Turks cite Islamic threat and sack 53

February 18, 2000

Turkish universities have sacked 53 academics in the largest purge of staff by the country's ruling higher education authority in recent years.

The expulsions were carried out by the authority's national disciplinary body after the staff were found guilty of seeking to undermine the secular state.

Kemal Guruz, head of the authority, told The THES: "We have to remain vigilant against threats to the secular state in Turkey, just as the European Union is vigilant over democracy in Austria."

The expulsions, centred on Turkey's provincial universities, followed an investigation into staff that included senior professors as well as research assistants. Many of those dismissed were teaching a course on Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the 77- year-old secular Turkish state. The compulsory course aims to enforce the principles of secularism.

According to investigators, many of those dismissed were linked to radical Islamic sects. They claimed that those teaching the course were attacking the secular state and supporting its replacement with Islamic rule.

Dr Guruz said: "They will destroy tolerance and free thinking in our universities. If someone is trying to overthrow the state, they have to be stopped. This is not a question of stopping free thinking but protecting it, they broke our codes of conduct and the law." He added that investigations are continuing.

Guvey Mert, professor of modern history at Istanbul's Technical University, said academic work was inevitably affected: "You not only have to think twice about what you write but three or four times. You have to be so careful, or you will be accused of threatening the secular state and wanting to replace it with religious rule."

Turkey's Islamic movement faces a backlash fuelled by news of alleged atrocities by a radical Islamic group. So far the police have recovered more than 70 bodies. The final death toll could exceed 100.

The university authority refused to say whether the dismissed academics were connected to the extremists, but it confirmed that some were linked to radical Islamic groups.

The authority has reinforced a ban on female students covering their heads with headscarves to show their religious affiliations. Several female teaching staff who covered their heads were among those dismissed.

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