Scholars worry over academic immunity

Erdem Güneş

23 November 2012

Recent censorship cases at several universities across Turkey have fueled a row about academic immunity, following the withdrawal of a journal and the cancelation of two conferences due to interference by university management.

Most recently, a refereed journal from Ankara University’s Africa Studies Center (AÇAUM) was withdrawn by its writers after the center’s director intervened in the content of articles in its latest issue, which focused on the perceptions of Africans living in Turkey.

Barış Ünlü, an editor for the journal “Africa,” said the institute’s administrator, Doğan Aydal, had expressed his “annoyance” at an article that presented Istanbul-based Africans’ complaints about “racism toward black people in Turkey.”


“We do not have racism in Turkey, if such remarks are published once, all [academics] in the world might cite [such comments] and call Turks racist,” Aydal reportedly told Ünlü, adding that he would not allow the “Turkish nation to be called racist.”

Aydal told the Hürriyet Daily News that the academics were free to write such remarks, but added that he was in charge of the journal and that he had to defend the Turkish state.

“If they dare, they are free to pay the necessary money to publish their article in a private publisher, but a control mechanism is needed at the university,” Aydal told the Hürriyet Daily News in a phone interview yesterday.

Aydal also reportedly told Ünal he had the right to remove such articles if needed, noting that before he started in the position, past issues of the journal had included problematic terms like “Kurdistan” that should not have been included.

The term was used in conjunction with a phrase about “blood being spilled in Turkey,” he said, adding that it was not possible to publish such articles and that “what concerned him was the Turkish state.”
But Professor Faruk Alpkaya from Ankara University expressed his concerns about the matter, saying oppression against academia was increasing day by day.

A prestigious Istanbul university’s previous interference in two conferences after invitations were extended to Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputies also created a row, pitting academics and the school’s administrations against each other.

İpek Merçil, a sociology professor and deputy dean of Galatasaray University’s Science and Letters Faculty, said they had to cancel a conference on prisons on Sept. 24 after Rector Ethem Tolga told the organizers not to invite BDP deputy Ertuğrul Kürkçü to the conference.

The conference, titled “Prisons and Society Discussions,” was due to be held at the school on Oct. 3 and 4, but Tolga’s “warning” caused a row between the organizers and university administration.
The rector said “he did not appreciate the speakers in the program,” Merçil told the Daily News at the time.

The university administration canceled another conference on gender equality that was organized by university club Filmmor Sept. 19 because one of the attendees was Sebahat Tuncel, an Istanbul deputy for the BDP. On the same day, an Istanbul court sentenced Tuncel to eight and a half years in prison for being a member of the outlawedKurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Professor Esra Arsan from Istanbul Bilgi University said academic publications regarding Kurdish and environmental issues were especially frowned upon by university administrations, and that academics who studied these matters were left isolated.

“Especially academics who are union members and who have leftist tendencies are isolated,” Arsan told the Daily News yesterday in a phone interview.


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