"It would be better if you didn't publish
anything like that again." The boss says one should be careful not to
create any trouble. That's how the spiral of distrust and censorship begins.
Then a person gets fired for signing a petition. Suddenly the authorities know
what a person has written in private emails or what they have said on their
mobile phone. In the worst cases, people get arrested and tortured because they
attended a protest for peace. Already today, few dare to tell journalists what
is happening in Turkey. Three academics and researchers agreed to because we
are posting their accounts without their names or any details that might hint at
"I can't send my children to university here"
If you were to write what my area of research
is, the state organs would immediately recognize who I am. That could cost me
my job and charges might even be filed against me. My work isn't actually
political. I work in the field of evidence-based natural science. But even in
my field, there are things that displease the Erdoğan government
and the Gülen supporters who have been and will be suspended from the universities by the
I have been feeling this for 10 years -- I have been harassed and put under pressure. My supervisor ordered me directly to stop publishing the truth. And my phone is tapped -- it has been for a long time.
Like many other government employees, I was asked after the coup attempt to return to my job and carry on as before. The summer holiday is cancelled for everyone. You need an exit permit for fieldwork or conference visits abroad. I don't know if I will still be able to get any of these. All university directors must submit lists of names of alleged Gülen supporters by August 5. They could then be dismissed. I'm afraid that the other researchers among us who just want to work independently will come next. Erdoğan wants religious, conservative scientists. Free research has long been almost impossible -- and not just since the coup attempt.
The Gülen supporters have also been asserting a lot of pressure on the universities for years now. Since they control the majority of public research spending, I no longer get money for projects. Still, I will not allow myself to be forced to publish only research that conforms to the official line. But I know of colleagues who recently published the most absurd theories under this pressure -- beyond any evidence. Because I stay independent in my science, I am dependent on international funding. With plenty of good colleagues getting dismissed, this funding will be even harder to obtain in the future. In the next step, Erdoğan could replace them with his supporters, no matter what kind of professional qualification they have. The quality of science will suffer further under this. My former PhD students are desperate. They do not know how to proceed. Should I let them down now and leave?
I've been thinking about going abroad for a long time, but I have children. At the moment, it would be far too dangerous. If I did anything suspicious right now, the authorities would classify me as a Gülen follower. At the airports, high government officials from all areas -- they can be recognized by their green passports -- are waved from the queue, interrogated and asked for special permits and documents. As a Turk, I am used to such intimidating treatment at borders from many countries where I have traveled. Now I experience the same thing when I want to go home.
So far, I still have my job. My parents live
here and I am fighting for my research. As a woman, you learn early to
persevere -- especially as one of the few women in science. All this has made
me a lot thicker-skinned. On the other hand, I can't let my kids go to
university here. And if it is no longer possible to do proper science in
Turkey, is it really worth ruining you career and having your family live under
oppression? Slowly, this is all making me tired. But if I get through this
phase, it might make me even stronger. I won't give up. But I do desperately
need a holiday.
"Who knows if they would let me out again?"
I left Turkey already a few months ago. I had already lost my job prior to the coup attempt. Like 1,127 other Turkish academics and researchers, I signed the petition by the organization Academics for Peace in January opposing the war in the mostly Kurdish-occupied region. There, the Turkish army has been engaging in combat with Kurdish fighters, with entire districts getting attacked and residents killed in the process. We demanded in the petition that the parties involved in the conflict end the armed battle and return to the negotiating table.
Shortly after the petition got released, the government Council of Higher Education (YÖK) ordered universities and institutes to investigate the people who signed it. We had to answer two questions like: "Did you sign it?" and "What is your opinion on the issue?" I said what I thought and I was fired. So from one day to the next, I was no longer making a living.
After that happened, my wife, who at the time was on the verge of getting a job, was suddenly rejected for the position without further explanation. She shared the punishment for the fact that I signed the petition.
Suddenly we both found ourselves unemployed. My application for unemployment payments was rejected without justification. Many colleagues had similar experiences. Several were fired and four were even arrested and charged.
After my release, it was clear to me: For the foreseeable future, I will not be able to get another position in academia in my country -- especially given that, as a political scientist, I work on contentious issues that could displease the Erdoğan government. I also know that colleagues are under pressure who work in completely apolitical areas of expertise.
So I applied for a fellowship in an EU country. Fortunately, I got it. As a guest researcher I can even continue working on similar subject matter. My residence permit is valid for two years and my wife has also been given one. We'll have to see what happens afterward. She's currently looking for a job.
Travel to Turkey? I wouldn't right now under any circumstances. Who knows if they would let me out again? At the moment, no one can leave Turkey without special permission. People have to wait in line for hours at the airports, and many fear getting interrogated or bullied. Even if the state of emergency was lifted, I still wouldn't dare to travel there. I think it must have felt like this during the Nazi era or in East German times after the Wall was built.
It won't be possible for Erdoğan to
lock people up in the longer term -- our world is too globalized for that. But
I am very worried that the civil war will spread. My family is still in Turkey
and we don't know when we will be able to see them again or what is going to
happen. I hope the situation will get better again. At the moment, I am at
least able to continue my research independently, in a democratic country. I
know that I'm lucky.
Afraid of getting active
"Around 380 students are in jail"
I personally have been working abroad since 2005, but I have returned to Turkey often to teach. I don't know if this will still be possible. But I would not be afraid to go to Turkey -- after all, I don't work in the civil service.
Right now, especially, students need voices from
outside, open discussions and support. With the coup attempt, the few student
protests that existed have now been silenced. Legal proceedings are underway
against about 1,000 politically left-leaning students who were
politically active and protested for the rights of Kurds, among other things.
From what I know, about 380 students are in prison.
Human rights organizations are reporting that those who have been taken into custody on the basis of the coup attempt as well as supporters of the left wing and Kurdish activists have been tortured in prisons. All these things are intimidating students across the entire country.
And there are yet other threats. In July 2015, 34 young people were killed in a suicide attack in Suruç near the Syrian border. The Islamic State was responsible for the attack. Many of the victims were students who had been on their way in March to northern Syria, which had been declared an autonomous zone known in Kurdish as Rojava (West Kurdistan). Most were members of leftist groups that were in solidarity with the Kurds and have been serving refugees in the Syrian region. There were legal investigations into the families of the dead and injured, and many were interrogated by the government. Now, on the anniversary of the deaths, 13 students have been arrested for distributing handouts commemorating the attack. This has all made students afraid of getting politically active.
We are in the summer term break right now, but
regardless of that, few dare to demonstrate -- particularly Gülen supporters. Others are also being labelled as
such, even if they "only" stood up for peace, human rights and
I know of many colleagues who have lost their jobs or have been placed under great pressure. I was personally one of the signees of the petition by Academics for Peace in January for which many colleagues were fired, or in some cases, arrested and detained.
When I talk to or email friends and colleagues
in Turkey, I know that everything could be read by the state authorities.
People have even been fired for things they posted on Facebook. But I believe
that if we now start allowing ourselves to get too intimidated and not speak up
anymore, that those who are working against democracy will have won half the
battle. We cannot allow ourselves to become overly paranoid. Besides, if the
authorities want to nail someone, they will do it anyway, regardless of how
careful one is.
But I also know that I can say this easily from my position as someone who is privileged, lives abroad and does not intend to return to Turkey for now.