How Turkey’s academics became ‘terrorists’

How Turkey’s academics became ‘terrorists’

Yesterday morning, when I sat down to write this piece, a dozen academics in the province of Kocaeli were detained by the police. Moreover, news sites were noting, “more arrests are coming.” Yet another wave of a Turkish witch hunt, in other words, had begun.

These academics were among the 1,128 people who recently signed a controversial petition against the government’s war on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Titled “We will not be a partner to this crime,” the short text condemned the Turkish government for committing human rights violations in its counter-terrorism campaign going on in certain southeastern cities and towns. It blamed the government for committing “massacre” against Kurdish civilians and called for an end to all security operations. 

Did I sign this document? No. Did I agree with it? No. For in my view, it was very one-sided. While it amplified the excesses of the state’s counter-terrorism, it turned a blind eye to the terrorism of the PKK (such as the deadly car bombing of two days ago, which killed three children, along with a police officer). I also don’t think that the state is carrying out a “massacre” against the Kurdish civilians. Civilians are, rather, being killed unintentionally as “collateral damage” by both sides, the state and the PKK, in a doomed conflict taking place in urban areas. 

Yet still, these academics, who include international figures such as Noam Chomsky, certainly had the right to voice their views, no matter how biased others might find them. Unfortunately, however, the masters of “New Turkey” don’t think like that, for they don’t believe in this stupid nuisance called “freedom of speech.” They rather think that all “unpatriotic” speech should be silenced for good.  

That is why President Tayyip Erdogan gave a furious speech against these academics three days ago, blaming them for “terrorist propaganda” and “high treason.” In no time, the state institutions that are nicely ordered in the pyramid of hierarchy topped by the great leader began doing their job. The Higher Education Board (YÖK), to which all universities are tied, initiated an investigation on the “treacherous” scholars. Meanwhile the judiciary, certain elements of which have lately turned into unabashed handmaidens of the executive, initiated a criminal investigation. Hence came yesterday’s detainment. 

Furthermore, the unofficial patriotic forces of “New Turkey” also did their jobs. The pro-government media, a steadily growing entity, demonized the “traitors” with a colorful palate of insults. Sedat Peker, a notorious “crime boss” who has lately gained more popularity by organizing pro-Erdogan rallies, declared that he will “shower in the blood” of these traitors. 

What will happen to these academics? Hard to know. Probably some will be detained for just a few days, as a kind of harassment. Besides that, there is a good chance that some of them will lose their jobs at their universities or get demoted from their positions. Moreover, from now on, everybody who speaks on such sensitive issues will know that the police might be on their door as well. 

For Turkish democracy (whatever that is), this is yet another low. It confirms that this is a “democracy” with a growingly diminishing freedom of speech. It is “democracy” where the “voice of the nation,” which practically is the voice of the political majority and its glorified leader, intimidates and silences dissenting voices.