Matthew Weaver of the Guardian reports retired MIT linguist Noam Chomsky’s reply to a personal attack by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan criticized Chomsky and other international scholars who signed a petition against the Turkish government’s current vendetta against Kurdish-Turkish citizens in the country’s southeast. Erdogan demanded that Chomsky come to southeast Turkey to see the terrorism committed by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) with his own eyes, implying that Chomsky and other signatories of the petition are mere armchair scholars.
Chomsky replied via an email to The Guardian:
“Turkey blamed Isis [for the attack on Istanbul], which Erdoğan has been aiding in many ways, while also supporting the al-Nusra Front, which is hardly different. He then launched a tirade against those who condemn his crimes against Kurds – who happen to be the main ground force opposing Isis in both Syria and Iraq. Is there any need for further comment?”
Chomsky points out that the Turkish air force has bombed the Syrian Kurds of the YPG, who are distantly linked to the PKK. They are post-Marxists with an anarchist bent– i.e. their ideology is close to Chomsky’s own. Those Syrian Kurds have been the most effective fighters against Daesh (ISIS, ISIL). So for Turkey to attempt to weaken the Syrian Kurds inevitably helps Daesh.
PKK fighters have also helped against Daesh in Iraq. Turkey has also been bombing them. But the PKK has killed dozens of Turkish troops and police in eastern Anatolia since Erdogan broke off the peace talks last summer.
Erdogan’s government is supporting the Syrian Army of Conquest, a Saudi-backed Salafi movement of rebels against the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. One component of the Army of Conquest is the Nusra Front or al-Qaeda in Syria. So Chomsky is reminding Erdogan that, iimplicitly, his government backs al-Qaeda while bombing Kurds who are the best hope for a victory over Daesh.
I doubt if Erdogan’s government is helping Daesh. But it is clear that Turkish and American armaments have been leaking from “vetted” groups to al-Qaeda and Daesh. And, there isn’t much evidence of Erdogan having taken Daesh very seriously– the Turkish air force has flown a hundred times more missions against the PKK than against Daesh.
The dispute began when over a thousand academics in Turkey and abroad signed a petition directed at Erdogan and his prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, saying they would not be party to the crimes committed against innocent Kurdish-Turkish villagers in the country’s southeast, who were being harmed and even starved by arbitrary curfews. The letter said:
“As academics and researchers of this country, we will not be a party to this crime!
“The Turkish state has effectively condemned its citizens in Sur, Silvan, Nusaybin, Cizre, Silopi, and many other towns and neighborhoods in the Kurdish provinces to hunger through its use of curfews that have been ongoing for weeks. It has attacked these settlements with heavy weapons and equipment that would only be mobilized in wartime. As a result, the right to life, liberty, and security, and in particular the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment protected by the constitution and international conventions have been violated.
This deliberate and planned massacre is in serious violation of Turkey’s own laws and international treaties to which Turkey is a party. These actions are in serious violation of international law.
We demand the state to abandon its deliberate massacre and deportation of Kurdish and other peoples in the region. We also demand the state to lift the curfew, punish those who are responsible for human rights violations, and compensate those citizens who have experienced material and psychological damage. For this purpose we demand that independent national and international observers to be given access to the region and that they be allowed to monitor and report on the incidents.
We demand the government to prepare the conditions for negotiations and create a road map that would lead to a lasting peace which includes the demands of the Kurdish political movement. We demand inclusion of independent observers from broad sections of society in these negotiations. We also declare our willingness to volunteer as observers. We oppose suppression of any kind of the opposition.
We, as academics and researchers working on and/or in Turkey, declare that we will not be a party to this massacre by remaining silent and demand an immediate end to the violence perpetrated by the state. We will continue advocacy with political parties, the parliament, and international public opinion until our demands are met.”
The Turkish state responded heavy-handedly, arresting nearly two dozen academics on charges of signing the petition, most of whom were released after questioning. The petition does not support the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a designated terrorist organization, but rather supports the human rights of Turkish citizens of the southeast. But Erdogan and his partisans accused the petitioners of supporting terrorism. It is a ridiculous charge, similar to the tactics of the Likud Party of Israel, which equates opposition to Occupation and oppression of Palestinians with support for terrorism.
The Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America wrote a letter to the Turkish government protesting these moves:
“Dear Prime Minister Davutoğlu:
We write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our serious concern over reports that the Higher Education Council (Yüksek Öğretim Kurulu, or YÖK) had an emergency meeting to commence an investigation against scholars who signed a petition for peace in the Kurdish regions of the country (“Peace Petition”). YÖK officials are reportedly treating this petition as pro-PKK “terrorist propaganda” that falls outside of the protections of academic freedom. Further, there are reports that YÖK plans to convene university rectors to take additional action against signatories at their universities. These actions by YÖK represent a violation of academic freedom and are consistent with broader efforts on the part of the state to punish critics of state policies.
MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.
The government’s actions against the Peace Petition signatories are distressing for at least three reasons. First, investigating the signatories after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticized the campaign in a public address, calling the signatories “traitors,” suggests that YÖK’s actions are inappropriately politicized. As we noted in our letter sent on January 7, 2016, the government has enhanced YÖK’s regulatory authorities in ways that are inimical to university autonomy. In this environment, it is hardly surprising that universities are proactively taking punitive measures in anticipation of your government’s actions. Within a day of President Erdoğan’s speech and the announcement of the YÖK investigation several universities initiated punitive measures against their faculty. Assistant Professor Hülya Doğan at Bartın University is reportedly under investigation by her university for being a signatory of the petition. Likewise Sivas Cumhuriyet University has reportedly launched an investigation against Professor Ali Çeliksöz for having signed the petition. Associate Professor Latife Akyüz has been suspended by Düzce University administration, and a criminal investigation has been opened against her for “terrorism propaganda”—all for being a signatory of the petition. The rector of Abdullah Gül University in Kayseri, has reportedly demanded the resignation of Professor Bülent Tanju solely on the grounds that he is a signatory of the Peace Petition. The local prosecutor in Kayseri, taking note of the rector’s action, has also initiated a criminal investigation against Professor Tanju under Articles 216 and 301 of the Penal Code. The mere act of signing the Peace Petition has left Professor Tanju facing possible charges for “inflaming hatred and hostility among peoples” and “denigration of the Turkish nation” under these penal provisions. Lecturer Ümran Roda Suvağcı from Hakkari University has been taken into custody for having signed the petition. Further disciplinary investigations have reportedly been initiated by the rectors of four universities—Samsun Ondokuz Mayıs University, Antalya Akdeniz University, Abant Izzet Baysal University, and Ankara Hacettepe University—against members of their faculties who are signatories. Many more universities are likely to follow suit, amounting to a wave of punitive actions against academics solely on the grounds that they have criticized the government’s policies in the southeastern provinces. In a university system in which rectors are appointed by the state and YÖK is free to initiate politicized investigations of academics, the actions being taken against signatories of the Peace Petition are a stark reminder that restrictions on academic freedom have become a matter of state policy in Turkey.
Second, among the signatories of the petition are scholars whose research is on the Kurds, other minorities, politics, history, and other related fields. That is, their scholarly work is related to the concerns raised in the text of the petition. By treating the Peace Petition as treasonous and launching an investigation of signatories, the government is effectively interfering with the ability of these academics to conduct their research. President Erdoğan suggests that the petition calls for foreigners to intervene to correct the situation in Turkey. In fact, the petition called for national and international independent observers to monitor the situation in the Kurdish region. This is not a call for foreign intervention, but rather an invitation to engage in the kind of independent observation that is the hallmark of both human rights monitoring and academic research. To investigate and criminalize a petition in which scholars call for independent observers to monitor areas under siege and curfew where civilian deaths have been reported is to strike at the heart of the academic enterprise—the ability to conduct independent research.
Finally, since the general elections in 2011, this is our twentieth letter calling upon your government to protect academic freedom in Turkey. Unfortunately, more often than not these letters have identified instances in which members of your government have used their authority to silence critics within Turkish academic circles by branding them terrorists or traitors for engaging in academic research or exercising their right to free speech to call for peaceful political change. Equally, these cases have often arisen in the context of academics’ conducting research or publishing findings critical of your government’s policies with respect to Kurdish citizens or the Kurdish regions of the country. The politicization of regulatory powers over higher education to punish dissent and silence critics of your government’s policies on various issues, including Kurdish rights, represents a serious violation of academic freedom, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and has cast a long shadow over the democratic credentials of your government.
As a member state of the Council of Europe and a signatory of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Turkey is required to protect freedom of thought, expression and assembly. Turkey is also a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), all of which protect the rights to freedom of expression and association, which are at the heart of academic freedom. These rights are also enshrined in articles 25-27 of the Turkish Constitution. We urge your government to take all necessary steps to ensure that these rights are protected.
We respectfully ask that your government take immediate steps to ensure that YÖK drop any investigation of or action against the signatories of the Peace Petition and that any actions—including university, YÖK or criminal investigations or charges—against Professors Bülent Tanju, Hülya Doğan, Latife Akyüz, Ümran Roda Suvağcı and others be reversed. As of this writing reports are emerging about additional disciplinary investigations as well as an independent criminal investigation launched by the Istanbul Public Prosecution Office against all the signatories under Article 301 of the Penal Code and Article 7 of Anti-terror Law alleging “terrorist organization propaganda”; we respectfully demand that any such investigations also be dropped. Against a backdrop of mounting international condemnation of the erosion of democratic rights and freedoms under your administration, taking steps to protect academic freedom and the right to education would be an important step to address concerns about human rights in Turkey.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your positive response.
Professor, City University of New York
Amy W. Newhall
MESA Executive Director
Associate Professor, University of Arizona ”