‘Witch-hunt’ against academics continues following attempted Turkey coup

Political pressure on scholars is mounting, writes Cem Oyvat

August 11, 2016
Young man pinned down on floor being arrested
Source: PA

Last week, the Marxist historian Candan Badem of Tunceli University was taken into custody, accused of involvement in the attempted military coup in Turkey. A book by Fethullah Gulen that was found in his office was used as evidence linking Badem with the Gulen movement, which the Turkish president has accused of being behind the attempted coup. Although Badem was released the next day, he is reportedly still under judicial control

Badem was also a signatory of Academics for Peace – a petition signed by about 2,000 academics calling for an end to the Turkish state’s human rights violations in the Kurdish provinces and a resumption of peace negotiations with the Kurdish political movement. After the attempted coup, Tunceli University suspended Badem along with another academic, Veysel Demir, for signing the petition. Two days later, Badem was arrested for his supposed association with the Islamist Gulen movement. 

Arresting academics for the books that they read is already alarming for academic freedom in Turkey. Furthermore, Badem has a political background that is entirely contrary to the Islamist Gulen movement, as he is a self-proclaimed atheist and Marxist. In May 2014, he denounced one of Gulen’s books in a tweet.

As mentioned by Badem’s lawyer, Hüseyin Aygün, Badem was reading Gulen’s book for the purpose of “understanding the Gulen movement better and criticising Fethullah Gulen from his perspective”. 

Other stories also reflect that the investigations into the Gulen movement have quickly turned into a witch-hunt. Lights High School in Antalya was, according to reports, shut because its name resembled the term used for Gulen’s dorm-type residences, “Houses of Light”. Later, it was recognised that the high school’s name comes from “Lights Street”, where the high school is located. The school has now reopened.

Sultan Aktaş, a high school teacher, was suspended for taking a housing credit from Bank Asya, a bank that is associated with the Gulen movement. Aktaş was a member of leftist teachers’ union Eğitim-Sen, which has highly controversial views on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Gulen. In these incidents, it seems that the Turkish police first arrested people based on very weak evidence, and those who have been arrested must then struggle to prove that they were not connected with the Gulen movement and/or the attempted coup. 

On 23 July, the Higher Education Board in Turkey shut 15 private universities. There were 56,703 students and 2,808 academics at the affected universities. It is true that some of these universities were known to have connections with Gulenists, however, academics with a variety of political views were working in these universities. Indeed, seven academics working in the universities were also signatories of Academics for Peace.

As a part of investigations into the attempted coup, 136 members of Eğitim-Sen were also suspended. Eğitim-Sen is a union that has continuously opposed the Gulen movement during the period when it was on good terms with Erdoğan. Eğitim-Sen repeatedly criticised the Gulenists’ rising influence in the state bureaucracy, the judicial system, the media and universities and their dominance in student accommodation during the Erdoğan era.

In summary, the scope of the witch-hunt in Turkey is rapidly enlarging and it affects a wide group of academics and teachers with controversial views. Solidarity between academics in the world is essential for stopping the suppression of academics in Turkey and restoring freedom of speech.

Cem Oyvat is a lecturer in economics in the department of international business and economics at the University of Greenwich.

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