By Fernando Lozano, 27 January 2018 PART 1
Mehmet Ugur is Professor of Economics and Institutions and member of Greenwich Political Economy Research Centre (GPERC) at the Department of International Business and Economics, University of Greenwich.
Ugur is not only an expert on economy but also he is an activist and human rights defender.
He is one of the Peace Petition signatories. At the end of 2015, the predominantly Kurdish regions of Turkey entered an intensifying spiral of violence. Curfews were enforced in different cities and districts lasting for days, weeks and even months. Entire neighborhoods were razed to the ground. People were left homeless, many lost their lives.
In the face of these developments, 1128 academics decided not to remain silent and issued a statement titled “We will not be a party to this crime!”.
It called on the government and the security forces to abide by domestic and international law and to return to the peace process that had been interrupted after the national elections of June 7, 2015.
After the petition was made public, the Academics for Peace were specifically targeted by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and subsequently turned into objects of hatred and defamation in the media.
Since then, they have been attacked and threatened and became subject to administrative and criminal investigations. Some were arrested and kept in prison for more than one month. Hundreds of them have been dismissed from their positions by order of the Council of Education and university administrations.
Under the state of emergency declared after the coup attempt of July 15, 2016, hundreds of Academics for Peace were removed from universities and banned from public service. Their passports have been invalidated hindering these academics from travelling abroad. In December 2017, judicial proceedings begin against the signatories, on the charge of “propaganda for a terrorist organization.”
Prof. Ugur answered Fernando Lozano’s questions. We are publishing his very interesting answers in series of interviews.
You have published a brief article on opendemocracy.net in which you express your disappointment with lack of reaction from UNESCO to the situation of Turkish hunger strikers Nuriye Gulmen and Semih Ozakca.
Can you tell us about what should international organizations like UNESCO, UN and ECHR do concerning the ongoing purge in Turkey especially for the academics?
Yes, I have. My argument was simple: UNESCO Recommendations concerning higher-education teaching personnel contain ample provisions for protecting academic freedom and freedom of expression. Also, fostering and maintaining intellectual solidarity is one of UNESCO’s aims.
Despite these commitments, the UNESCO has demonstrated a shameful failure in taking up the cases of the hunger-strikers, Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça, who had been dismissed from their jobs unlawfully and detained cruelly on the 75th day of their hunger strike. The hunger strikers had a simple demand: they wanted their jobs back!
The UNESCO has also ignored a widely-supported petition and two letters we submitted to them in support of the hunger strikers’ demand. These initiatives were organised by academics purged and persecuted by the Turkish government – the signatories of the Academics for Peace declaration living in the United Kingdom. UNESCO’s silence is particularly concerning in an age of rising authoritarianism and wide-spread attacks on education professionals in Turkey and beyond. It is also outrages because UNESCO officials did not even bother to reply to our letters despite the fact their salaries are funded by our taxes and the taxes paid by the hunger-strikers and their supporters globally.
Other international bodies such as the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Special Rapporteur fared much better. They documented the widespread violations of human rights and democratic freedoms in Turkey. However, their reports have remained largely ineffective in instigating political actions from ‘liberal’ European governments.
Worse still, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has handed down a string of decisions that made a mockery of the right of appeal from individuals in Turkey.
In August 2017, it rejected an application by solicitors of Ms Gülmen and Mr Özakça on the grounds that their detention on the 75th day of their hunger strike did not pose any health risk! It has also rejected applications by academics purged without due process on the grounds that the Turkish government has set up an inquiry commission to deal with their complaints. The same attitude revealed itself in the case of appeals by the Kurds under long-term curfews and bombardment by the Turkish army.
The applications by detained co-chairs of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) have not been rejected yet, but the ECHR is taking its time despite ample evidence that the Turkish judiciary is under strict control of the government and the latter is not heeding the rulings of its own constitutional court!
Lack of determination, perverse judicial rulings, and complicit appeasement by national governments have given emboldened the regime in Turkey to escalate its crackdown on dissent. Now we are faced with a situation where civil-society and political actors risking their lives and liberties for defending democracy and human rights are left to their own devices by the very institutions that they fund and support as international defenders of these values.
The large-scale violations of academic freedom and the purge of academics in Turkey are parts of a strategy of rolling back an essentially weak democracy and building a nationalist-religious dictatorial regime under the gaze of international organisations and national governments. Indeed European governments are singing democracy and human rights songs on the one hand but they are outbidding each other to sign lucrative arms and investment deals with the regime.
Let us bear in mind that the signatories of the Academics for Peace declaration have been targeted by Mr Erdogan because they rejected to be a party to state crimes committed against the Kurdish people. This rejection was considered as a serious challenge to the legitimacy of an emerging nationalist-religious political system that demands 100% obedience and servitude to authority – be it patriarchal or political.
Purged academics, particularly those targeted because of their criticism of the Turkish government’s hostility towards its own Kurdish people and its neighbours, expect and call upon the international community to stand for democracy and human rights. The rationale for this expectation can be summarised under three points.
- We are deeply concerned that European and international organisations that have risen out of the ashes of the World War II to defend democracy, human rights and peace are showing clear signs of dysfunctionality, which may lead to marginalisation over time. Clearly, the European institutions have been ineffective in forcing European governments to uphold democratic values at home and take a stance against rising authoritarianism in Europe and beyond.
- Progressive academics in Turkey are deeply concerned that civil society organisations and actors in support of democracy and human rights are left to their own devices in front of a dictatorial regime that the European governments failed to challenge in any effective way.
- Appeasement of the Turkish rulers since the Ottoman Empire have only led to repeated catastrophes, including the Armenian genocide, violent suppression of several Kurdish revolts, pogroms against non-Muslim communities, more than four decades of state-orchestrated violence against the Kurds and their supporters, and politicide (political genocide) against elected representatives of the Kurds at the national and local levels.
With this framework in mind, and given that Academics for Peace signatories have already paid a heavy price and are likely to pay even a higher price through prison sentences of up to seven-and-half years, I urge the European public, the European institutions and the European governments to:
- Take legal and political actions against the violations of international norms by the Turkish government;
- Declare the ongoing state of emergency as unlawful;
- Call on Turkey to seek a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish issue;
- Declare the purges of academics without due process and the ongoing trials as unlawful;
- Name and shame national governments or business organisations in Europe and beyond that sign arms/investment deals that jeopardise peace and justice in Turkey;
- Recognize the fact that the scale of the attack against academics in Turkey constitutes the most worrying emergency after the purges under the Nazi regime;
- Fund and call on higher education institutions to make special arrangements for enabling academics in exile to continue with their research and teaching activities; and
- Call on European and North American governments to make provisions for a special immigration status for academics whose passports are revoked by the Turkish government and/or those who cannot renew their visas because of the risks involved in travelling to Turkey for visa applications.