Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Young Academics' Statement makes media waves on the internet

A group of young academics from Turkey released a video Sunday afternoon (February 19), transforming their successful petition campaign into a visual format for the global public opinion in response to the statements of the Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan about raising a religious youth. As of this morning (February 22), the video has been watched more than 85,000 times!

Closing their petition campaign with a press conference on Monday, Nevzat Evrim Önal, Assistant Professor of Economics at the Beykoz Vocational College for Logistics, read a press release that was prepared collectively by the group. The press release summarized Erdoğan's statements from February 1 and 6, declaring his intentions to raise a "religious and conservative" youth, targeting atheists, and implying that if someone is not raised religiously, s/he might become addicted to paint thinner -- a reference to socio-economically disadvantaged (and mostly homeless) children who spend their lives on streets to make a living.

The press release then summarized the process by which a group of young academics got together over the internet, produced a statement, which was then posted on a blog for signatures on February 8. This statement, which drew attention, among other things, to the discriminatory nature of Erdoğan's remarks, the explosive potential of targeting atheists, the socio-economic problems that create thinner addiction among poor children, and the atmosphere of fear that has been created in Turkey by the AKP government, received national as well as international attention, receiving wide coverage in media and a good deal of support by more than 3,000 signatories.

The young academics' press release touched upon the journalists in Turkish jails, the Interior Minister's remarks that declared art and authorship as terrorist activities, and the fear about speaking up that the AKP government is creating in Turkey. Yet, the young academics emphasized, it is their responsibility to speak up because "[being] human is a responsibility."

The press release also reminded the Prime Minister of the European Court of Human Rights' 2007 decision that declared compulsory religious education in schools illegal according to the European Convention on Human Rights (you can read the full text of the press release in Turkish here).

After Dr. Önal read the press release, several individual signatories of the statement by the young academics made remarks about why they signed it. Zelal Özgül from Marmara University noted that the assumption that a non-religious youth is a dark one is itself a very dark idea. Alper Dizdar from Istanbul University reminded the audience of the problems faced by the Turkish Academy of Sciences (some of which was covered by GIT - North America earlier). Two GIT - North America members who are on research leave in Turkey were also present at the press conference. Erdem Çıpa from Michigan University shared his observations about the Turkish graduate students who receive governmental fellowships to support their education in the US. He noted that while students who are critical of the government face difficulties, those who are supporters of the government have much easier access to funds and job opportunities in Turkey. Baki Tezcan from University of California, Davis, stated that if science and education programs are planned with religious objectives in mind, they are doomed to fail as the history of science in the pre-modern Islamic world demonstrates.

The video of the young academics received coverage in various internet media outlets in Turkey and became a special on the internet edition of the daily Radikal on Sunday, becoming the second-most commented upon news item. The daily Evrensel carried the press conference to the upper right corner of its front page (see the photo on this page). The press conference was also covered by soL Portal. You can support these young academics from Turkey by watching their video on You Tube and sharing it with your colleagues and friends.