On January 11, 2016, a group of academics and researchers from Turkey and abroad called "Academics for Peace" signed and issued a declaration entitled, "We will not be a party to this crime." In it, they criticized the Turkish government for its recent curfews and massacres in Kurdish districts, and demanded an end to violence against Kurds and a return to peace talks.
"We declare that we will not be a party to this massacre by remaining silent and demand an immediate end to the violence perpetrated by the state," the declaration said.
In total, 2212 academics and researchers from Turkey, and 2279 from abroad, signed their names onto the declaration.
Some of the signatories of the "Academics for Peace" petition in Turkey pose in front of a banner reading, "We will not be a party to this crime." The 1128 original signatories of the declaration have been subjected to sustained attacks and threats from the Turkish government and nationalist groups.
The Turkish President and PM immediately targeted the academics who signed the declaration. On January 12, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said,
"Unfortunately, those fake intellectuals say that the state is carrying out a massacre. Hey you, fake intellectuals! You are dark people. You are not enlightened. You are dark and ignorant to the point that you do not even know where the southeastern or eastern regions are [in Turkey].
"Today we are faced with the treason of the so-called intellectuals, most of whom get their salaries from the state and carry the ID card of this state in their pockets.
"You are either by the side of the nation and the state or by the side of the terrorist organization. We will not get permission from those so-called academics. They should know their place."
Immediately after the speech, Turkey's Council of Higher Education (YOK) also issued a statement: "The declaration issued by a group of academics that describes our state's ongoing struggle against terror in the southeast as 'massacre and slaughter' has put our entire academic world under suspicion. ... This declaration cannot be associated with academic freedom. Providing the security of citizens is the primary responsibility of the state," it said, adding that all rectors and an inter-university council would soon meet to discuss the issue.
Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu also joined in, saying, "It is an irrational declaration. They [the academics] will be ashamed when they read it once more. It cannot be evaluated within the scope of freedom of expression."
Ever since, the academics have been under serious political, legal and social pressure. The 1128 original signatories have been subjected to sustained attacks and threats from the Turkish government and nationalist groups as well as double investigations -- administrative investigations by the universities they work for, as well as legal investigations by state prosecutors.
They are being prosecuted for "insulting the Turkish nation, the state of the republic of Turkey, Turkey's parliament, government and judicial organs" (Turkish penal code: Article 301) and for "making propaganda for a terrorist organization" (Anti-terror law: Article 7).
In the week after the publication of the declaration, at least 33 academics were detained, and then released after prosecutors took their testimonies.
At least 29 academics have been suspended from their jobs at universities until their investigations are finalized.
Some have actually lost their jobs. Associate Professor Battal Odabasi from Istanbul Aydin University, for instance, was fired for supporting the declaration. Odabasi was first exposed to an investigation by the university and was told to withdraw his signature. When he did not, he was dismissed. "So they essentially told us to choose between our bread and our honor," said Odabasi. "I chose my honor."
Some pro-government newspapers also targeted the signatories. The newspaper Yeni Akit, for instance, wrote: "This is the full list of the academics that signed that declaration of treason."
The newspaper continued telling the authorities to "Fire these men!" and calling the academics "perverts with diplomas," "whores who call Muslims 'sons of bitches.'" The newspaper also called the academics "gay-loving," and "Armenian-lovers." The academics sought legal help and demanded that the reports that included threats and insults be blocked to the public. An Ankara criminal court rejected the demand. The court said that the reports and expressions were within the "freedom of the press."
Several universities across Turkey have on their official websites showed extremely negative reactions to the academics who signed the declaration; some even called them "traitors" or "terrorism supporters" and emphasized that the universities support the military operations of the state.
The rectorate of Abdullah Gul University in Kayseri, for instance, demanded that Professor Bulent Tanju, who signed the declaration, resign. The head of the Turkish nationalists in the city affiliated with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) referred to Tanju and other signatories as "barking dogs," and in a public declaration, threatened him. The prosecutors launched a criminal investigation against Tanju, but not against those who threatened him. His alleged "crime" is "inciting the population to enmity or hatred" and "openly insulting state institutions." (Turkish penal code - Articles 216 and 301)
Some academics withdrew their signatures after receiving threats on campuses or on social media.
The offices of two academics -- Kemal Inal and Betul Yarar -- from the Department of Communication at Ankara's Gazi University, were marked with red crosses by Turkish nationalist students. Notes saying that "We do not want the academics that support the PKK at our university" were left at their doors. Inal said he withdrew his signature after violent threats from students and even a colleague.
The newspaper Agos reported that academics in smaller cities have been under enormous pressure from their universities as well as the public. The academics in Samsun, for instance, had to lock themselves in their homes for a while. Those in Yalova say they are scared of using public transportation and those in Bolu say they are scared of parking their cars in secluded places.
Some of the academics were also targeted by local media. Arin Gul Yeniaras, a lawyer offering legal support to the threatened academics, told Agos that "a local newspaper in the town of Yalova, for instance, published the names and photos of the signatories, and made remarks such as 'The rector is still silent; the citizens are uneasy' in an attempt to make the rector take action against the academics. After that, the rector declared that the university launched an investigation against the signatories."
Ramazan Kurt, a lecturer of philosophy at Erzurum's Ataturk University, sought help from the Erzurum branch of the Human Rights Association (IHD).
"Two people raided my room, and threatened me," Kurt told Agos.
"On the same day, the Grey Wolves [a Turkish nationalist organization] made a call at the university to stage a march against me. I filed a criminal complaint against them and demanded security. It was on that day that I learned that I was suspended from my job. They organized a massive march, saying 'We do not want a terrorist lecturer at our school.' I also learned that they came to the door of my office and swore the oath of the Grey Wolves. No one from the university called me to support me."
On January 15, Kurt was detained and interrogated at the anti-terror branch of the local police station. His lawyer said he was accused of "making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization," "inciting the population to enmity or hatred" and "publishing the documents of a [terrorist] organization." He was released on the same day, but banned from travelling.
In an interview with Dicle News Agency (DIHA), Kurt said that when he asked the Erzurum police for a security guard after the attacks, "a police officer there threatened me, and said: 'If you know that signer, I will shoot him in the head'."
The detentions of academics continue. On January 29, five academics in the province of Bolu, who signed the petition in solidarity with three colleagues who had been taken into custody earlier for signing the declaration, were also detained after house raids. Their homes, cars and offices were searched, and the copies of their computers and telephones as well as some of their documents were seized by police. The academics were released after the police took their testimonies.
"The academics who exercised their freedom of thought and expression by signing this text that states a wish for peace have been targeted and exposed to insults and threats for days," said a recent press release from the academics.
"As of January 18, investigations have been launched against 1128 signatories in accordance with the Turkish penal code and the anti-terror law.
"Among our colleagues there are those who have been detained, banned from going abroad, exposed to administrative investigations, fired or suspended from their jobs. We find all of these things unjust and unacceptable."
In the meantime, the journalist Nurcan Baysal, based in Diyarbakir, reported on January 22 that the bodies of two Kurds, Isa Oran and Mesut Seviktek -- murdered during a curfew and their bodies left in the street for 29 days -- were finally allowed to be retrieved.
Oran's father, Mehmet Oran said,
"I went to the morgue. My son's head was not recognizable. It had been burnt -- as if a chemical substance had been spilled over it. He had been disemboweled; his intestines were lying outside his body. The rest of my son's body was all in pieces as if chunks of meat had been ripped out of him by an animal. They had torn my son into pieces. I was only able to recognize my son from his arm."
Mesut's brother, Ihsan Seviktek, said:
"My brother had already fallen a martyr with bullets to his head and chest. But they [Turkish soldiers or police] then shot hundreds of additional bullets into him. His face became unrecognizable. Why mistreat a dead person to such an extent? The Kurdish issue will not be resolved like this."
As the Turkish state authorities and university administrations accuse intellectuals of being "traitors," scores of Kurds have been murdered by Turkish armed forces in Kurdish districts under curfew. Dead bodies of many Kurds are still rotting in the streets and waiting to be retrieved.
At least 224 Kurdish civilians lost their lives between August 16, 2015 and February 5, 2016, according to the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TIHV). Forty-two were children, 31 were women, and 30 were over the age 60. The districts of Sur, Cizre and Silopi have been under an uninterrupted military siege and assaults for two months. Eight people were killed by security forces shooting arbitrarily in streets close to curfew zones during peaceful protests against the curfews.
The Turkish state authorities have made it clear that calling for an end to state violence in Turkey's Kurdish regions is "treason." This means that in Turkey, requesting peace and political equality between Kurds and Turks is illegal. Apparently, the only way to be a "Turkish patriot" or "a good citizen of Turkey" is openly to support the murders of Kurds -- or at least be silent about them.
Uzay Bulut, born and raised a Muslim, is a Turkish journalist based in Ankara.