They signed a petition one day and their whole lives were changed… A year ago now, and almost six months after Turkey was driven in a full-scale war with the Kurdish militia—a war which has broken the peace process and which will apparently have a deep impact in the flow of the history of the country and the whole region—an independent platform of academics started a campaign with a petition titled “We will not be a party to this crime” and demanded the Turkish government stop the war. Those were the days when the army imposed curfews in various Kurdish cities and heavy fighting between government forces and PKK-aligned youth groups took place.
Over one thousand academics who had signed the petition were immediately addressed by President Erdoğan who blamed them for supporting terrorism. Some of them were dismissed from their jobs in universities, some were put on trial, and some even imprisoned for a while. Their cases continued.
As time passed, the war left cities demolished and nearly one thousand dead among the security forces, the Kurdish militia, and the civilian population. The coup attempt on July 15 and the following state of emergency have significantly and rapidly deteriorated the political atmosphere in the country.
And of course, in these state of affairs, the “Academics for Peace” were neither forgotten nor forgiven and were as well affected by the purges that followed the coup attempt. While around 4,000 people lost their jobs in academia, at least 200 of them were from the group of signatories.
Ironically enough, most of them are leftwing intellectuals, who had been critical of the Gülen movement, since the days when it was engaged in a coalition with the ruling AKP and Erdoğan.
Some of those dismissed have left to Europe. According to a report from late November, the number of those in Germany are between 100-150. Another recent report points to the sad fact that in the last fall, the German Philipp Schwartz Initiative—a scholarship for academicians under threat—received more applications from Turkey than Syria or any other country.
Many others remain in Turkey either because their passports were revoked or because they preferred to stay. And they are struggling to keep the hopes for a democratic Turkey alive. One of the ideas to realize this are the “Solidarity Academies.” Until now four of such academies have been founded in the provinces of Kocaeli, Izmir, Ankara, and Mersin. Academicians use these independent platforms to organize public lectures on significant issues Turkey is currently facing and which find less and less space in the curricula.
Faruk Alpkaya, who was a political scientist at Ankara University until he was dismissed with the last decree, sees the current developments as “the total annihilation of the 150 year old modernization process [of Turkey].” Alpkaya concludes that it is a necessity “to build big solidarity networks to be able to defend life, even our humble daily lives.”
The coming days and months will show what space still exists for such critical academicians and their views on democracy in the new Turkey.