Court ruling highlights divide in Turkish academia

Following 17 years of one-party dominance, round-the-clock curfews, a coup attempt, mass purges and a string of elections marred by irregularities, Turkish society has become deeply polarized. Its academic institutions are not immune to the divisive political undercurrents.

On Friday, July 26, Turkey’s Constitutional Court ruled that legal proceedings against a group of purged academics violated their freedom of speech, drawing applause from rights advocates and condemnation from a separate group of pro-government academics.

The defendants were among 2,200 Academics for Peace who were persecuted for signing a peace declaration opposing Turkish military operations in the nation’s southeast in 2016. The court claimed charges of “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” violated the academics’ rights to freedom of expression as protected under the Turkish Constitution.

Yet what some viewed as a victory for democratic rights in an increasingly restrictive atmosphere for dissident voices, others saw as a betrayal of the state. Earlier this week, a group of 1,066 academics released their own declaration, saying the verdict “damaged the memories of our martyrs and veterans and hurt the social conscience.”

“Blaming a state for fighting terrorism is not regarded as freedom of expression in any country in the world,” read the statement, which was signed by people within the administrations of Agri Ibrahim Cecen University, Istanbul Aydin University and Medeniyet University, among other institutions.

The backlash against a ruling upholding the constitutional rights of Turkish academics — from within academia itself — highlights the deep fractures that have split Turkey’s higher education institutions under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

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