Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Day that Academic Liberty Sank in Gallipoli

(This post is GIT - North America's translation of the news piece published in the daily Radikal on 04/22/2013. More, in Turkish, can be found here and here. Her statement, also in Turkish, can be read here.)

Mukaddes Akdeniz had, for a while, been teaching "Life Skills and Social Activities" at Tekirdag Namik Kemal University's Department of Chemistry. Two years ago, on December 30, 2011, when a student, M.C., during a presentation on the Battle of Gallipoli, claimed that "the imams and saints won the battle with their frocks," Akdeniz objected to this claim on the basis that "it is not scientific." Another student gave a presentation on [the renowned Ottoman Empire architect] Mimar Sinan. Yet another student, during his/her presentation on the history of Tekirdag, said that the Armenian, Greek-Orthodox and Jewish populations of the city were all gone now. Following this presentation Akdeniz lamented that "we could not protect our cultural heritage" and recounted the story of a friend of hers who, after denigrating Armenians for years, had found out during his/her grandmother's funeral that she was actually of Armenian descent. The class ended thus; and yet, the "trial" of Akdeniz was only beginning. 

M.C., who had presented on the Battle of Gallipoli, submitted a letter to the Dean on January 4, 2012, with the complaint that he/she had received a failing grade. According to M.C., Akdeniz had stated that there "is no other battle as nonsensical as the Gallipoli," had defended the Armenians and imposed her own views on the class. "Me and the rest of the class, we all learned that day that our teacher's family is of Armenian origin" said M.C. Another student, E.G., claimed that "these comments were belittling the Battle of Gallipoli, a source of pride for our nation, and were detrimental to the unity of the nation." A.K., another student of Akdeniz's said: "I find it disturbing that, in class, she imposes on us feminism and topics of political content."

On April 9th, Akdeniz encountered in the papers the news that she had allegedly insulted Gallipoli veterans, and had stated: "Do not fool yourselves with this rubbish. The real war is Kurdish people's war for independence." Following these, Tekirdag Anti-Terrorism Bureau heard the testimony of twelve students. The students claimed that Akdeniz had maintained "Armenians were the first to offer help following the earthquake in Van," and that she was "teary-eyed when talking about her friend's relationship to her Armenian identity, as if she was talking about herself." However, they reported that she had not stated "The real war is Kurdish people's war for independence," and that she might have rather said "The real issue is our struggle for independence." All of the students spoke of how "she had not engaged in any propaganda about any political ideology or terrorist organization" but that she had mentioned "the poor administration by the government, lack of justice, women's oppression and income inequality."

Regardless, the police report claims that Akdeniz had used the term “worthless” in regards to the Battle of Gallipoli, that she had stated “I am from the city of Kars, but I am of Armenian descent,” had praised the student presentation on Mimar Sinan by saying “Thank you for preparing slides that illustrate the problems of Armenians,” and had stated “Not only Turkish people live in this country, Armenians and Kurds live here, too. You cannot ignore them.” As a result, the report claimed that Akdeniz “might incite animosity and hostility by engaging in propaganda against the State, and could thus endanger public safety by igniting potential conflict.” In addition, the report asserted that she had spread PKK propaganda via the expression “The real issue is our struggle for independence.” The police report also stated that Akdeniz is being investigated for allegedly spreading PKK propaganda because she had attended the Nevruz celebrations in the city of Çorlu in 2010. Her case has been sent to Istanbul Public Prosecutor's office in charge of TMK (Turkish Civil Code) 10. 

The Office of the President of Namık Kemal University took action in accordance with the police. They started an investigation claiming that [Akdeniz] “strayed away from the syllabus, and expressed personal statements disparaging the state, derogating national and moral values and aiming to promote certain ethic groups” and that [she] “forged attendance sheets for the three weeks that she was absent.” According to the claims [of the university], she had rescheduled one class, the following week she could not make it due to the news of her parents’ cancer, and the week after that she returned to find an empty class. However, it is said, she collected course payments as usual. The Office of the President concluded their investigation with the suggestion that she be laid off, claiming that she “had unaccounted extra income.” The judicial clerk for the Disciplinary Committee of the Board of Higher Education, Beril Dedeoğlu, in her statement dated 28 February 2003, suggested that the punishment should be approved, but, that due to Akdeniz's good standing, it should be deemed as “supposition of retirement from office.” The Board of Higher Education affirmed this claim and dismissed Akdeniz from profession.