MESOP SPECIAL : Pro-AKP Media Figures Continue to Target Academics for Peace / THE PKK & THE LIBERTY OF SPEECH

27 Mar 2016 – GIT – Transnational Work Group on Academic Liberty and Freedom of Research in Turkey

On 22 March 2016, Yıldıray Oğur, a pro-government media figure, wrote a column targeting the Academics for Peace, Bosphorus/Boğaziçi University, the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), and Jadaliyya, among others. The piece problematically conflates terrorism with Academics for Peace, and blatantly implicates that signatory academics manipulate facts. Unfortunately, the author appears to obscure the fact that after the Suruç bombing on 20 July 2015, the ruling party AKP, together with Turkish nationalist party MHP, blocked a parliamentary investigation on the ISIS-led suicide bombing in Suruç.

Instead of investigating ISIS at length, the government started bombing PKK camps, thus ending the peace process. The 32 youth killed on 20 July 2015 were pro-Kurdish activists who were getting ready to cross the Syrian border to plant trees as a symbolic act for peace and to bring humanitarian aid (toys, food) to Kobane–where Kurds fought against ISIS. Had the government shown the same diligence with the ISIS cell responsible for the Suruç bombing and not blocked a parliamentary investigation, could the bloody Ankara bombing that cost 102 lives in October 2015 be prevented? (The Ankara bombing had targeted a pro-Kurdish peace rally organized by labor unions and professional organizations, including the Turkish Medical Association.) This is a legitimate question as it turned out the same ISIS cell was responsible for both Suruç and Ankara bombings.

In the current Turkish context where bureaucratic transparency has dramatically eroded, a parliamentary investigation could have meant some sort of transparency; the investigation findings would likely go on the public record. Currently, the public is cut off even from the opportunity to follow any such violent attack (i.e., suicide bombing) on the media, for the government officials are quick to bring a public ban on media coverage of the bombings, or suspend access to some websites and social media. This has been a general trend so far with some variations in application.

Calling one’s government for accountability for the escalated violence and the prolonged bans to go out in the street (mistakenly called “curfews”–as they last months without any possibility of going to search for food, water, or medical aid including at night) that cost civilian lives in the Kurdish regions would a predictable outcome in a democratic country. In a democracy, a government would be accountable for and to its citizens. And the citizens have the right to critique the government’s policies and demand transparency. But to pro-government media figures, exercising the right to freedom of expression and assembly appears to be a sign of propagandizing terrorism. It is indeed important to remember that this is what the court record finds the three imprisoned academics guilty of: that they signed a petition which only criticized their own government and not the PKK.

One thing is certain: the advocacy of conspiracy theories and the criminalization of a petition are in fact the criminalization of the right to expression and assembly and amounts to a practice of thought police.


Further, in the below piece, Yıldıray Oğur disingenuously insinuates that MESA’s letters are the result of a conspiracy, dismissing the fact that MESA in itself has members who study Turkey or other countries in the Middle East, and who are perfectly capable to read, listen and judge the situation for themselves. In addition, in an environment where academics are placed in high-security prisons, searched naked, and are put in solitary confinement simply for having signed a petition and for having called for peace, such professional support is a demand for justice for one’s colleagues, and not an evidence of conspiracy.

The readers might ask why this blog gave such space to a clearly polemical newspaper column. Unfortunately, it is because such conspiracy-theory articles might be considered as grounds for prosecution in Turkey. Indeed, as we have already mentioned in an earlier post, a similarly conspiratorial and problematic article was accepted as criminal complaint by the Istanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office, which eventually led to the arrest warrant of the three academics who are now in prison and placed under solitary confinement.

The piece is below.

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