Emergency for Turkish Democracy

APLA / PoLAR Respond to the Constitutional Referendum

By Heath Cabot

In response to Turkey’s constitutional referendum on April 16, 2017, which replaces the parliamentary system with an executive presidency,  PoLAR and APLA commissioned a series of responses from scholars and activists focused on democracy and human rights in the region. In this first installment, Valeria Verdolini and Francesco Vacchiano highlight the situation of Gabriele del Grande, who was detained without charge in Turkey from April 9th to 23rd. On April 24th, he was deported back to Italy. These pieces were written during his detention.

By Mstyslav Chernov. After coup, nightly demonstration of President Erdoğan supporters. July 22, 2016. CC BY SA 4.0.

On April 16, 2017, the referendum initiated by the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was passed, further consolidating presidential authority and dismantling many of the safeguards that limit executive power. Despite the guise of democratic process, the referendum raises severe concerns regarding the—already fragile—future of democracy and human rights in Turkey. The violently dismantled coup in July 2016 appeared to many to be less a bona fide coup than an opportunity through which Erdoğan solidified his power, cracking down on many forms of dissent. The positions of academic colleagues and the independent press in Turkey have become increasingly precarious and, in many cases, actively under threat.

This is yet another in a string of referendums that have highlighted the increasing entanglement of executive power, nationalism, and populism taking place on a global scale, signaling also a growing danger to the capacity for dissent and academic freedom. The role of the press, academic communities, and knowledge workers more generally continues to come under question – also on a global scale. As our last series (on Trump’s Executive Order) explored, and as the March for Science (April 22, 2017) highlighted, in the United States today knowledge and facts frequently fall victim to both executive buffoonery and the threat of executive action. In Turkey, with the referendum, the formal state of emergency that has prevailed since last summer seems to have solidified into a crisis for the state of democracy, speech, and information–a crisis that, as our Turkish colleagues have been warning us, has long been brewing.

Specifically,  over 7,000 Turkish academics have been “purged” from their posts. A number of Turkish academics who signed the petition “Academics for Peace” in January 2016, calling attention to the Turkish government’s oppression of the Kurds in Turkey, were dismissed from their positions. As of March 2017, at least 383 out of the initial 2,212 signatories have been purged from their jobs, banned from traveling abroad, and denied recourse to legal dispute. In terms of freedom of the press, Turkey does not fair much better. According to the Center for the Protection of Journalists, Turkey jailed more journalists than any other country globally in 2016; and in the days leading up to the referendum escalated the crack-down on the press. Data from independent human rights monitoring groups estimate that 231 journalists are currently jailed in Turkey, and that 149 media outlets have been shut down. This is not to mention the 4000+ judges, and thousands of other citizens, who have lost their posts or been imprisoned.

Note: this section of the introduction has been edited to reflect the status of current events:

In PoLAR/APLA’s second series engaging with current events, we will be publishing pieces from a number of academics providing a variety of insights into, and responses to, the unfolding challenges to democracy and rights in Turkey. Through this, our first installment, we also sought to help spread the word about the case of the Italian journalist, Gabriele del Grande, who was held in Turkey, without formal charges, between April 9 and April 24, 2017. He has subsequently been released, just two days after we published this first installment of our series. Del Grande was detained in Hatay Province in Southern Turkey while doing research for his current book project on the situation in Syria. Until April 21, he had no access to a lawyer. He has long conducted ethnographically informed and politically engaged work around issues of freedom, political dissent, and borders in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.  These two tributes by del Grande’s friends and colleagues, Francesco Vacchiano and Valeria Verdolini (both ethnographers and activists), were meant to raise awareness about his case and the struggle to free him.

It would be remiss not to recognize a certain irony in beginning a series on Turkey by featuring the case of a foreign journalist. Del Grande’s case may hold the potential to call greater attention to the repressiveness of this regime and the crisis of rights and liberty that our colleagues within Turkey have been discussing for months. Nevertheless, we must also note the ongoing invisibility of the longstanding struggles of Turkish academics and journalists in contexts of repression. We hope, then, that in a small way, this series might contribute to the shared struggle for academic freedom and freedom of the press worldwide. While Gabriele had been freed, so many others remain in prison.

Below, please find links to solidarity efforts with Turkish academics and journalists, which will be updated continuously during our series. 

#AcademicsForPeace, #freegabriele

 “We will not be a Party to this Crime”: a demonstration of solidarity with academic freedom worldwide.

Academics for Peace:” documenting the purges that have taken place at Turkish universities since the petition was signed. Many have been dismissed from their posts, and even detained or jailed through statutory decrees.

Research Institute on Turkey and Bostonbul, both 503(1)c non-profits, GIT-NA and concerned academics in North America are launching a campaign to raise an initial fund of $105,000 and to support Academics for Peace. If you would like to take part in this solidarity campaign, here are some links:

Heath Cabot is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh. She is also co-editor-in-chief of PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review. She is a political and legal anthropologist whose research examines citizenship, ethics, and rights in Europe, with a focus on Greece. She is author of On the Doorstep of Europe: Asylum and Citizenship in Greece (Penn Press 2014). 

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