by Simten Coşar
- What is Academics for Peace?
Academics for Peace is a group of academics, mainly concerned with the escalation of the conflict between the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) and the PKK in Eastern Turkey, and in the scale of violence against civilian population in the region that has always been part of the same conflict. The group was formed by the pro-peace academics in 2012.
- What is the Peace Declaration?
The Peace Declaration was a statement by the Academics for Peace against the escalation of violence against the Kurdish civilians in the Eastern part of Turkey, due to the rising tension in the conflict between the TAF and the PKK from July 2015 onwards. The Academics for Peace targeted to raise public awareness by directly calling on the Turkish government to take initiative to end the violence. The Declaration, entitled “We Will Not Be A Party To This Crime” (Bu Suça Ortak Olmayacağız) was opened for signature among the academics at national and international levels, and received widespread support at both levels. It was signed by 1128 academics worldwide.
- What is the significance of January 11, 2016 as a date?
The Peace Declaration was shared with the general public through a press conference on January 11, 2016. From this date on rights violations against signatories have begun.
As of September 24, 2016, rights violations against “Academics for Peace” employed in private and public universities are listed below:
|Disciplinary investigations. Decision of the Investigation Committee: Dismissal from public service. Pending CoHE (YÖK) approval.
|Suspension from administrative duty
|* Among Peace Petition signatories, 44 faculty members are removed and banned from public service. 1 PhD student who held teaching positions within the Ministry of National Education is suspended from public service. Also, at least 63 PhD students within the Faculty Training Program suffer from rights violations due to changes in the program by government decrees.
** 3 academics had to stay in pre-trial detention for 40 days and 1 for 22 days until they were released after the first court hearing.
- So, were the signatories limited to the original group of the Academics for Peace?
Certainly not! The original group of the Academics for Peace was composed of about 200 academics in Turkey. As of January 11, 2016, 1128 academics signed the Peace Declaration. From then on the rapid and persistent governmental measures taken against the signatories blurred the boundaries of the group. But in the general and widest sense all the signatories are now referred to as the Academics for Peace or as the academics asking for peace in the country.
- Was there any withdrawal from the Peace Declaration?
Of course there were withdrawals due to the immediate and ever-increasing violation of rights of the academics after the Peace Declaration went public. Some signatories could not stand the rapid and rather harsh pressures by their universities; some could not stand the threats to their lives both on the campuses and in any sphere of their everyday life.
- So what is the exact up-to-date number of the signatory academics?
Despite the withdrawals of signatures and never-ending and ever-increasing pressures, harassments, assaults on the signatory academics the number of the academics who signed the Peace Declaration increased to 2212 by the end of January 2016.
- So, is there an organization, which might be said to represent the academics, who signed the Peace Declaration?
No, there is no organization, which might be said to represent the academics, who signed the Peace Declaration.
- Are the academics, who signed the Peace Declaration support any terrorist organizations?
No, the academics, who signed the Peace Declaration do not support any terrorist organization.
- So, are the academics, who signed the Peace Declaration pushed to deal with and encounter the violation of academic rights and freedom on an individual basis?
No, the academics, who signed the Peace Declaration do not have to encounter and endure the violation of academic rights and freedom on an individual basis. They are supported by the Education Union Workers (EĞİTİMSEN), as well as some other academic and/or research organizations at national and international levels.
- The supports at the national level are for the time being extended mainly in legal and financial terms—certainly insufficient, considering the persistent dismissals, suspensions and bans from public duty.
- The supports at the international level are basically through Scholars At Risk (SAR) and Scholar Rescue Fund (SRF), as well as through individual efforts of universities abroad for temporary research and teaching positions. Moreover, many international academic and human rights organizations, including but not limited to the Middle East Studies Association, European Association for Middle East Studies, International Association for Media and Communication Research, International Association for Feminist Economics, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, European Trade Union Committee for Education have expressed their support to the Academics for Peace through press releases. More information about international support can be found here: http://internationalsolidarity4academic.tumblr.com/
- Are the academics, who signed the Peace Declaration PKK sympathizers?
No, the academics, who signed the Peace Declaration cannot be categorized as PKK sympathizers.
- Are the academics, who signed the Peace Declaration sympathizers/followers and/or members of the (Fethullah) Gülen movement?
No, the academics, who signed the Peace Declaration are not sympathizers/followers and/or members of the (Fethullah) Gülen movement.
- Is there any political stance that might define the academics, who signed the Peace Declaration?
The only common political stance that the academics, who signed the Peace Declaration share is that they opt for peace in Turkey. Otherwise, they differ in terms of their political stance extending from leftists, to feminists, and to liberal-democrats. But the leftists and feminists make up the majority of the signatory academics.
- What can be done?
A lot can be done.
Some possible forms of support are listed by Chad Kautzer here:
- Investigate whether your institution can temporarily host or hire an academic currently at risk in Turkey. Some institutions do this directly and some work with third-party organizations, such as Scholars at Risk [https://www.scholarsatrisk.org]. Your institution can also become a member of the Scholars at Risk Network, supporting their work through annual membership dues.
- Review any academic or financial relations between your institution and academic institutions in Turkey. These might include joint research projects, grants, or faculty and student exchanges. Such relations can be used as leverage to pressure institutions in Turkey to respect academic freedom.
- Use the resources of your institution and the public platforms available to you to disseminate knowledge about the plight of academics in Turkey. This could involve, for example, organizing talks, exhibitions, and press conferences, or producing films and publications.
- Organize and participate in political actions and lobbying campaigns directed at Turkish officials and/or officials in your own government. This might be a protest at the Turkish Embassy, making phone calls, or something more creative. Academics for Peace, for example, has a campaign [https://docs.google.com/document/d/1lnv0iMroEBU-RTkskvy-8R1Yla_FdLYxfVVHIfd2Mg/edit] to send letters to university rectors in Turkey, asking them to reinstate academics fired for political reasons. It is particularly important to lobby officials in the United States and European Union member states, given their deep ties to the Turkish government.
- Connect with others (both individuals and organizations) who care about this issue, so you can stay informed and motivated. Scholars at Risk, Amnesty International, and the Middle East Studies Association, to name just a few, have email alerts. Like Facebook pages that disseminate news about academics in Turkey and information about actions to support them, such as those of Research Institute on Turkey (RIT) [https://www.facebook.com/ResearchInstituteOnTurkey/?fref=ts] and International Solidarity with Academics in Turkey (ISAT) [https://www.facebook.com/International-Solidarity-with-Academics-in-Turkey-ISAT-1120304684703566/?pnref=story], which I recently created. ISAT also has an email list you can subscribe to by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Ask your college, university, professional organization, or union to publish a statement supporting academics in Turkey and send it to officials in Turkey and in your own government.
Here is a letter from the Middle East Studies Association [http://mesana.org/about/board-lettersstatements.html#TurkishHigherEducation] that was endorsed by over 40 professional organizations. You can also create petitions and open letters for others to sign, as with this open letter to U.S. officials [https://goo.gl/N9XwBB] and this international petition [http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/the-purge-of-academic-institutions-in-Turkey] addressed to Turkish officials.
- Sign the petitions and open letters. Although this is the easiest action to take, it is still important. These petitions and letters can: (a) communicate the depth and breadth of support to media outlets and government officials, (b) encourage academics in Turkey, and (c) serve as organizing tools to build political networks that facilitate future actions.
But new proposals are more than welcome!