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Turkey Now Targeting Academic Freedom in Europe

Turkey’s targeting of dissident academics seems to have crossed the borders of the country. Academic freedom in Europe and in the U.S. is being stymied by the Turkish government and nationalist groups.

Most recently, Turkey targeted a conference held September 15 to 18 at the European Academy Berlin entitled “Past in the Present: European Approaches to the Armenian Genocide.” It was part of the “Workshop on Armenian Turkish Scholarship (WATS),” a series founded by the University of Michigan in 2000. It was co-organized by the University of Michigan, the Dornsife Institute of Armenian Studies of the University of Southern California (USC), and Germany’s Lepsiushaus Potsdam.

Before the conference took place, nationalist groups, media outlets, and Turkey’s government-funded Council of Higher Education (YÖK) targeted the organizers and participants in a PR campaign.

This led to academics working in Turkish universities to withdraw.

The head of the ultra-nationalist Homeland Party (Vatan Partisi) and a long-time avid denier of the Armenian genocide, Doğu Perinçek, were prominent leaders of the PR campaign. At a press conference on September 6, Perinçek accused the conference and Sabancı University -- one of the organizers of this year's conference -- of engaging in “a betrayal of science, university identity, law, and the homeland.” He added:

This workshop serves the project of "Kurdistan," or more correctly, "a second Israel" of USA imperialism. Particularly the fifth panel of the workshop discusses the "unity of fate" of Armenians and Kurds against Turkey. This is an imperialistic confession.

Perinçek called on the YÖK to prevent Turkish academics from joining the conference.

Following Perinçek’s denunciation of the workshop, the ultra-nationalist paper Aydınlık attacked Sabancı University with an article headlined: “Hey Sabancı, Stop This Disgrace.

The pressure on the universities and academics by the YÖK and the media bore fruit. Sabancı University withdrew from the event.

On September 8, Aydınlık proudly reported its “victory” in a headline that read: “No academics for the workshop of lies.” In another report, Aydınlık referred to those who participated in the workshop as “fake academics,” and listed the PR campaign’s “accomplishments” concerning the workshop:

The conference has literally "fallen to pieces" after the head of the Homeland Party, Doğu Perinçek, warned that the conference was a betrayal of science and homeland.

So, there is no longer a Turkish university left in the workshop of betrayal. The beginning date of the workshop has been postponed to the next day; the withdrawn Turkish academics have been replaced with foreigners and the access to the program is now subject to permission. It would be an insufficient explanation if we did not say the persevering and determined attitude of the YÖK has greatly contributed to getting these results.

In reality, the academics who participated in the event are top scholars engaged in vital, critical research, and are highly regarded for their academic endeavors on a global scale.