Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian rule is again evident this week with the rounding up of dozens of professors for simply signing a petition denouncing military operations against Kurds in the south-east of the country. The signatories of the petition included famous linguist Noam Chomsky and the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek. Erdoğan responded angrily to the letter, which was denounced as “terror propaganda” and he called on the judiciary to act against their alleged treachery. Supporters of Erdoğan and nationalist students have been intimidating academics by marking their doors and threatening professors who signed the petition calling for peace.
Like most of the world, we have watched the rapid decline of civil liberties in Turkey after the election of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his coalition of Islamic parties. Just last month, we discussed the arrest of Mehmet Emin Altunses, 16, who allegedly committed the crime of “insulting” Erdoğan. calling people who use birth control “traitors” and saying Muslims discovered America, you are not allowed to be disrespectful or insulting in discussing Erdoğan. Then there was the prosecution of model and former Miss Turkey Merve Buyuksarac, 26, for criticizing Erdogan for quoting a few lines from a poem called the “Master’s Poem” from weekly Turkish satirical magazine Uykusuz. Erdoğan’s totalitarian measures have earned him the nickname “Buyuk Usta” (the Big Master). Even a joking reference to Gollum and Erdoğan is enough to land you in jail today in Turkey.
The petition at the heart of the most recent Erdoğan crackdown is pure political speech. These academics signed a petition together with more than 1,400 others calling for an end to Turkey’s “deliberate massacre and deportation of Kurdish people”. Ninety universities were represented on the petition with academics calling themselves “Academicians for Peace.” Erdoğan simply labeled them terrorists and demanded immediate action against them.
Equally disturbing is how nationalist students have been marking the doors of professors who have spoken against the government. Also chilling is the alliance of organized crime with the government and vigilantes. This is not the first time that nationalist and authoritarian governments have been supported by organized crime. However, a message from notorious crime boss, Sedat Peker, is ominous. Peter declared on his website (sedatpeker.com) that “You should be thanking the police and military that you have tried to discredit. If those terrorists achieve the mission of causing the Muslim Turks’ state to fail, then it will the beginning of frightening times for you. At that moment, the bell will toll for you all. … I would like to say it again: We will spill your blood and we will take shower with your blood!!”
This is the state of Turkey after the rise of our ally Erdoğan. When his Islamic parties joined to elect him, Erdoğan assured Turks that he would not seek to curtail rights or impose Islamic rules. He then proceeded to rollback on religious freedoms, free press, free speech, and basic associational rights while expanding his own power. What was the world’s greatest hope for a secular and modern government among Muslim nations was dismantled by Erdoğan and his increasingly violent supporters.
The effort of these brave academics to stand against his government (even in the face of threats from their own students) is a profile of courage for all academics around the world.