March 8, 2018 in Istanbul, women were stopped.

March 8, 2018 in Istanbul, women were stopped.

Commentaries Authoritarian Regimes and Criminalization of Critical Voices

Academics for Peace, the majority of whom are women, mostly working on women’s and gender issues, had been facing trial on charge of “propagandizing for a terrorist organization” for signing the Peace Petition since December 5, 2017.

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds BW 2020:1 pp 56-57
Published on on May 25, 2020

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In my previous text published in Baltic Worlds (BW 2018:4, Theme: Academic Freedom), I talked about some facts regarding the challenges the women’s/feminist movement and women’s/gender studies have been facing in Turkey, especially after the July 2016 coup attempt and the emergency rule that immediately followed. I drew attention to the fact that the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) increasingly authoritarian regime had found an even better ground to flourish under emergency rule. The AKP government did not hesitate to change the Constitution through a controversial referendum held in April 2017 in order to transform the regime from a parliamentary to a presidential republic, providing the president with increased power. The referendum to change the Constitution passed with a narrow margin of 51% and left behind unanswered questions. The outcome of the referendum paved the way for the re-election of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as president through the June 2018 national parliamentary elections, also held under emergency rule and thus lacking justice as well as political and public acceptance in general.

Women’s movement and Gender Studies

Erdoğan, a leader who openly argues that women and men cannot be treated equally because it goes against the laws of nature, and who emphasizes the importance of family and the role of motherhood at every opportunity, was re-elected president with increased power in June 2018. Holding power for the last 17 years, Erdoğan and his governments had already been trying to eliminate the laws that empower women and install new policies that would change women’s lives in all aspects. The latest developments made the implementation of these policies easier for the government while things only got harder for women and
LGBTI individuals as well as those who study or do research in these areas, including gender issues in general.

The AKP’s authoritarian regime had always been hostile to all critical voices, and the state of emergency only made it easier for the government to attack those who speak up. Hundreds of journalists and media workers, thousands of students and a number of politicians have been imprisoned without fair trials. Censorship and self-censorship have become widespread in the country, including in the media and the universities.

Emergency rule lasted two years and ended in July 2018; however, the practices of emergency rule do not appear to have ended. While the emergency decrees of emergency rule stayed in effect, only a small number of public servants have returned to their positions. Under the influence of the AKP government, the justice system has become an ideological apparatus of the regime, thus creating injustice rather than justice.

Academics for Peace and the academic purge

Academics have experienced their share of the ongoing injustice while the greatest academic purge in the history of the country took place under emergency rule. Thousands of academics have been dismissed from their positions through decree laws, including around 500 Academics for Peace. Having signed the Peace Petition, entitled, “We will not be a party to his crime”, Academics for Peace have become open targets for political power and government-controlled media since the petition became public in January 2016. The Peace Petition, initially signed by 1,128 academics, called for an end to violence in the south-eastern part of the country, and deemed the state responsible for restarting the peace process. Meanwhile, the number of the signatories reached 2,212 in the following weeks until the petition was closed.

Dismissed academics have been prevented from being hired at public and private universities, and their passports have been cancelled. Some of the signatories living in smaller provinces were physically and verbally threatened, some were detained, and five were imprisoned for periods between one month and two and a half months, based on the petition. At the same time, Academics for Peace have been presenting a historical example of resistance and solidarity. They have founded over 10 Solidarity Academies (SAs) around the country since the academic purge started in 2016, such as Ankara Solidarity Academy (ADA), Eskişehir School, İstanbul Solidarity Academy (İstanbulDA, İzmir Solidarity Academy (İDA), Kocaeli Solidarity Academy (KODA) as well as a gender/solidarity academy named AramızDA (in between us). In addition, having worked together through several workshops in the last few years, the members of individual SAs felt the need for a joint structure for all Academics for Peace and those around them and decided to initiate a platform which later became the umbrella association of all SAs in July 2018, called BirAraDa (Together) Association for Science, Art, Education, Research and Solidarity. Academics for Peace along with their colleagues have been organizing seminars, workshops, reading groups, conferences and other informal gatherings open to the public at their local solidarity academies. In fact, SAs have become collective learning places not only for the signatories of the peace petition and their students but also for other academics and the general public. They are determined to continue to be a gathering place for the promotion of peace, democracy, human rights, social equality, gender equity and democratic education which incorporates these principles. As part of these efforts, solidarity academies organized a collective opening of the academic year 2019—2020 in cooperation with Education and Science Workers” Union (Eğitim-Sen) on October 12, 2019, in Ankara.

March 8 celebrations and Academics for Peace

Around 40 women faced trial in Kocaeli for the March 8 celebrations of 2017 and 2018. All have been acquitted in recent months. However, the criminalization of women and LGBTI individuals did not end, as the March 8 celebration of 2019 witnessed another episode of violence. Tired of the violent scenes at Kocaeli, I went to Istanbul to participate in the Feminist Night March. Despite the fact that the Night March was forbidden by the authorities and the roads leading to İstiklal Street where the March takes place every year had been blocked, people gathered in the surrounding streets and alleys, determined to carry out the 17th Feminist Night March. However, the police were literally everywhere as they outnumbered the other people in some streets and the police attack was excessive, with the use of rubber bullets and pepper spray that severely affected many people including myself.

Meanwhile, the celebration was held quietly in Kocaeli as the authorities provided a designated area (a small park surrounded by the police and a barricade) for the celebration. Although this was not welcomed by many women and women’s organizations, the women’s platform of the town had agreed to accept it for various reasons.

Academics for Peace, the majority of whom are women, mostly working on women’s and gender issues, had been facing trial on charge of “propagandizing for a terrorist organization” for signing the Peace Petition since December 5, 2017. 646 Academics for Peace had stood trial as of July 26, 2019, when the Constitutional Court ruled that penalization of Academics for Peace on charge of “propagandizing for a terrorist organization” violated their freedom of expression, after examining individual applications of 10 Academics for Peace who had been sentenced to prison and therefore taken their cases to the higher court. Following the decision of the Constitutional Court, local courts started to rule for the acquittals of Academics for Peace. 362 Academics have been acquitted as of October 8, 2019, while 250 ongoing trials are expected to result in acquittals. The verdict of the Constitutional Court is also expected to affect those who have already been convicted.

While the verdict of the Constitutional Court has been welcomed by the Academics for Peace, their lawyers and those who support them, it only eliminates one of the rights violations of the academics, since it does not result in the reinstatement of other rights including lost positions and thus all other rights attached to them. In addition, there have not been any developments in terms of restoring peace in the country. Therefore, the struggle will continue for the reinstatement of all rights of the academics and others as well as for permanent peace in the country.

  • by Derya Keskin

    Derya Keskin received her PhD in Development Studies from Marmara University in Istanbul, Turkey, and an MA from the Ohio State University in Columbus, USA. She worked as an assistant professor of Labor Sociology in the Department of Labor Economics and Industrial Relations at Kocaeli University, Turkey from January 2012 to September 2016. She was dismissed from her position through a governmental decree issued under the State of Emergency for signing a petition titled “We will not be a party to this crime,” also known as the Peace Petition which was a call directed to the State to end the civil deaths in the southeastern part of the country and to restart the peace process. Her work has been published in journals related to education, labor and the Middle East. Her research interests include women’s labor, gender and social policy, religion and women, migration, higher educa-tion, academic work and problems in social research. She continues her work within the Kocaeli Acade-my for Solidarity as the founding member with the other Peace Signatories also dismissed from Kocaeli University for the same reason.

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