Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"Harvard researcher harassed after speaking out against AKP"

Pınar Tremblay writes on Dr. Altındiş's and other expats'  troubles after publicly opposing the AKP government on Al-Monitor

Harvard researcher harassed after speaking out against AKP

On Nov. 10, news arrived that Altindis had thereafter become a victim of libel. He told Al-Monitor, “On 17 July, a 19-page email was sent to all my department members at Harvard claiming that I was a member of the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party Front.” The group, designated by the US State Department as a foreign terrorist organization, was responsible for the attack on the US Embassy in Ankara on Jan. 31, 2013. Altindis explained that the email also told his colleagues that they as well as their families were at risk. It was not an allegation that could be ignored.

In early June, Altindis told Al-Monitor that he was aware that he would not have been allowed to complete such a sentence had the event been held in Turkey. The reactions were mixed, with overwhelming public support for his courage and the expected rage from anonymous, pro-government social media stalwarts. At the time, everyone thought the matter would blow over, but that was incorrect.

Altindis is only now sharing the news, because a police investigation has cleared him of any suspicion. Who sent the email has not yet been determined, but the IP address is from Ankara. When Al-Monitor asked Altindis whether he had contacted Turkish authorities, he said, “No, not yet.” Since June, he has been the target of systematic virtual attacks, which has become the norm for vocal critics of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Altindis does not know who the perpetrator or perpetrators might be.
Oray Egin, an outspoken journalist who lives in New York, told Al-Monitor, “First of all I would like to point out that the modus operandi of the Harvard case screams Gulen movement. While there is no substantial evidence to prove it, similar tactics can be traced back to the Sledgehammer days, when then-Harvard professor Dani Rodrik and his wife, Pinar Dogan, were targets of such a defamation campaign because of their meticulous expose of what a sham the case was. I believe Erdogan’s supporters outsource international defamation campaigns because they themselves lack the intellectual capacity.”
Egin has faced his share of trials and tribulations as a dissident voice against the AKP regime and courageously and candidly discussed them with Al-Monitor when asked about them. Al-Monitor contacted several other high-profile people, most of whom were eager to share their experiences over coffee but not willing to go on the record. Egin stands out as a young professional whose distress at this point might lead to the voluntary end to his journalism career.
“I am to the point of frustration with Turkey that I am seriously considering giving up journalism for Turkish publications. I’m too tired and feel my energy has drained dealing with the mundane intolerance of article subjects. Even a popular TV show host, of a show similar to Ryan Seacrest's in the US, wants my arrest. He repeatedly sues me and wants me tried in a criminal court! He has the audacity to silence a journalist because he is a good friend of Erdogan, and just like Erdogan, he feels immune to criticism,” Egin sain. He recently published his fears of being arrested upon returning to Turkey.
He further elaborated his concerns, stating, “After a large wave of arrests in 2011, I must admit I was scared. I know that all my communications are monitored, and they can be leaked in the future, as they were leaked before. My phone was illegally wiretapped, and my email was monitored by Gulenists — at least, that is the government’s claim now that the alliance is broken. However, I have no faith in either. I know that Turkey has never been a free country and never will. I can be a target anytime. I criticized the police arresting Ivan Watson [a CNN reporter], so the police want my arrest too! They filed a complaint, which turned into a criminal court case. All because of one tweet!”
On June 7, 2013, after watching footage of the Gezi protests from the United States, three tech geeks started a crowdsourcing online fundraising campaign to take out an advertisement supporting the demonstration. In just 36 hours, 2,653 donors had contributed, generating $85,000, a record for such campaigns. Their ad was simple yet strong and achieved the goal of raising awareness of the Gezi protests worldwide. Erdogan referred to the three young organizers and The New York Times, where the ad appeared, as an “interest lobby,” and pro-AKP media immediately initiated a campaign about the mysterious forces generating anti-Turkish sentiment abroad.
Al-Monitor asked Oltac Unsal, one of the three men, about his experiences after the ad ran. Unsal said he has been subjected to a variety of pressures: “First are the online, anonymous threats and insults. Second, being labeled an agent of a foreign entity working against Turkey. Third is the fear and concern of being under constant government surveillance. Even if rationally you know it is not likely, there is still that fear. Last, quite real economic pressure. Turkish businesses do not want to be associated with you because you might be on a blacklist. I returned to Turkey as a patriot after 23 years abroad despite all the nonsense. Now the country is experiencing a considerable brain drain. And who will be hurting from this?”
Many dissident expats fear surveillance abroad, possible defamation of character, loss of their jobs and reputation and arrest and possible physical threats upon returning to Turkey. Vague anti-terrorism laws could cost an individual years of struggle with the authorities. Are the expats' family members left behind in Turkey also at risk? Could they be made to pay for the actions of their dissident relative?
Arzu Kaya Uranli, a prominent journalist from New York, told Al-Monitor that while working on a piece about academic freedom in Turkey, several Turkish academicians residing in the United States told her, “I would love to share with you my experiences, but if I do, I fear there will be negative consequences for my immediate family back in Turkey. I cannot risk them.” 
There are quite a few untold stories of victims who fear that having their experiences mentioned in a publication might unleash further online harassment or defamation. Several expat journalists and businesspeople also complained that they were not allowed to attend events where Turkish government officials would be present. Not all of these people are activists. Some are blacklisted due to guilt by association.
Living abroad in countries where freedom of speech is protected does not shield one from being prosecuted for legitimate peaceful activities back in Turkey or ensure that one will not become a victim of defamation. Another interesting aspect of these attacks on dissident expats is the absence of an organized Turkish organization willing to take a stand against the current government in Turkey or its practices, like the Europe-based Muslim Brotherhood expressed its opposition to the regime of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt from a distance. All the people interviewed here are individuals who view themselves as patriots who are simply exercising their freedom of speech. One wonders why they do not stand united to ease the impact of arbitrary attacks rather than suffering alone.

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/11/turkey-suppression-of-dissent-harvard-student.html#ixzz3JRNcYntO

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Statement of support for Dr. Emrah Altindis

The members of the North America chapter of GIT, the Transnational Working Group on Academic Liberty and Freedom of Research in Turkey, GIT, endorse GIT North America’s statement of support for Dr. Emrah Altindis, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School and a GIT North America member. 

President Abdullah Gul gave a speech at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government on May 30, 2014. Hosted by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, President Gul’s speech posited Turkey as a “safe haven in a troublesome geography “ and underscored its economic development, which, he claimed, was bolstered by the government’s “raising [of] the democratic standards for our young and dynamic nation […].” Following Gul’s presentation, the floor was opened for questions, during which time Dr. Altindis pointed out that the state violence, which has been persistently increasing since the state’s crackdown on peaceful protesters at Gezi Park, was completely absent in Gul’s characterization of Turkey and questioned Gul’s perspective on his responsibility in this atmosphere of lack of human rights and freedom of speech. Not only was Dr. Altindis verbally harassed by Gul’s security personnel while he was asking his question, but he was also told by Gul, in his response, that “nobody would give you the right to ask such kinds of questions.”  Following the circulation of his question in Turkish media, Dr. Altindis has also received, through social media, threats and insults, some of which are penned by academics in Turkey.

Unfortunately, the attitude of Mr. Gül and the intimidation campaigns that targeted Dr. Altindis are part of an official effort to stifle dissidence. Such campaigns and/or authoritarian attitudes undermine citizenship rights. In fact, they also demonstrate to what extent Turkey is far from a safe haven of democracy. Indeed, over the last years, various reports of human rights violations, including numerous letters written by the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association--the most prestigious academic institution on matters of the Middle East, have raised similar questions to the Turkish authorities in different fields. 

GIT- North America, like the Turkish Medical Association, fully supports Dr. Altindis’s effort to call into question President Abdullah Gul’s false characterization of Turkey as a safe haven and his refusal to take responsibility in the AKP government’s brutal human rights and freedom speech breaches. As an organization committed to publicizing and condemning limitations to academic liberty, we especially feel it is our duty to state our solidarity with Dr. Altindis. We condemn any individual or institution that calls into question Dr. Altindis' liberty to ask a question in general, and especially in an academic setting.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

In Solidarity with METU

In solidarity with the faculty and students of Middle East Technical University (METU) Resistance against the unlawful and destructive highway construction project passing through the campus forest, GIT - North America publishes the full text of the support statement signed by 857 academics from 278 academic institutions and twenty-six different countries.

Ankara Metropolitan Municipality, led by the AKP (Justice and Development Party) has, despite opposition, initiated a road construction project that goes through a forest area located in Ankara’s inner city , which is also property of Middle East Technical University (METU).

University students, the University faculty as well as the residents of the neighborhood located right next to the campus have opposed this project. Student resistance initially halted various attempts by the Municipal demolition teams to cut down the trees. Although the University administration’s appeal of Ankara Municipality’s proposed plan was still under legal consideration, the Municipality committed an environmental massacre by destroying 3,000 trees on the night of October 18. The land was cleared overnight, without any prior notice or permission. The night raid of the Ankara Municipality demolition teams backed by riot police was followed by an army of construction vehicles, working day and night to complete the unlawful highway as soon as possible.  Meanwhile, the government foiled all possible legal attempts to resolve the conflict. The police have responded to the opposition from the University with excessive use of tear gas and water cannons. In other words, METU’s fight for its forest has also become a fight for its democratic right to protest and to exercise its freedom of speech.
This act shows how the government turns a blind eye to the environmental concerns of the people as firmly expressed during the Gezi Uprising.  The attack on METU confirms the government’s commitment to sacrifice public green space for the ongoing construction projects. We also state that this action poses a vivid example of the government’s encroachment on the autonomy of higher education in Turkey.

We, the undersigned academics, condemn the unlawful environmental massacre and the police brutality in the Middle East Technical University campus. It is an unethical and unacceptable attack on METU as well as the academia in Turkey. We declare our full support and solidarity with all resisting METU students, academic personnel and staff.

In solidarity,

The full list of signatories and more information on the attack against METU campus and academic freedom can be found here.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Violation of ODTÜ Campus on 18th October 2013, Statement from the Rector's Office

This statement is considered necessary in response to the popular concern of staff, press and the general public about the violation of our campus by the Ankara Metropolitan Municipality on the night of the 18th October 2013.

On the 2nd October 2013, ODTÜ was notified by fax that the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning had approved the Plan of Conservation and Development. However, the Plan which was not attached to the fax was only received on Friday, 11th October 2013. The Plan proposed by ODTÜ had apparently been changed in several ways by the authorities, contrary to the statements released earlier to the press. Under the regulations, ODTÜ had until the 4th November 2013 to file any objections.

On the same day the university received the Plan (11th October), we contacted the Ministry, Municipality and state authorities to notify them of our intention to object to the Plan, and asked them not to initiate action during the legal appeals period. Ankara Metropolitan Municipality (ABB) Acting Director of Technical Services and the Director of Development and Urban Planning both verbally assured us that they would not start action without contacting the university. The same day, we also notified the ABB in writing that we would not want any action before the end of the legal appeals process.

Despite these assurances, an unexpected night operation was initiated by the ABB on Friday, 18th October 2013 without waiting for the end of the appeals process. At 21:15, ABB heavy construction machinery, construction teams and personnel entered the campus without consent and began tearing down our hedges in the 100. Yıl Öğretmenler Bulvarı area. The university security personnel warned them not to violate the campus and attempted to stop them. However, they failed in their efforts against the trucks, heavy machinery and municipality personnel.

The local 10 Nisan Police Station was notified several times by phone regarding the violation of the campus and the unlawful removal of trees that are ODTÜ property. A written appeal was also made. However, the Police did not take action or accept the written appeal. The unlawful procedure was simultaneously communicated to the Municipality Construction Team Chief, who likewise refused to accept a written notification.

Written appeals were also made to the Ankara governor's office, the Provincial Police Directorate and the ABB for the action to be stopped. The governor was personally contacted by phone to notify him of the violation and ask him to bring it to an end. However, the Municipality teams remained on campus until 06.30 a.m.

On the morning of the 19th October, we saw that all of the 3,000 trees on the route inside our campus had been destroyed. Of these, 600 pines were to be transplanted. We were not informed about how these were removed, but it is clearly not possible to transplant 600 trees overnight.

ODTÜ has contributed with good will towards a legal solution of the road construction issue. In response, our campus was raided at night without waiting for the end of the legal process regarding the Plan of Conservation and Development; construction was started illegitimately; and the trees which are university property were destroyed.

We will take all legal action necessary against this violation. Our university strongly condemns this attitude that in no way complies with well-intentioned and responsible public administration.



Friday, September 20, 2013

Violence Victim Academician Faces Trial

As Bianet reports, Osman Erden, our colleague and assistant professor at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University who was detained and subjected to police violence in downtown Istanbul during Gezi Resistance, was ordered to stand trial for “resisting police officers and attending an illegal demonstration” with an indictment issued today. Erden is facing prison sentence up to 3 years.

ISTANBUL - Ayça Söylemez, Bianet News Desk  

Osman Erden, an assistant professor of art history at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University (MSGSÜ) who was detained and subjected to police violence in downtown Istanbul during Gezi Resistance, was ordered to stand trial for “resisting police officers and attending an illegal demonstration”.

Erden told Bianet that his complaint on the assaulting policemen has yet to yield any results.  

“I was lucky”

On July 14, Erden was detained in downtown Istanbul by the police during a press statement of TMMOB - Architects and Engineers Chambers Union of Turkey. 

Released the day after, he had told Bianet the following: “Police attacks began even before I got there. Scorpions [a police vehicle] were roaming. Rubber bullets hit me first. I found refuge at a friend’s cafe. When I took the street again, I was attacked by 10-15 policemen. Those wounds and swellings in my lips and head were caused by those policemen.”

As police took me to police detention van, Erden had said, I shouted my name and teaching position at MSGSÜ. “I was assaulted on the way to the police van, too. But no assaults took place after the detention.” 

“I was taken to Taksim Ilk Yardim Hospital. But I wasn’t admitted there, maybe because it was full. I was then taken to Kasımpaşa Police Station and Haseki Hospital. They didn’t give my medical report there.”

Erden told Bianet that MSGSÜ President and Sociology Department Dean was waiting for him at the police station when he was taken there on the night of July 14, 2013. 

“I wouldn’t be out so quickly if it weren’t for the President and Dean. Volunteer lawyers  from Istanbul Bar Association were also of great help. I was lucky, but some people are not as lucky as I am.”

First trial on February 25 

Along with other detainees Gökhan İrez, Okan Ersoy, Onur Karataş, Gökhan Tanrıverdi and Şevket Tokdabayev, Erden was ordered to stand trial at Istanbul 40th Assize Court on February 25, 2014. 

Issued by prosecutor Zeynel Sarıbuğa, the case indictment accused defendants for “attending an illegal protest” according to Turkey’s Demonstration Law (No:2911) Article 32. (AS/BM)

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Petition: Academic Freedom is Our Freedom!

Eleven Research Assistants who work in the Faculty of Communication at Marmara University in Turkey – and who are also members of Egitim-Sen (Education and Science Workers’ Union) – participated in a KESK (Confederation of Public Workers’ Unions) strike action held on June 4 and 5, 2013. As a result of this participation, disciplinary proceedings by the Rector of Marmara University against these assistants were initiated. In addition to these proceedings, the number of proceedings on 15 different Research Assistants reached at 25 for 2 years since Prof. Dr. Yusuf Devran had taken up the position as the Dean of Faculty of Communication.

The right to participate in collective action as decided by the unions of which public workers are members is recognized in the Convention on Human Rights, the Constitution as well as administrative judicial decisions taken by European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Thus, the strike action held by Egitim-Sen, of which all 11 Research Assistants are members, was not a criminal act, but, rather, it was an action guaranteed by both union and democratic rights.

In response to the press statement issued by Istanbul University Branch of Egitim-Sen, Prof. Dr. Yusuf Devran declared the strike action held by KESK to be unlawful, and stated that the 11 Marmara Research Assistants should be punished because they attended a legal strike action. Thus, Prof. Dr. Yusuf Devran’s statement was in direct contradiction to the Convention on Human Rights, the Constitution and the administrative judicial decisions reached by the European Court of Human Rights.

According to the statement issued by Prof. Dr. Yusuf Devran, the strike action was not about personal responsibility, nor individual rights and freedoms. The action was held simply in order to protest nation-wide police violence committed during Gezi Park demonstrations, in addition to KESK’s call for “Living in Dignity, Guaranteed Jobs and the Future”. These 11 Research Assistants were made scapegoats in an academic witch-hunt (linked to the Gezi Park demonstrations) taking place throughout Turkey. Other instances include disciplinary proceedings against 4 scholars at Tunceli University for having taken part in the strike action, and another disciplinary proceeding against Asst. Prof. Dr. Timuçin Köprülü, who criticized police violence in a speech given at the Uludağ University graduation ceremony.

We, the undersigned citizens, due to our academic, professional and humanitarian responsibilities, call upon the Marmara University Rectorship to withdraw these unlawful proceedings which have the hallmarks of an attack upon freedom of speech and assembly; to call upon Prof. Dr. Yusuf Devran, the Dean of Faculty of Communication, to cease preventing academic staff from exercising their constitutional, democratic and union rights; and, finally, to end the use of abusive investigations as a tool for intimidating Research Assistants (and other staff).

Because academic freedom means our freedom!


Noam Chomsky (MIT); Judith Butler (University of California at Berkeley); Nancy Fraser (New School for Social Research); Michael Löwy, Gerard Chaouat, and Gérard Groc (CNRS);  Vincent Mosco (Queen's University); Dan Schiller (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign); David Laibman (City University of New York); Enzo Traverso (Cornell University); Claude Calame and Jérôme Baschet (EHESS); Gazi Çağlar (HAWK Hildesheim); Erol Gelenbe (Imperial College London); Joan W.  Scott (Institute for Advanced Study); Kostas Skordoulis (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens); Terrence McDonough (National University of Ireland Galway); Martine Boudet (Réseau scientifique TERRA); Helmut Dahmer (Austria); Christian Christensen (Stockholm University); Adela Franzé Mudano (Universidad Complutense de Madrid); Nestor Kohan (Universidad de Buenos Aires); Christian Haasen (Universität Hamburg); Christoph Schroeder (Universität Potsdam); Samy Johsua (Université Aix Marseille); Sophie Dushesne (Université de Nanterre);  Gilles Frapper (Université de Poitiers); Francois Gaudi (Université de Rouen); Leo Glangetas (Université de Rouen); Jean-Philippe Heurtin (Université de Strasbourg);  Xavier Lambert (Université de Toulouse II-Le Mirail); Daniel Thin and Olivier Neveux (Université Lyon 2); Eleni Varikas and Fabien Granjon (Université Paris 8); Bernard Gerbier (Université Pierre-Mendès-France de Grenoble); Clément Mouhot (University of Cambridge); Alfredo Saad Filho, Gilbert Achcar, and Nadje Al-Ali (University of London); Korkut Alp Ertürk (University of Utah); Okan Külköylüoğlu (Abant İzzet Baysal Üniversitesi); Gülser Kayır (Akdeniz Üniversitesi); Aykut Çoban, Emine Gül Kapçı, Gülay Toksöz, Işıl Ünal, Selda Öndül, Tülin Öngen, Baskın Oran (emer.), and D. Beybin Kejanlıoğlu (emer.) (Ankara Üniversitesi); Levent Köker (Atılım Üniversitesi); Ali Baykal and Zeynep Tül Akbal Sualp (Bahçeşehir Üniversitesi); Timur Karaçay (Başkent Üniversitesi); Cemal Bâli Akal and Sibel İnceoglu (Bilgi Üniversitesi); Ersan Demiralp, Kuban Altinel, and Nermin Abadan Unat (Boğaziçi Üniversitesi); Nurçay Türkoğlu and Yunus Emre Evlice (Çukurova Üniversitesi); A. Kadir Özer (emer.)(Doğuş Üniversitesi); Nihayet Bizsel, O. Alp Ergör, Semih Çelenk, and Yeşim Edis Şahin (Dokuz Eylül Üniversitesi); Türkan Süren (emer.) (Ege Üniversitesi); Ahmet İnsel, Füsun Üstel, Tolga Yarman, Yasemin İnceoğlu, and Özden Cankaya (emer.) (Galatasaray Üniversitesi); Hakan Mıhcı and Simten Coşar (Hacettepe Üniversitesi); Ferhat Kentel (İstanbul Şehir Üniversitesi); Ayşe Şentürer, Belkıs Uluoğlu, Cengizhan İpbüker, Ergin Tarı, Hayrünnisa Dinçer Ateşok, Ayse Erzan (emer.), and  Mahmut Hortaçsu (emer.) (İstanbul Teknik Üniversitesi); Ayşe Güler Eroğlu, Cihan Demirci Tansel, Fatmagül Berktay, Meral Kızıltan, Mihriban Özbaşaran, Özgür Kasapçopur, Raşit Tükel, Tahsin Yeşildere , Tamer Demiralp, Tülay Erkan, Gençay Gürsoy (emer.), and Şahika Yūksel (emer.) (İstanbul Üniversitesi); Cem Pekman, Kuvvet Lordoğlu, and Onur Hamzaoğlu (Kocaeli Üniversitesi); Billur Yaltı (Koç Üniversitesi); Ayşe Durakbaşa, Nihal Saban, Şükran Kuyucak Esen, and Ayla Zirh Gursoy (emer.) (Marmara Üniversitesi); Çetin Veysal (Mersin Üniversitesi); Eren Deniz Tol (Muğla Üniversitesi); Ramazan Aşcı and Ayşe Gözen (emer.) (Ondokuz Mayıs Üniversitesi); Çağlar Güven, Göksel N. Demirer, Semih Bilgen, and Yalçın Göğüş (Orta Doğu Teknik Üniversitesi); Sibel Irzık (Sabancı Üniversitesi); Kemal Gözler (Uludağ Üniversitesi); Ahmet Sipahioğlu (Yaşar Üniversitesi); Elçin Macar, Esra Danacioglu Tamur, Fulya Atacan, and Meryem Koray (Yıldız Teknik Üniversitesi).

The full list of signatures is available here.

To sign the petition please send an e-mail to freeacademy@yandex.com with your name, surname, profession and organization. Deadline is 11th September 2013.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Scientists, Dissent and Academic Freedom

The revolt of June 2013 that saw massive rallies against AKP rule in major urban centers across the country signals a new stage in the fight for freedom of expression in Turkey. For the scientific community the protests represent both a moment of crystallization for ongoing struggles in support of  scientific independence and a venue for protesting against government’s repression of free research.

Since Erdoğan government crushed the independence of Turkish Academy of Sciences (TÜBA) in November 2011 with a regulation that gives the government the power to appoint two thirds of its members, 120 out of 150 TÜBA members have resigned. In an interview in Science one of the founding members and President of the newly-formed Science Academy astrophysicist Mehmet Ali Alpar gives the background of pressures on research and scientists’ participation in protests at Gezi Park.

Direct and indirect forms of heavy-handed intervention through funding blocks and censorship have been especially pronounced in the anti-evolution bias of AKP government. Coupled with policies that take away the regulatory and environmental oversight powers of professional associations, most importantly the associations of engineers and architects, these authoritarian policies have provided a powerful impetus for the transformation of protests into a fight for academic freedom, as this article in Science sketches.

A symptom of government’s previous attacks on scientific neutrality as well as a moment of infamy in June protests were police attacks on medical personnel providing emergency assistance for protestors, as an August 7 editorial in BMJ draws attention, a copy of which is available here.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Scientists Call Turkish Government to Obey International Law

In a correspondence published in Science, twenty-five scientists including four Nobel laureates, urged Turkish government to treat peaceful protesters according to international law.

A press conference held at New School University in NY City on July 18 that was initiated by Turkish Medical Association, Physicians for Human Rights and GIT – NA announced the publication of this piece and provided a forum for discussing the background of Gezi protests as well as government’s violent reaction. A video excerpt from the press conference is available here.

As the organizers of the press conference made clear in a clarification note, the press statement released regarding the press conference was only binding  for the organizing entities and individuals of the press conference.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Escalation of Repression – Faculty of New School Calls upon AKP Government to Cease Measures Reminiscent of a “State of Emergency”

As İsmail Saymaz and Fatih Yağmur report in Turkish daily Radikal, members of the umbrella NGO Taksim Solidarity were on July 11 charged with belonging to an illegal organization, inciting the public to uprising, insulting the police, occupying Gezi Park and thereby preventing public use of the Park.  The charges specifically refer to presidents, secretaries and spokespersons of Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects, Urban Planners’ Chamber, Istanbul Medical Association, as well as officials of trade unions, diverse NGOs and political parties. Police reports filed with the court also claim that Taksim Solidarity used Facebook, Twitter and news websites to call the population of Istanbul to Gezi Park for protests and thereby presented a grave threat to public order.

Gezi Park remains under police blockade since June 16 – albeit for a brief window of a few hours on July 8 during which the Park was officially opened before it was closed to prevent the public from entering Gezi. The charges directed at participants of Gezi protests and the growing number of arrests give an indication of the escalation of AKP government’s repression with extra-legal means. This escalation is only the latest stage of a uniform trend of violation of basic rights that is under way since the start of Gezi Resistance. 

Below we publish an open letter that Faculty of New School for Social Research sent to President Abdullah Gül on July 1.

Your Excellency,

We write to you to express our grave concern regarding the developments in Turkey in connection with the popular protests that began with the protection of trees in Gezi Park in Taksim. As a result of unexpectedly harsh police repression, these protests soon grew to encompass widespread grievances about government intrusion into different forms and values of life and to express the democratic demands of the masses. These demands include greater transparency and popular participation in processes of decision-making about urban restructuring plans and reforms, better accountability of political leaders and bureaucrats, the protection of fundamental rights, and the speedy and effective public prosecution of members of the security forces, whose use of excessive and targeted force on peaceful protestors has scandalized the global public.

As current faculty of the New School for Social Research, which was founded as a home for scholars who became refugees of Nazi rule in Europe and who were known to the world as the “University in Exile,” we are proud to maintain a sincere and ongoing commitment to fostering democracy around the world, the freedom of speech and protest, and the free exchange of ideas. We see this commitment as the constituent element of our history and identity as a research institution that cultivates the highest standards of scholarship as well as the ethos of public engagement and active citizenship.

In this light, we are deeply concerned about the news from Turkey regarding the violent suppression of protestors, the arbitrary detention of individuals on grounds such as participation in peaceful demonstrations, use of social media, provision of volunteer medical care to the wounded protestors, or exercise of legal representation or counsel, and the pre-emptive labelling of peaceful protestors as “terrorists” by members of the government. We consider the wave of arbitrary detentions, some of which remain incommunicado, as a serious violation of the constitutional right of citizens in a democratic country to express their grievances and opinions in a peaceful way. The real test of a democracy is not only how it builds consensus among a plurality of values, different opinions, and interests, but also, and more importantly, how it treats dissent.

As faculty of the New School, we condemn police brutality and ask that those responsible for giving the orders as well as those executing the orders for the use of excessive force be immediately brought to justice. We denounce in the strongest possible terms the making of threats and intimidations toward individuals who exercise or plan to exercise their right of civil disobedience and toward those who shelter protestors from pressured water, tear gas, and rubber bullets. We ask for an immediate end to the detention of individuals who have done nothing other than participate in peaceful demonstrations. We call upon the government to cease its polarizing and demonizing rhetoric and its resort to measures reminiscent of a “state of emergency” in which citizens are treated like enemies. We encourage the adoption of a conciliatory public discourse as well as the active promotion of measures that enhance democracy, both through the decrease of the 10 per cent national electoral threshold and the creation of new, local channels for direct participation.

We express our deepest condolences for the four citizens of Turkey who have lost their lives in the recent events and our sympathies for those who have lost their eyes, suffer broken limbs, and endure other serious injuries. We are saddened by the thousands of people who have reported human rights abuses and physical injuries, and we are worried about those who face legal persecution on the seriously dubitable charges of terrorism and organized crime. We trust that Turkey will emerge a better and more democratic country from this experience but see that such an outcome will be possible only if the current situation is considered to be an opportunity to affirm fundamental rights and liberties, the legitimacy of peaceful disagreement and organized dissent, and the illegitimacy of the deployment of arbitrary violence, detention, and intimidation tactics by the state upon its own people. We appeal to your office to support our call.

Best regards,

Faculty of the New School for Social Research
New York City, NY, USA

Signatures: Elaine Abelson, Zed Adams, Andrew Arato, Cinzia Arruzza, Banu Bargu, Tarak Barkawi, Jay M. Bernstein, Richard J. Bernstein, Omri Boehm, Chiara Bottici, Christopher Christian, Alice Crary, Simon Critchley, Stefania deKenessey, Oz Frankel, Nancy Fraser, Jeffrey Goldfarb, Orit Halpern, Lawrence A. Hirschfeld, Bill Hirst, Andreas Kalyvas, Paul Kottman, Benjamin Lee, Arien Mack, Elzbieta Matynia, Inessa Medzhibovskaya, William Milberg, Joan Miller, Dmitri Nikulin, Julia Ott, Timothy Pachirat, Ross Poole, Christian R. Proaño, Hugh Raffles, Janet Roitman, Lisa Rubin, Willi Semmler, Anwar Shaikh, Ann-Louise Shapiro, Rachel Sherman, Ann L. Stoler, Jenifer Tally, Miriam Ticktin, Kumaraswamy Velupillai, Ken Wark, Eli Zaretsky

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Speaking up against Erdogan's Violence

In the wake of the brutal evacuation of Gezi Park on PM Erdoğan’s orders, members of GIT working group continue to direct the spotlight on AKP government’s violent reaction to expressions of dissent. 

Jeffrey Gibbs debunks facile reports of Gezi Resistance and gives an account of the brutal police attack on June 15 in the Boston Review. Aslı Iğsız traces the connections between the repression of Gezi and Erdoğan government’s long-standing policies curtailing the freedoms of  students, faculty and academic institutions in her overview in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Below GIT North America also presents the English translation of the statement “Erdoğan’s Autocratic Vertigo” our colleagues in GIT France published in Libération.

Erdoğan’s Autocratic Vertigo

The night of June 15, 2013, when the police showed a raging violence against the many peaceful demonstrators in Istanbul, will go down in Turkey’s history as a tragic tipping point. The repeated scenes of tear gas clouds, thousands injured and numerous arrests, have now been added to recent law violations that would not be tolerated in a state of war: the bombardment of gas in enclosed spaces, such as private apartments and tourist hotels; hospitals and mobile medical centers attacked, in addition to injured and arrested doctors; journalists harassed; and many reported cases of skin burns following the use of chemical agents in water cannons.

Along with this massive and systematic state violence, peaceful demonstrations were threatened by armed supporters of the AKP party who engaged in street-fighting, thereby establishing an atmosphere of civil war in the most central districts of Istanbul. And yet, for 19 days, Gezi Park showed a remarkable experience of democracy where civil society was present in all its variety: organizations of architects and planners who were early opposers of the devastating urban politics of Prime Minister Erdoğan and the mayor of Istanbul rubbed shoulders with student associations, feminists, as well as working class people in the neighborhoods threatened with destruction. It is false to claim, as some press correspondents have done, that this large, unprecedented response by such a multitude of people is only a revolt of Kemalist and extreme nationalist groups, despite the fact that numerous opposition groups joined the cause.

Rather than hearing the citizens’ protest – a plea to participate in decisions regarding their space and way of life and a rejection of the government’s increasingly authoritarian way of ruling – Erdogan chose to disregard them and to force their hand. Since its last term, the AKP has continued to attack the scope of individual and social freedoms, and the Prime Minister has preferred to engage in provocation by calling the protesters thugs, drunks and terrorists. However, the civil society has established for weeks its indignation at the recurring violations of its rights: Gezi Park was the breaking point after a long period during which the citizens of Turkey have felt ignored, scorned and attacked by the current government with its Prime Minister at the head. Political demonstrations, especially the celebration of May 1st, were prohibited in Taksim Square under the pretext of renovation work, mass arrests have been carried out in order to criminalize any kind of opposition, the Uludere and Reyhanlı massacres have not been elucidated, major civil rights have been questioned (including the right to abortion), multiple damage to the environment, culture and diversity of lifestyle choices have created an atmosphere of legitimate indignation.

In a rejection of this climate of repression, the citizens of Turkey, unarmed, came out massively in the streets and confronted armored police. In response to the government’s reaction to this event, we ask: How does one legitimize a government who has launched in a period of two weeks more than 150,000 gas grenades on its own people, injuring more than 5,000 of them and killing at least three, and who is now stating that any demonstrator found in the Taksim Square will be held as a terrorist - as announced by Mr Egemen Bağış, Minister for European Affairs? How is a government legitimate with a new bill proposing to extend the scope of the secret services who are already authorized to make arrests without court approval, while the same government boasted about having removed the army’s security privileges? How does one continue to accept as a legitimate partner a government that openly declares that it no longer recognizes the decisions of the European Parliament and no longer complies with the international treaties it has signed? What kind of democracy exists in a country where the media are forced into silence – where journalists are fired or driven to self-censorship for fear of losing their jobs, and the Turkish people are forced to watch international news channels to monitor events taking place in their own country? In what lawful country do the police arrest lawyers protesting peacefully inside the courthouse and take into custody doctors treating men and women injured in clashes with the police? What legitimacy can this government still have when on Sunday, June 16, it prevents by extreme force the gathering of protesters in Taksim, while the mayor of Istanbul massively mobilizes free transport to get AKP supporters to the meeting of their leader?

Because of Erdoğan’s paranoia, where he sees foreign spies and international conspiracies wherever his people peacefully defend their rights (for example: the claim that beer vendors, Erasmus students, “International Finance”, the “Jewish lobby” and the Western media disseminating information on police violence, are all responsible for organizing the protests of hundreds of thousands of people) – the international community must act now. The government of Prime Minister Erdoğan loses legitimacy in every manifestation of police violence and in every violation of international conventions or treaties. All friends of a free and democratic Turkey must work alongside this country’s civil society so that Erdoğan’s vertiginous autocracy does not create another dictatorship in the Middle East.

Deniz Akagul, maître de conférences à l’Université de Lille ; Salih Akın, maître de conférences à l’Université de Rouen ; Samim Akgönül, maître de conférences à l’Université de Strasbourg ; Marc Aymes, chargé de cherchées au CNRS ; Faruk Bilici, professeur à l’INALCO ; Isabelle Backouche, maître de conférences à l’EHESS ; Hamit Bozarslan, directeur d’études à l’EHESS ; Etienne Copeaux, historien de Turquie ; Dominique Colas, professeur à l’IEP de Paris ; Pierre Dardot, philosophe ; Yves Déloye, professeur à l’Université Paris 1 ; Vincent Duclert, chercheur à l’EHESS (CESPRA) ; François Georgeon, directeur de recherches au CNRS ; Béatrice Giblin, professeure à l’Université Paris 8 ; Diana Gonzalez, enseignante au Science-Po Paris ; Ragip Ege, professeur à l’Université de Strasbourg ; Jean-Louis Fabiani, directeur d’études à l’EHESS ; Dalita Hacyan, maître de conférences à l’Université de Paris 1 ; Yasemin Inceoğlu, professeure à l’Université de Galatasaray; Christian Laval, professeur à l’Université Paris Ouest Nanterre ;  Monique de Saint-Martin, directrice d’études à l’EHESS ; Emine Sarikartal, éditrice ; Nora Seni, professeur à l’Université Paris 8 ; Hélène Piralian, psychanalyste ; Alican Tayla, chercheur à l’IRIS ; Ferhat Taylan, directeur de programme au CIPH ; Sezin Topçu, chargée de recherche au CNRS ; Murat Yıldızoğlu, professeur à l’Université de Bordeaux.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Letter of Complaint Regarding Hate Speech and Racist Behavior by Ahmet Atan, Yildiz Technical University, Chair of the Arts Department*

Dear Madam/Sir, 

We are writing to report the unacceptable racist behavior shown by Ahmet Atan,** who, according to his own website, is the president of the Turkey chapter of the World’s Academy of Arts “New Era.”  We are a group of academics and scientists in the United States who research, work, and critically engage with issues regarding  freedom of academic and journalistic research in Turkey and the liberties of association and publishing thereof. 

On June 16, 2013, Mr. Atan sent three tweets via his twitter account, of which a screen capture has been taken.
In the third tweet, which he proceeded to delete later on, he states: 

"If you are Jewish, Armenian or Greek, I would understand your active participation in the Gezi Park protests. Please research your racial genealogy."

According to another website, http://dunyasanatlarakademisiturkiye.blogspot.de/, it appears that, besides representing your academy in Turkey, Mr. Atan was also awarded the "Artist of the Year 2013" by your institution.

Please pursue this case as you see fit. We also kindly request that you keep us informed of your actions regarding the racist comments of your member and conferee. We are hoping that the World’s Academy of Arts “New Era,” in accordance with its Statute of Titles 4.3, in case "an Academy’s conferee commits an act (or shows inaction) that discredits the Academy’s reputation," will denounce this kind of behavior, and make a public declaration of Mr. Atan’s exclusion from membership.

We are looking forward to hearing from you on this matter by July 01, 2013. In case the deadline passes with no veritable action on your part, we feel that it is our responsibility to inform the Jewish, Armenian and Greek communities in Turkey and other Art Academies globally about Mr. Atan's unacceptable behavior and your condoning inaction hereto.

Thank you in advance for your inquiries in this matter. Kind regards,

GIT- North America, 
Transnational Work Group on Academic Liberty and Freedom of Research in Turkey

*GIT-NA would like to thank friends who have brought this matter into our attention. We have sent an electronic mail with the above content to the World’s Academy of Arts “New Era," and we urge our readers to follow suit. They can be reached at info@artnewera.com
**There is also an important petition calling for Ahmet Atan's disposition from the faculty.