In November 2017, the Committee of Concerned Scientists, was invited to attend a hearing on the status of academics in Turkey by the Helsinki Commission. CCS submitted testimony for the written record at that time. Below is our testimony:November 15, 2017
November 15, 2017
Statement on Status of Academics and Scientists
Good morning distinguished members, Congressmen and women, and guests. The Committee of Concerned Scientists (“CCS”), has been working with scientists and academics in Turkey for a very long time. Since January 2016 requests for our assistance have increased dramatically from this country. Problems for this population, from Turkey, have escalated as they have been the target of the Erdoğan government’s recriminations for the most recent coup attempt.
The Committee of Concerned Scientists has been advocating for the human rights of scientists, physicians, engineers and academics since February 1974. Prior to that, many of our members were actively involved with the Russian Refusnik movement, which assisted scientists in communist countries get materials and information they needed; as well as helping them to get their work out of their respective countries and made available to the scientific world-at-large. Additionally, several of our Board members are Nobel Laureates. Currently, CCS works with scientists, academics, physicians and engineers whose human rights have been violated. At this point in time, Turkey is well on its way to making it to the top of the list of countries that are involved in human rights violations.
The current actions of the government of Turkey, in its sweeping purge of dissent, both real and imagined, is crippling the credibility and integrity of Turkey’s academic and scientific institutions, and doing real damage to the Turkish economy and the Turkish state. The May 2017 assault by bodyguards of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on peaceful protestors in Washington, D.C., demonstrates how Turkish repression has the potential to spill across borders, and the detention of scores of Turkish scholars who are either resident in, or citizens of, European countries or the United States demonstrates how Turkey’s continuing attack on academia is a significant threat to scholarship throughout the OSCE region.
The Committee on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) is uniquely positioned to make a difference, and we urge the Commission to make it a top priority to confront this challenge.
There was evidence of civil unrest in Turkey in January of 2016, when a Peace Petition was published accusing the Erdoğan government of carrying out heavy-handed operations against Turkey’s Kurdish population. It was signed by more than 1,000 academics. At that time, the existence of such a petition upset Erdoğan and the ruling AKP Party. The government began taking retribution against the academics who signed the petition. Hundreds of academics who signed the petition were either terminated from their positions at universities, or were detained when police raided their homes and/or offices.
Shortly thereafter, an attempted coup took place on July 15, 2016. Since that time the government has mounted a widespread purge in the name of security. On the night of the coup attempt, 234 persons were killed and more than 2,000 were injured. Erdoğan was away from the seat of government at that time but was informed, and mounted a defense, ultimately thwarting the coup attempt.
The government then declared a state of emergency, suspended the rule of law (which continues to this day – over a year later) and blamed the coup on Fethullah Gülen, who earlier had been Erdogan’s ally. The relationship has deteriorated into an extremely contentious one, causing Gülen to retreat from Turkey and live in exile in the United States. (Gülen continues to deny any involvement in this coup attempt.) It appears that the academics and scientists who signed the Peace Petition back in January have been lumped into the class of those considered against the state, and therefore, “terrorists” or supporters of terrorists.
As of August 2017, 50,000 people have been arrested, and 150,000 have lost their jobs or been suspended. Of those, 7,500 are academics and college administrators, with 60,000 students being displaced. Hundreds have been arrested and jailed, awaiting outcomes of lengthy investigations and trials. Many have been charged and released while awaiting trial. Under these circumstances, those released have had to relinquish their passports, making it impossible for them to leave the country.
To add to their problems, when they apply for new jobs employers are notified that they were terminated by decree, so nobody is willing to hire them. In addition, they are banned from civil service positions. Supporting themselves and their families has become difficult to impossible. The Executive Director of Scholars at Risk, Robert Quinn, has noted that these actions against higher education institutions, scholars, staff and students strongly suggest retaliation for the non-violent exercise of academic freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of association. This is especially true of actions against individuals based solely on their public endorsement of the Academics for Peace petition or their alleged affinity for the so-called Gulenist movement.
PROBLEMS FOR ACADEMICS/SCIENTISTS:
* Loss of jobs
* Loss of tenure
* Loss of freedom
* Criminal charges
* Inability to Pursue Studies
* Inability to Provide for Self/Family
* Inability to Leave Country – Jailed within country borders or passport seized
* Inability to Enter Country
* Missing family events (weddings, graduations, births, funerals,
* Long periods of detention
* Long periods awaiting trials* Labeled as traitors and
* Names end up on decree lists, virtually ending life as once
* Growing number of classes and courses without instructors
Prominent Cases of Scientists/Academics Impacted:
A professor of Sociology from Gediz University and a founder of Turkey’s branch of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, Istar Gozaydin was detained and arrested in December 2016 on vague terrorism-related charges. She started a hunger strike, and one hundred days after her detention she was released, but barred from traveling, and she is expected to return to court to face charges of “being a member of a terrorist organization.”
Muzzafer Kaya, Esra Mungan and Kivanc Ersoy:
The government of Turkey was cracking down on dissent, human rights and academic freedom, well before the July 2016 coup attempt. A Peace Petition, signed by over 1,000 academics and read out at a press conference in January 2016, drew a swift and brutal response from the government of Turkey, with 27 academics suspended and at least 30 dismissed from their jobs. All the signers of the Peace Petition were placed under investigation, perversely, for crimes of “terrorism”. By March 2016, three academics – Muzzafer Kaya (social work), Esra Mungan (psychology), and Kivanc Ersoy (mathematics) – had been arrested for “making terrorist propaganda”. They have had five hearings and are awaiting a sixth in December while the court considers a request from the prosecutor in the case to change to charges to “insulting the Turkish nation”.
A Turkish-American scientist who works for NASA, Serkan Gölge has been detained since August 2016 and placed in solitary confinement after an estranged family member reported him for spying. Has since been charged with being a supporter of Gülen.
Nuriye Gulmen and Semih Özakca:
After the July 2016 coup attempt, the crackdown on academia intensified. Like thousands of other scholars and academic professionals, professor of literature Gülmen and an elementary school teacher Özakça were summarily dismissed from their jobs in November 2016, without explanation. Exercising their right to protest, they began a hunger strike in March 2017, and in May they were detained on absurd charges of “membership in a terrorist organization” and “propaganda for a terrorist organization”. Özakça was ordered released on October 20 (though required to wear an electronic monitor), but Gülmen remains imprisoned. On November 8, their lawyer, who is also the president of the Progressive Lawyers’ Association (ÇHD), Selçuk Kozağaçlı, was also detained, and on Monday was remanded to prison, also charged with membership in a terrorist organization. Their case illustrates the uncompromising intolerance of dissent and complete disdain for human rights that has overtaken the Turkish government Its ongoing purge has destroyed tens of thousands of promising academic careers.
Many scholars have been arrested by the government of Turkey because of perceived connections to Fethullah Gülen, the U.S. based expat alleged by the Turkish government to bear responsibility for the July 2016 coup attempt. Some Turkish-American academics have been detained and are clearly being held as bargaining chips in the Turkish government’s quest to have Gülen extradited back to Turkey. Ismail Kul, a U.S.-based chemistry professor at Widener University in Delaware, was arrested in August 2016, and has been in detention ever since, because he had met Fethullah Gülen. This, despite the fact that it was Ahmet Aydın, a prominent member of the current ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Turkey who had introduced Professor Kul to Gülen. This cynical effort to detain academics and scholars on such flimsy pretexts, all for the purpose of facilitating a trade for Gülen, is cruel and profoundly unjust, and it is destroying innocent lives.
Ahmet Turan Özcerit:
An Associate professor at Sakarya University’s Faculty of Computer and Information Science, Ahmet Turan Özcerit was arrested and detained for 13 months. He was eventually release after being diagnosed with liver and intestinal cancer.
There are just stories, after stories, after stories of professors and scientists who have lost their jobs, are being detained, and have been arrested and charged as members of “terrorist” organizations.
Action for the Helsinki Commission, Congresspersons, Citizens
The ongoing systematic and ruthless degrading of Turkey’s academic and scientific institutions is a profound tragedy, not just for Turkey, but for the whole OSCE region, and indeed the world. It is vital that action be taken to reverse this trend and restore Turkey to its rightful place as an indispensable player on the global scientific and academic stage. We urge the U.S. Helsinki Commission to make the current assault of science, scholarship, and basic human rights in Turkey a top priority.
We urge the Commission to develop and promote policies that will protect the rights of Turkish scientists and scholars to travel within the OSCE region, and to proactively work to ensure that academics at risk in Turkey are able to relocate safely to other OSCE countries where they can continue their scholarly pursuits.
We urge the Commission to actively engage all OSCE governments to demand that the government of Turkey respect the human rights of scholars and scientists, including the rights to freedom of speech, assembly, and belief; as well as the rights to travel and enjoy basic academic freedoms. The government of Turkey must also be called upon in the strongest possible terms to end the use of torture, arbitrary detention, and unfair trials.
We urge the Commission to work with OSCE governments to bring about a just resolution in the cases of the scholars mentioned above, as well as the thousands of other Turkish scholars and scientists who have been unjustly imprisoned or wrongfully dismissed from their academic institutions.