Sunday, January 27, 2013

MESA urges Turkey to Take Action Against Anti-Democratic Activities of Marmara University Dean

In a letter "[...] concerning the alarming incidents that have been reported at Marmara University’s Faculty of Communications under the leadership of its government-appointed dean, Yusuf Devran," the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) urged Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan to take action:

"Since his appointment in July 2011, Dean Devran has reportedly used his position to single out students and faculty for surveillance, verbal and physical harassment, disciplinary proceedings and ethnic and political profiling—including the designation of students as potential PKK affiliates as a result of their involvement in activities deemed critical of the government or of the dean himself, or simply because they are ethnically Kurdish. Beyond the targeting of students and faculty, he has also used his position to cancel academic programs on the basis of objections to their substantive focus in a manner inimical to academic freedom.
The case of the events at the Faculty of Communications at Marmara University since Devran’s appointment as dean by YÖK offers the most troubling and intensive example of violations of academic freedom that are becoming unfortunately common on university campuses across the country."

The letter was published in the independent ezine Jadaliyya. Amnesty International – USA’s Turkey Regional Action Network published a piece on the letter, which provides links to similar cases.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pınar Selek: Sentenced, again.

The case of Pınar Selek, a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at Strasbourg, and the "released again - sentenced again" cycle of shame continues. In a previous post, we had discussed the absurdity of this case and how despite the lack of any concrete evidence, Selek trials continued. A website dedicated to Selek also contains information on the case.

The Amnesty International coverage by Howard Eissenstat today states that:

"Turkish press sources report that Pinar Selek was today found guilty and sentenced to
life imprisonment in the 1998 bombing of the Egyptian Bazaar. As we noted earlier this 
week, Selek had three times been acquitted on these same charges and there have been
on-going concerns with the weakness of the evidence in the case."

To read more from the Amnesty International, you can click here and here.

Also, for a recent MESA Committee on Academic Freedom letter on the subject--demanding justice for Selek, please click here. The letter summarizes part of her plight as follows:

"Selek was charged with membership in the PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan- Kurdistan Workers’ Party) on the basis of extremely weak evidence allegedly linking her to an explosion at the Istanbul Spice Market in 1998. The sole basis for this allegation was the testimony of a single individual who retracted his statement in open court and asserted that it had been extracted under torture. Further, multiple expert reports have challenged the claim that the explosion in question was even caused by a bomb. When Selek was first taken into custody she was conducting research on the PKK and during the two years of her detention she herself was subjected to torture by interrogators who demanded that she reveal the names of her interview subjects. Indeed, all of the circumstances attendant to her case suggest that Selek has been on trial for the last fourteen years for her research on the PKK in violation of her right to academic freedom."

Selek was interviewed on CNN Turkey, and announced that she will hold a press conference tomorrow, January 25th, at noon.

As students and professors working in diverse fields, including Ottoman and Turkish Studies in North America, we are profoundly distressed by Selek’s treatment and we stand in solidarity with her academic rights to peacefully conduct research and her individual right to a just closure to this case.

Friday, January 18, 2013

For Hrant Dink – 6 years have passed!

It has been six years since Hrant  was murdered and one year since the trial (charade) ended. None of the state officials implicated in his murder have been investigated in any satisfactory manner. Not only have they not been brought into justice, almost everyone whose name is connected with this murder has been promoted. One of those who convicted him for something he did not write became the ombudsman of the Turkish Republic.  His murder was a brutality, things happening since the murder are an infamy,  and they are shameful. The struggle for justice continues on the sixth anniversary of Hrant Dink’s assassination.

Here is a link to the short documentary filmmaker Ümit Kıvanç has prepared to mark the sixth year.

The headlines in the documentary as translated by GIT North America are as follows:

For Hrant! We’re Here Ahparig (dear brother)!

They jailed the kid they used to kill you.
But they first made him a hero.

And they sacrificed a man to be punished,
the one they chose among those they had trained.

One of the murderers was their official employee,
to punish him would be too much, so they spared him.

They rewarded everyone who either participated  
or were an accomplice to the murder.

They promoted them, appointed one a governor,
took in another one to the Parliament.

The judge who made you a target – he prospered.

They got angry when we called them murderers.
But all of them are rewarded in high offices of the State.

This is what it must be like
to sink as you move higher.

They are sinking into the swamp
in their business suits.

This is what it means to be low.

To contradict those who have no shame
We’ll be there that day, ahparig!

On January 19, on the pavement they shot you
We’ll be here, ahparig!

The cases of Prof. Dr. Fatih Hilmioğlu and Prof. Dr. Mehmet Haberal

Below is a detailed account of the cases of Prof. Fatih Hilmioglu and Prof. Mehmet Haberal. We believe in their right to a prompt fair trial regardless of their politics.

Prof. Dr. Fatih Hilmioğlu is a physician and a professor of medicine and was a faculty member at Başkent University in Ankara, Turkey and former rector of İnönü University in Malatya, Turkey. He was arrested in April of 2009 under the over sweeping Ergenekon investigation and has been imprisoned for over 3 years. Dr. Hilmioglu is accused of being part of the alleged Ergenekon criminal organization working towards destabilizing the country for overthrowing the elected government, an organization whose existence is yet to be proved (Abbott, 2012). While awaiting trial, Dr. Hilmioğlu has suffered from cirrhosis of the liver. Despite the recommendation that he should be released to await trial as he received medical treatment as “he has the risk of liver cancer, and staying in prison means his life could be in danger” (Gürdoğan, 2010), he was sent back to Silivri prison. As predicted by the medical professionals who treated him, his health has taken a turn for the worse. Dr. Hilmioğlu has been diagnosed with liver cancer and is gravely ill. Members of several civil society organizations including Turkish Medical Association (Turk Tabipler Birligi), Association of Academic Staff (TÜMÖD), Social Democracy Foundation (SODEV), and journalists have come together in early January of 2013 to issue a press release to request the release of Dr. Hilmioğlu (Cumhuriyet, 2013).
 Prof. Dr. Mehmet Haberal is also a physician and a professor of medicine.  He is a pioneer of transplant surgery in Turkey, founder of 10 hospitals, 6 dialysis centers, and the founder and former rector of Başkent University in Ankara. (Biography and publications can be seen from his website). He also has been imprisoned for over 3 years accused of being affiliated with the alleged Ergenekon criminal organization. He had transformed the court transcript of his first verbal deposition and cross-examination which had taken place after a year after his arrest in a book titled “What is my Crime? (Akyol, 2011). Dr. Haberal is 69 years old and suffered from heart disease in jail.
The excessive length of criminal proceedings in Turkey has been well documented in several national and international reports including the 2012 Turkey Progress Report of the European Union, the Reporters without Borders Investigation Report, Human Rights Watch, and the U.S. State Department’s Human Rights report. The Committee of Concerned Scientists (CCS), an independent organization of scientists, physicians, engineers, and scholars devoted to the protection and advancement of human rights and scientific freedom, sponsored a petition on their website ( calling for the release of Dr. Fatih Hilmioglu and Dr. Mehmet Haberal, for health reasons pending the outcome of their trials. The petition states: 

In October of 2009, CCS wrote in concern about Drs. Mehmet Haberal and 11 other doctors and academics under indictment in Turkey. CCS has learned that most of the arrested academics have been released on bail. However, two of those on our list are still being held: Dr. Mehmet Haberal, the rector of Baskent University in Ankara, who pioneered transplant surgery in Turkey, and Dr. Fatih Hilmioglu, a gastroenterologist, former rector of Inonu University in Malatya. CCS urges the release of Drs. Haberal and Hilmioglu for health reasons pending the outcome of their trial.
The two have now been detained for almost three years. Turkish law allows indicted individuals to be kept in long-term detention only if there is a danger that they might either destroy evidence or flee - not likely in this case. Drs. Haberal and Hilmioglu have been in state custody since their arrests in April 2009; however, because both were suffering from ill-health, they were held in hospitals where they reportedly were receiving medical attention. Both men were subsequently transferred back to prison. Since then, their health reportedly took a turn for the worse. Dr. Hilmioglu suffers from cirrhosis of the liver and reportedly is gravely ill. Dr. Haberal has angina, cardiac arrhythmia, and severe anxiety and depression.
CCS is concerned that these academics and doctors appear to be on trial solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and of association. CCS is also concerned that such extensive detention without bail deprives defendants of their rights under Turkish and international law, which require such a trial to be held within a reasonable time. Finally, almost three years in detention pending trial, especially under these circumstances, surely exceed any limitations in the Turkish constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.”

You can view and sign the petition for the release of Drs. Haberal and Hilmioglu, on the CCS website at:

Abbott, Alison. (June 26, 2012) Secularist academic jailed in Turkey. Nature, available at: [accessed January 8, 2013]

Akyol, Mete. (Eds.). (2011). What is my crime? Professor Mehmet Haberal’s oral Silivri deposition. Ankara, Turkey: Can Matematik Yayınları.Available at:

Cumhuriyet (January 8, 2013). Fatih Hilmioğlu'na özgürlük çağrısı, available at:

European Commission (December 10, 2012) Turkey 2012 Progress Report Accompanying The Communication From The Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2012-2013, available at: http://Ec.Europa.Eu/Enlargement/Pdf/Key_Documents/2012/Package/Tr_Rapport_2012_En.Pdf  [accessed January 8, 2013]

Gurdogan, Burhan. (August 13, 2010) Turkey’s Ergenekon investigation - violations and inconsistencies. OpenDemocracy, available at: [accessed January 8, 2013]

Human Rights Watch.  (November 1, 2010).  Protesting as a Terrorist Offense: The Arbitrary Use of Terrorism Laws to Prosecute and Incarcerate Demonstrators in Turkey, available at: [accessed January 8, 2013]

Reporters without borders. (RWB). (June 2011). Media and Justice in Turkey, Mistrust And Repression Investigation Report, available at: [accessed January 8, 2013]

U.S. Department of State (2011). Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011: Turkey, available at: [accessed January 8, 2013]

Thursday, January 3, 2013

394 Signed Our Statement of Solidarity with METU

As scholars and students from Turkey as well as academics working on Turkey and the Ottoman Empire in North America we are deeply concerned by the recent incidents that took place at the Middle East Technical University (METU) campus on December 18, 2012 during and after Prime Minister Erdogan's visit.

Security forces used excessive force and violence against students protesting peacefully, some of whom were arrested and held in detention. Following the incident, in response to the campus-wide boycott initiated by the faculty and students, the PM made public statements which insulted and threatened the university's faculty. Both police actions and the PM's verbal assaults constitute a direct assault on the university as an institution, its educational role in society, and on freedom of thought. Attempts to label every act of dissent and criticism of the ruling party as "terrorism" must be condemned, particularly when they might influence current policy decisions. That these events took place at a time when a revision of the bill for The Council of Higher Education (YOK, the central governing body for all post-secondary institutions) is under discussion, is very disconcerting.

The METU incident is only one of increasing number of direct assaults on university students and faculty members that leave us gravely concerned for the present and the future of democracy in Turkey. The authoritarian tendencies in the ruling party and the use of both police violence and judicial repression are growing daily. They pose severe impediments to freedom of thought and expression in every domain. We take this opportunity to express our solidarity with academic institutions, faculty members and students in Turkey who face this repression.

Please find the signatories to our statement here.

You can read our statement in Turkish here

From Prison: A letter from Kemal Gürüz

A letter from Professor Kemal Gürüz, the former president of Turkey's Council of Higher Education (YÖK) and a retired chemical engineer, who was arrested on 25 June 2012 in relation to '28 February Investigation.' He has been in pre-trial detention for over six months in a maximum-security prison in Turkey. Although we do not endorse his political position and many of his past activities as the president of YÖK, we believe in his right to a prompt fair trial.

As in his first letter, in this second letter Gürüz responds to accusations concerning his involvement in the 28 February Process, which led to the resignation of the government in 1997, following a series of ultimatums from the military to end political activities considered threatening to the country’s constitutional secularism. 

19 Thousand and 507 Websites Blocked in 6 Years

published in Milliyet daily, translated by GIT North America

The book entitled “10 Years of Freedom of Speech,” and published by IPS Foundation of Communications/Bianet, evaluates Turkey’s freedom of speech. 
The book was co-edited by Emek Çaylı ve Gülsüm Depeli and includes contributions by Fikret İlkiz and Reporters without Borders’ Turkey Chapter representative Erol Önderoğlu. Bullet points from the book include the following:
-        At least 489 media workers and at least 64 media organizations were attacked over the last 10 years. Most of these attacks were physical. At least 553 assaults against media workers and organizations were recorded in that time period.
-        3 journalists were murdered: İlyas Aktaş (reporter for the journal Revolutionary Democracy) in 2006, Hrant Dink (editor-in-chief of the bilingual Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos) in 2007, and Cihan Hayırsever (representative of the television channel Marmara) in 2009.
-        Having issued bans on broadcasting to various organizations amounting to a total of 2 thousand and 921 days in 2002 alone, RTÜK (Radio and Television Supreme Council) shut down 29 radio stations and television channels for a total of 870 days in 2003, 2004 and 2005.
-        20 national television channels had to file defense statements, 33 channels were given warnings, and 9 were obliged to cease broadcasting programs in 2005. Television channel Kanaltürk was penalized with program bans 6 times in 2007 because of the way they broadcasted electoral politics. RTÜK issued a total of 2 thousand and 22 warnings, 262 bans on programs, and 1 decertification of broadcasting from May 2002 until the end of 2008. Throughout the year 2011, RTÜK issued 89 penalty fines to 20 radio stations and 480 TV channels, 383 warnings, 27 bans on programs, and one official notice.

Prime minister opened 4 law suits
-        According to the report  43, one thousand and 46, 6 thousand and 131, 7 thousand and 762, 14 thousand and 737, 19 thousand and 507 sites were blocked in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 respectively as part of the “internet bans.”
-        At least 167 journalists were detained. Among the reasons for their detentions some stood out: “conducting interviews with members of illegal organizations,” “propagating terrorism by publicizing views of the leader of an illegal organization,” and “affiliation with an illegal organization.”
-        Prime Minister opened 4 law suits against media outlets in 2004. He lost 3 of the 6 law suits that he filed against the newspapers Cumhuriyet and Sabah, journal Leman and TV channel Kanaltürk. 7 of the 49 law suits for libel and attack on personal rights that were filed against media professionals were filed by the Prime Minister.
-        Since 2005 approximately 40 official investigations were launched against the [humorous] website Ekşi Sözlük, 5 percent of which were turned into law suits.

5 Other Countries Likewise Censor
Some of the countries with the strictest internet bans are:
Syria: Majority of the bans over the use of internet have “political” justifications. Entering the banned sites is punished by imprisonment.
China: The internet filters that are in place comprise pornography, as well as issues such as police brutality, and the independence of Taiwan and Tibet. The filters apply not only to domestic news outlets but also to international ones.
Iran: The internet is fully controlled by the state. Those who breach the censors are sentenced to prison.
Russia: Capital Moscow is under extensive surveillance.
France: The government of Paris controls the users of internet.