turkish laws regarding public assemblies and academic gatherings.

However, according to published press reports, following intense criticism by Turkish government officials and parliamentarians–including Minister of Justice, Cemil Çiçek, who accused those organizing the conference of being guilty of “treason and insult”–the university officials cancelled the meetings just hours before they were to begin. Citing “prejudicial statements [which] have been advanced [by government officials] regarding the contents of a conference that is yet to be held,” the university officials noted that these statements give “cause for concern that [they] will result in undermining the academic freedom of state universities.”

As a member state of the Council of Europe and a signatory of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Turkey is required to protect freedom of thought, expression and assembly. These rights are also enshrined in the Turkish Constitution of 1982.

Therefore we urge your government to take all necessary steps to ensure that this conference may be held as planned and as soon as possible. Just as important, and particularly given Justice Minister Çiçek’s use of the word “treason,” a charge that conjures up memories of some of worst forms of persecution of scholars and intellectuals through history, we ask that you assure conference participants and organizers that they will face no official criminal charges or other sanctions following the presentation of their research in this gathering. We ask that you ensure there will be no attempts to censor their work prior to its presentation and further, that all measures required will be taken to secure the personal safety of conference participants and allow open and free academic exchange. Finally, we encourage you to preclude the implementation of any of the provisions of Article 305 of the new Turkish Penal Code, which could be used to arrest academics who express unpopular ideas or revisionist views of the past.

I would appreciate the honor of discussing the work of the Middle East Studies Association with you during your visit to Washington, DC in June if your schedule permits.

Sincerely,
Ali Banuazizi
President, Middle East Studies Association
Professor, Boston College
 
cc:
H.E. Dr. Osman Faruk Logoglu,
Turkish Ambassador to the United States



 Start of Page