|Erol Akçay, Assistant Professor of Biology. Photo from Evrensel.|
On 2 April 2016, Turkish American Scientists & Scholars Association (TASSA) awarded Erol Akçay, Assistant Professor of Biology at the University of Pennsylvania, the first prize of "TASSA Young Scholar Awards." The award was given during the annual TASSA Conference. The theme of this year is "Science and Society" and the guests included Fikri Işık, Minister of Science, Industry and Technology of Turkey, as well as Abdullah Çavuşoğlu, member of the Turkish Council of Higher Education (YÖK).
YÖK is originally founded by the military government in an attempt to control, regulate and end the autonomy of universities after the 1980 military coup. As a recent letter by the Middle East Studies Association has noted, rather than curtailing YÖK's power, the civilian government of AKP has increased its powers and further enabled its tight grip over the higher education. More recently, YÖK has also been instrumental in pressurizing universities to open investigations against the signatories of the Peace Petition.
At the TASSA ceremony, Erol Akçay dedicated his award to those academics who are imprisoned and whose academic positions have been suspended or terminated. According to the news report by Evrensel, this dedication disturbed the YÖK member Abdullah Çavuşoğlu who was present in the TASSA Conference at the University of Chicago. Çavuşoğlu reportedly asked Erol Akçay whether it is customary in the U.S. to dedicate academic awards to those "who support terrorists." Erol Akçay replied that the incarcerated academics are not in prison because they support terrorists, but because they asked for peace. "They are in prison for having exercised their freedom freedom of expression," he asserted.
In addition to Esra Mungan, Kıvanç Ersoy, and Muzaffer Kaya who were arrested and sent to prison on March 15th, academic Meral Camcı was also imprisoned following her return to Turkey on March 31st.