APLA’s Statement on Academic Freedom in Turkey

The Association for Political and Legal Anthropology (APLA) stands in solidarity with Boğaziçi University students, faculty and staff who have been protesting the anti-democratic and illegitimate appointment of a new rector by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on January 1, 2021. Demonstrating students have been beaten, arrested and subjected to strip searches, and the university campus has been under police siege since early January. The decision by the Higher Board of Education to establish two new faculties at Boğaziçi University, put in effect via an overnight presidential decree on February 6 and with complete disregard for the university’s will, procedures and practices, is yet another blatant manifestation of the ongoing, intensified, and systematic government assault on higher education and academic freedom in Turkey.

The ruling Justice and Development Party government is attacking academic freedom not just through the use of emergency decrees and presidential orders but also through police force. During the peaceful protests, police batons and plastic bullets were used; snipers were placed on the roofs of the buildings surrounding the university; and in what has become an ironically apt symbol, literal handcuffs were put on the gates of the university’ campus to lock protesters out. On February 1, students in various cities staged demonstrations in support of their peers at Boğaziçi University, and hundreds of them were detained. On the evening of the same day, the police raided the Boğaziçi campus and fifty students were taken into custody. These students have been demonized by government officials as terrorists. The government has also used the protests as a pretext to single out and attack the LGBTQI+ student community at Boğaziçi. The Minister of the Interior has tweeted about the arrested students, among them members of the LGBTQI+ community, using sexist, homophobic and transphobic language and declared them unfit for idealized national values and unity. The pro-government media has embarked on a witch hunt that targets individual faculty, publishing their photographs and designating them as traitors. 
 
Despite the daily violence they face, the students and faculty at Boğaziçi have persisted in their peaceful and creative resistance. While the illegitimate rector appointment has virtually paralyzed the administrative functioning of the university, the faculty has forged ahead with their classes, final exams, and ongoing research activities. The “Shackle-Free University Open Course” series, proposed by Boğaziçi students, was launched on January 17 with contributions
from faculty members. Students have countered the government’s criminalization and polarization attempts by continuing their peaceful protest, producing video interviews and inventively utilizing jokes, memes, and songs that demonstrate the plurality of the student body. Alumni and friends living in Turkey and abroad have declared their solidarity, issued
several statements, launched signature campaigns, and organized public protests all around the world. Most recently, resisting students and alumni have joined forces in launching an online channel, Boğaziçi TV, and broadcasting on social media.
 
Since January 9, 2021, faculty members at Boğaziçi have continued their protest every single day of the week, standing in silence on the main campus square, in their caps and gowns, and with their backs turned to the building where the illegitimately appointed rector now resides. Every Friday, they have also issued a press statement, chronicling the continued acts of violence against their students and reiterating their demands. They have continued to do so on a campus to which the press has no access, including on the day when their megaphone was confiscated at the gate.

But their voices need no amplifier, and their words are loud and clear: they demand the immediate release of the 9 students in detention and the 25 under house arrest; they demand that the police siege of the campus be lifted immediately; they call upon the resignation of the illegitimately appointed rector and his staff. They make these demands in the name of a
democratic and autonomous university. We join our voices to theirs.  

The Association for Political and Legal Anthropology (APLA) recognizes that Boğaziçi University is neither the first, nor the last of the academic institutions under assault in Turkey. Moreover, it is by no means the first time in the history of Turkey’s authoritarian state tradition that the autonomy of the university has been targeted and academic freedoms curtailed. In just the last four years, however, more than twenty universities have been shut down, thousands of faculty members have been purged, and multiple rectors have been appointed through emergency executive degrees. These appointments have invariably been made from among loyalists of the current government. We are inspired by the students and faculty at Boğaziçi who protest these partisan political interventions, which pose a dire threat to the independence of academic research and education. We stand in solidarity with all constituents of Boğaziçi University in their demand for autonomy and academic freedom for all universities in Turkey.

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