My long-time friend and colleague, Nurettin Öztatar, with whom I did a lot of projects and worked at the daily Evrensel, wrote a book where he interviewed 18 dismissed Academics for Peace signatories from the Faculty of Political Sciences (Mülkiye). The book titled İmza ve Ötesi (Signature and Beyond) is a work that bears witness to history. Özatar defines his book as “the product of the need to have some ‘witnesses’ for the future”; his book is indeed a witness record for future generations. The shared sentiment of the academics who have been deprived of their jobs and teaching positions is aptly summarized by Ahmet Haşim Köse’s rhetorical question: “How can peace not be demanded?”

Sultan Özer

They did not turn a blind eye to the oppression, killings and devastations, and raised their voices saying “We Will Not Be Party to This Crime.” These 1228 open-minded members of the academia who defended human rights, peace and freedom signed the declaration that called for peace “We Will Not Be Party to This Crime” on January 11, 2016. Soon, these defenders of peace were targeted by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who said, “We are witnessing the treachery of the so-called intellectuals; and most of them receive their salaries from the government, they have the ID cards issued by this government, they have much higher living standards than the average.” “You self-styled intellectuals, you are sinister, all of you.” Following these remarks, a large-scale lynching campaign was launched against the academics and the signal flare was fired for the biggest purge in Turkish history. Despite these remarks and lynching campaigns, the number of signatories doubled, reaching 2212.

‘THEY MADE USE OF THIS GODSEND EFFUSIVELY’

President Erdoğan and his government, who saw the July 15 putsch as “God’s Blessing”, reaped benefits from this godsend profusely by means of the State of Emergency (SoE) declared on July 20, 2106. With the Decree Laws issued under the SoE, thousands of people were dismissed from their jobs and signatory academics of peace were among those who suffered most from these purges. However, the academics for peace did not renounce their signatures despite the surge of oppression and intimidation, thus they were snatched away from their lecterns and students.

Nurettin Öztatar

Journalist Nurettin Öztatar wrote the book İmza ve Ötesi (Signature and Beyond) to tell the stories of these academics who were discharged from universities for signing the declaration “We Will Not Be Party to This Crime,” which was announced to the public on January 11, 2016. The book brings together the academic’s views on what they thought of those days when the biggest academic purge in the history of the Republic of Turkey took place, their reactions to what was going on, the reason why they signed the declaration and what they experienced after they were dismissed.

‘THE LARGEST PURGE TOOK PLACE IN THE MÜLKİYE’

Özatar interviewed 18 academics from, and alumni of, the Mülkiye, the Faculty of Political Sciences (Ankara University), where the largest purge took place. Özatar, who asked 18 academics 13 questions in his book, said, “I tried to reveal how the dismissed academics from and alumni of the Mülkiye, who taught at universities in Ankara, İzmir, İstanbul, Mersin, Eskişehir and Kocaeli, responded to the process of purge individually and politically.” Published by Ütopya Yayınevi, the books harbours interviews with the following Mülkiye academics: Elçin Aktoprak, Özlem Albayrak, Faruk Alpkaya, Aykut Çoban, Yücel Demirer, Dinçer Demirkent, Benan Eres, Ertan Ersoy, Banu Beliz Güçbilmez, Ahmet Haşim Köse, Yasemin Özgün, Ece Öztan, Aynur Özuğurlu, Murat Sevinç, Mustafa Şener, Ayşen Uysal, Barış Ünlü and Zafer Yılmaz.

‘THE REASON WHY THEY SIGNED THE DECLARATION’

Answering the question as to why he signed the declaration, Ahmet Haşim Köse said, “the essence of this declaration is peace.  How can peace not be demanded?” Köse’s answer demonstrates how demand for peace is a burning issue against all odds.

“Being an academic is not a profession in which you begin to talk and keep silent upon the blowing of a whistle,” asserts Aykut Çoban. Aynur Özuğurlu justifies her signing of the declaration by saying, “I signed the declaration not only as an academic but also as a woman and for being who I am.”  Barış Ünlü answered the question as follows: “I think the government has committed a crime and I do not want to be party to it by remaining silent.”

Beliz Güçbilmez, who admits she had not foreseen that the consequences of signing the declaration would be that severe, made the striking remark, “Honestly, I am not sure whether I could have signed the declaration had I foreseen it. For the first time I am grateful to my own lack of foresight for preventing fear from prevailing over conscience…”

Benan Eres said “I found it degrading to evaluate the content of the declaration from the viewpoint of a legal expert or an academic; I still find it so.” In a similar vein, Ece Öztan’s response is also thought-provoking: “It was a text addressed to academics; however, I assume I signed it not simply as a an academic but more as a mother who wishes to raise her children in this country in safety and peace.”

‘A CALL FOR CONSCIENCE AND LAW’  

Elçin Aktoprak: “The call for ending killings was both a call for conscience and a call for saying to the state of which I am a citizen ‘that another method is always available and right to life is one of the fundamental rights.’ The content of the declaration was diligently rummaged but what thousands of people shared was that this was a means for a call for conscience and law.”

Yasemin Özgür: “I probably did the least of all I could have done to say ‘what is being done is a crime and you cannot make us a part of it’ and signed the declaration.”

Özlem Albayrak: “… to contribute to peace efforts.”

Mustafa Şener reveals the fact that he signed the declaration by foreseeing, partly at least, the consequences by saying that “ This struggle is not today’s struggle only because, at the same time,  we wanted to add a little footnote to a humble page of our book of struggle to change this gory history with this declaration.”

Faruk Alpkaya explains why this declaration drew so much reaction as follows: “Nowadays, when I look back on those days, I see that the declaration was a bill of indictment against history; people realized that and reacted so furiously.”

‘WHO WOULD EVER WISH TO LIVE IN AN ATMOSPHERE OF CONFLICT?’

The interviewee academics, who were asked their opinion of the fact that the number of signatories doubled afterwards, responded saying that the second wave of signatories who signed the declaration acted on the principles of “solidarity as well as protecting the freedom of expression.” However, they also regretted that the number of signatories hardly reached 1.5% within the Turkish academia of 150.000 members. Ayşen Uysal: “I think this number should have been much higher considering the incidents in Turkey. Who would wish to live in an atmosphere of conflict except those who benefit from war economy? There were people who withheld their signatures for this or that reason. Some did not dare face the consequences. Most of the academics do not have anything to do with what is going on in this country anyway, they do not have a care in the world. They are more interested in their own careers and incomes, some even have not the slightest idea where in the world they are living!”

‘THE FAMILIES WERE WORRIED FOR SURE BUT…’

“You were faced with investigations, lawsuits and dismissal from university and even imprisonment, almost all these threats came true. What kind of reactions did all these create in your family and community? Have you ever considered renouncing your signature? How did all affect your psychology?

The mutual response of the academics to this question was that they have never thought of withdrawing their signatures.

Özlem Albayrak, who admitted that this was not easy in terms of her family, said, “I have always tried to be realistic myself but the acts of solidarity amongst ourselves as well as from without, from democratic circles were also of great help.”  Zafer Yılmaz: “Surely, the idea of losing my job, and eventually losing it, came as a shock to me. But I have never thought of withdrawing my signature.”

Yücel Demirer, who was once held in custody, answered the question as follows: “I was lucky in terms of my family. They have always been beside me, backing me up, paying utmost attention not to make it so obvious. They have always made me feel that I did not do anything shameful.”

Ayşen Uysal, who stated she never thought of renouncing her signature, said her mother felt so bad about it, her brother said “do any job but live for your honour” and her father kept guard in front of the faculty for fear that right-wing guys might attack her.

İmza ve Ötesi (Signature and Beyond) also includes the talks titled “Scientific Freedom and the University in Turkey” (“Türkiye’de Bilimsel Özgürlük ve Üniversite”) held among Korkut Boratav, Baskın Oran and Taner Timur (veteran academics well-known for their contributions to the academia) as well as other signatories of the Academics for Peace in 2016 at the Faculty of Political Sciences Journal (SBF Dergisi). The book ends with decisions and explanations concerning the dismissals.

Translation: Fahri Öz