Prof. Dr. Vedat Demir, Academics at Risk Association member, made a presentation in the Philipp Schwartz and Inspireurope Stakeholder Forum 2024

Prof. Dr. Vedat Demir, Academics at Risk Association member, made a speech in the Philipp Schwartz and Inspireurope Stakeholder Forum 2024. The speech highlighted Turkey’s deterioration in academic freedom under Erdogan’s government, citing the aftermath of the 2016 coup attempt as a pretext for a purge targeting dissenters. Over 10,000 academics were dismissed, detained, and blacklisted, with their basic rights violated, creating a perpetual cycle of oppression from which they cannot escape.



Below is the full text of the speech made at the Philipp Schwartz Initiative and Inspireurope Stakeholder Forum in Berlin on 18 and 19 April, describing the human rights violations and persecution inflicted on 10,000 academics with emergency decrees – and of course hundreds of thousands of others – for 8 years.

“Academic Freedom In Authoritarian Contexts
A Multinational Perspective: Turkey Case

Thank you for the wonderful introduction, Suzanne.
Thank you to the Humboldt Foundation for organizing this event and thank you all for coming.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM IN TURKEY: As you all know, academic freedom has been under attack in several countries. In countries like Russia and Hungary, we see the governments silencing critical voices, banning certain disciplines, making it impossible for some universities to operate…. but some of the most egregious violations of academic freedom have happened in Turkey.
When you take a look at Turkish history, you can see that Turkey has always had trouble establishing a solid democracy and rule of law. You see this constant tug of war between the Turkish military and civilian government in Turkey. This struggle resulted with several military coups. These military coups prevented the construction of a healthy democracy and a free academia.
However, Turkey had a big chance in the 2000s to establish a healthy democracy. The democratic reforms that were made for Turkey’s European Union candidacy created a new image of Turkey as a liberal-conservative democracy. Turkey was considered a “model country” in its region at this time. These democratic reforms were made by Erdogan’s government. One of the reforms was removing the military power over civilian politics. Once Erdogan eliminated military, he started following his authoritarian agenda. He created an authoritarian regime that can be classified as “competitive authoritarianism” instead of democratization.

As most of you know, there was a failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016. The details about it remain a mystery since the government is not willing to let anybody investigate it. What we know is that Erdogan called it “a gift from God” and it gave him an excuse to carry out a purge and target all opposition. With the new powers he acquired, Erdogan established his one-man rule.

Erdogan was able to use the coup as an excuse so well because he created a discourse to control every part of the Turkish society. According to the society, they were “defending their country” with Erdogan against the ‘terrorists’ ‘enemies of the state’ and ’traitors’ controlled by western powers. The funny thing is that the opposition groups also started using the same language by calling each other terrorists.

With the support of the opposition parties, the government declared state of emergency and issued decrees to fight threats to “national security and unity.” These decrees undermined the foundations of the rule of law and gave Erdogan the power to conduct arbitrary arrests and dismissals through the judicial system.

PURGE OF ACADEMICS: Under the State of Emergency, the Erdogan government started a purge against different parts of the opposition. The purge targeted mainly Gülen Movement as well as the Kurds and other groups opposing Erdogan. According to the reports, about 150,000 civil servants were dismissed from their positions, but it is estimated that the real number is much higher. 7,000 of these were academics from public universities. These people were not only dismissed, but also detained, arrested, and labeled as a terrorist. If you also add the 3,000 academics who worked at private universities that were shut down by the government, you get about 10,000 faculty members who were unemployed and blacklisted by the government. In addition to this, 15 universities were shut down and more than 300,000 books were destroyed.

Becoming a purged academician in Turkey: The consequences were even more devastating for academics who were dismissed from public universities. They lost their jobs, but they were also detained, arrested, and accused of being a terrorist. They were blacklisted by the government. They couldn’t even apply for the low skill jobs.

Their families were also targeted. The government cancelled their passports and issued arbitrary travel bans for their spouses and children. They couldn’t get a job and they couldn’t leave the country. Their most basic human rights were violated simply because they were in the blacklists of Erdogan’s government. There was no administrative or legal investigation. These people’s lives suddenly turned upside down and they basically had to continue their lives labeled as terrorists.

European NGOs documented at least 30 types of discriminatory practices affecting the purged officials. These practices include blacklisting, labeling the victims as terrorist, arbitrary travel bans, preventing victims from getting jobs, banning victims from public office for life, and taking away their acquired rights such as social security, healthcare, and retirement savings.

Some examples even include the purge victims not being able to adapt kids or become foster families. Even worse, there were instances where their adopted kids were taken from them. They were even denied covid-19 economic relief and natural disaster aid.

In the last 8 years, the dismissed academics had to deal with detention, arrest, social isolation and long and unfair trials. Thousands of academics were arrested. Those who were not tried or acquitted have not been able to return to their jobs. They have been simply trapped in Turkey with no civil rights for the last 8 years. The whole country became a big prison for them.
With the pressure from the European Court of Human Rights, the Erdogan government established a review commission and courts under the control of the regime. They of course did not operate properly and kept preventing academics from returning to work.

In summary, the Erdogan regime has established a vicious circle system from which the academics with opposing views cannot escape. Once labeled as a dissident by the government, you can never reclaim your rights and return to work or continue your life as an ordinary citizen. Thank you!”

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