Kudos to the professor asking about Öcalan in final exam

Kudos to the professor asking about Öcalan in final exam

He is an academic from the prestigious Political Sciences Department of Ankara University. His name is Barış Ünlü. The conservative Islamist daily newspaper Akit and its newer version, Vahdet, have already targeted him. Not only do these “newspapers” not like Ünlü, neither does the state.

He reads, researches, publishes, writes books, thinks and makes people think. He questions and makes people question. While this was going on, these papers published reports.

First, it was daily Akit that claimed Ünlü was “organizing his students, creating chaos.” Then daily Vahdet claimed that Ünlü was making his students engage in “PKK propaganda.”

Ünlü teaches an elective course at the university, in which the Armenian and Kurdish issues are discussed. In order to understand modern Turkey, these two fault lines must be well understood. Ünlü lectures on the changes that especially the Kurdish political movement underwent in the 19th century.

Naturally, in the final exam that he held about 10 days ago, he asked questions about what he lectured in class. Ünlü asked his students to compare a brochure dated 1978, written by Abdullah Öcalan and titled, “The Manifesto of the Path of the Kurdistan Revolution,” and an article by Öcalan dated 2012 and titled, “Democratic Modernity as the Construction of Local System in the Middle East.”

The two were to be compared regarding their stances on concepts and phenomena such as colonialism, the nation state, revolutionary violence and democracy. Consider in this comparison, he asked, the changes in the world and in Turkey in the years since 1978, as well as the transformations undergone by the Kurdish movement and in Kurdish society.

Wow, how can PKK propaganda written by Öcalan be mentioned as “a brochure”? How can Öcalan’s “manifesto” be studied in class? Even if it were discussed in class, how can this be the subject of an exam question?

Firstly, what else can one do but read Öcalan’s articles and books to understand the transformation of the Kurdish political movement? Secondly, if asking a question on Öcalan’s book is regarded as PKK propaganda, what is it when our state and our mighty statesmen ask for help from Öcalan at every troubled moment, such as the Oct. 6-7, 2014 Kobane protests.

The changes in the Kurdish political movement are not very well known in Turkey, but a student of political science would naturally study and focus on it. The path that this movement has taken, if it was known by more people in Turkey, if more intellectual material was produced about it, then the current Kurdish “resolution process” would have a chance to end in an acceptable way for both sides.

I called Ünlü and told him, “I congratulate you for giving this lesson and for assessing your students’ level of understanding Turkey through this exam question.”

He explained that his students’ answers were mostly satisfactory. “Many wrote that the Kurdish movement started with the aspect of ‘colonization’ as a base. Even though the İsmail Beşikçi school of thought has remained at that point, the Kurdish movement has overcome this and abandoned its aim of becoming an independent state, influenced by the collapse of the Soviet Union, the EU, globalization and neoliberalism. They wrote about all these things and their effects on Turkey’s political and social life,” he told me.

Ünlü’s stance (his style of teaching the course and his exam question) should be regarded as an example of courage. I asked him about the reaction of the university administration. “Up until today, the Political Sciences Department has not succumbed to political pressure. It has not allowed investigations into its students or academics that were aimed at intimidation. The office of the dean is also supporting me. For all these reasons, this department is a liberated area, as it has been since the 1960,” he replied.

Bravo to the dean of the Political Sciences Faculty and all the real academics, like Ünlü…