Academics, Signatories, and Putschists

20 December, 2020

Aca­d­e­mics for Peace Under Assault in Turkey

Near­ly 2,300 aca­d­e­mics in Turkey and abroad have been accused of ter­ror­ism or arrest­ed and impris­oned as a result of sign­ing a peace peti­tion in 2016 that demand­ed the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment to end the ongo­ing per­se­cu­tion of Kur­dish civil­ians. Our con­trib­u­tor, Kur­dish poet and schol­ar Selîm Temo, takes us inside the con­tin­u­ing Aca­d­e­mics for Peace strug­gle through his per­son­al story.

Selîm Temo


I signed the “We’ll not be a par­ty to this crime” peti­tion pub­lished by Aca­d­e­mics for Peace (AfP) under the shad­ow of a new­ly ris­ing fortress inside me. It cor­re­spond­ed to two par­tic­u­lar moments and impres­sions in my life. 

The first was on the night of April 8, 1991. I was on a bus return­ing to my home­town Bat­man from Antalya in West­ern Turkey. On the small bus TV, I watched West­ern Kurds tram­pling each oth­er to get the stale bread being thrown at them from trucks. The Turk­ish State pre­vent­ed these Kurds from enter­ing North­ern Kur­dis­tan while they were run­ning away from Sad­dam’s geno­cide. Thou­sands of peo­ple were kept at the bor­ders with­out any food and water. The whole world was silent. At this sight, the fortress inside me caved in. This inci­dent even­tu­al­ly shaped both my per­son­al­i­ty and the way I write. 

The sec­ond, a day in the Fall of 2014. I was on a “resis­tance watch” in Mis­eyn­ter, the vil­lage across from Kobanî. The sun had not risen yet. Resem­bling mag­no­lias, women walked toward the bor­der, keep­ing the dawn on their left side. The bar­rels of Turk­ish tanks were fac­ing Kobanî, ISIS was rain­ing fire on the Kurds, and the whole world was watch­ing the chil­dren of these women being crushed. “My god,” I said, “how alone we are!” Then the sec­ond fortress inside me caved in. 

A few weeks before I signed the AfP peti­tion, I had been called into the Coun­tert­er­ror­ism Office of Mardin to tes­ti­fy. “Since I became an aca­d­e­m­ic, this place has almost turned into a friend’s house,” I told myself. Dur­ing one of these “vis­its,” some young men pre­tend­ing to be Amer­i­can cops hov­ered around me. And two of them, stand­ing right above my head, start­ed to inter­ro­gate me. “Guys, I am here only to give you my ID infor­ma­tion, don’t get too excit­ed,” I said, more or less. As a mat­ter of fact, who­ev­er has any expec­ta­tions or plans for me has always been aston­ished because I am tru­ly a killjoy. I don’t know where I got this qual­i­ty —from Dür­ren­matt, Beck­ett, or who knows, maybe from Ionesco. 

Here is why I was called into the Office: A writer from Swe­den had sent me a pack­age of Kur­dish books and mag­a­zines in the mail as a gift whose total weight was 110 kilos. The post office sent this pack­age to Cus­toms. Cus­toms sent it to Police Head­quar­ters. The Police then sent it to the Office of the Attor­ney Gen­er­al. The Attor­ney Gen­er­al burned the whole pack­age in the Gen­er­al Direc­torate of the Nation­al Estate’s boil­er. That is, I did not even see these books and mag­a­zines. And yet they opened a case against me with a 760-page file, accus­ing me of “ter­ror­ist pro­pa­gan­da through read­ing the list­ed books and mag­a­zines.” That is: “Dear Beck­et­t’s soul, your absur­di­ty was fic­tion­al where­as I live in the absurd.”

When I was called into the Coun­tert­er­ror­ism Office, this time for sign­ing the AfP peti­tion, I once again did not let the inves­ti­ga­tor sat­is­fy his desires. “Where did you find the peti­tion and sign it?” he asked. “I found it on the street,” I said. “Record my answer as such.” Then I asked him: “You looked like you could­n’t get appoint­ed for any­thing else, that’s why you chose to be a police­man, young man. Where did you go to school?” He grad­u­at­ed from the Turk­ish Lan­guage and Lit­er­a­ture Depart­ment in Erciyes Uni­ver­si­ty. “Instead of lec­tur­ing you, I am here to tes­ti­fy,” I told him.

Start­ing with the sui­cide bombers’ mas­sacre of young social­ist peo­ple from Turkey who were bring­ing toys to the chil­dren in Kobanî, the wave of vio­lence had spread all over North­ern Kur­dis­tan. Bar­ri­cades and trench­es were built in eleven Kur­dish cities. There was a hor­rif­ic war between PKK’s youth branch called YPS (Civil­ian Pro­tec­tion Forces) and the Turk­ish State forces. In this war, count­less civil­ians died. 

The “We’ll not be a par­ty to this crime” peti­tion was pub­lished on Jan­u­ary 11, 2016, which I think rep­re­sent­ed human dig­ni­ty before sci­ence or any­thing else. All hell broke loose after­wards. Dur­ing a peri­od when only guns spoke, mouths also turned into guns. As one of my dear friends who is also an aca­d­e­m­ic said, “the State forced those of us who were against the trench­es to go right behind the trenches.”

Despite all the destruc­tion I have expe­ri­enced, I look at the world—as a human being and a writer–through my con­scious­ness. A kind of con­scious­ness that resents even the pain of those who embark on a wrong path in his­to­ry. We, the East­ern­ers (the East starts from Greece) think of con­scious­ness almost as anoth­er human organ. Con­scious­ness is part of the human body just as the heart, the ear, the eye, this lit­tle pinky. Of course, Yes­en­in’s “gold­en som­no­lent” East can also be defined as the land of those who regard blood as water. How­ev­er, the tyrants in the East love their kids with affec­tion when they go home. That’s why there is no point ask­ing them, “How are you going to look in the eyes of your chil­dren?” The tyrant also has a con­scious­ness, but a sin­gle-sided one. It might be bet­ter to say, “Don’t do the things that you would­n’t do to your chil­dren.” With a sin­gle-sided con­scious­ness, you can only be a tyrant, not a human being. And yet I said in the begin­ning of 2016: “Way too many peo­ple have died for me to remain a human­ist who also feels pity for the tyrant.”

The ceme­ter­ies were bombed; the tran­quil­i­ty of those who had been long dead was dis­turbed; the recent­ly deceased could­n’t be buried; farewells by those who remained alive were pre­vent­ed. What the pros­per­ous world stared at, only through its self-inter­est, is what we lived through. More­over, what we expe­ri­enced was­n’t any­thing new. Since Koç­giri in 1921, the Turk­ish State has been using the same tech­nique: To blow up and destroy the accu­mu­lat­ed ten­sion through provo­ca­tion when the Kurds pre­pare a col­lec­tive upris­ing for their rights. And the Kurds have been swal­low­ing this bait for an entire cen­tu­ry. Only the State has ben­e­fit­ed from this strat­e­gy and reaped the ben­e­fits of its long-term investment!

My fam­i­ly house neigh­bors the vil­lage ceme­tery. Here in the graves, the male mem­bers of my fam­i­ly whom the Turk­ish State exe­cut­ed by shoot­ing in 1931 lie in twos and threes. I grew up look­ing at these graves. In 2015–16 when I was try­ing to write mul­ti­ple books, I also had a win­dow fac­ing the hos­pi­tal in Mardin. While some car­bonized bod­ies were being piled up in the morgue, some oth­er bod­ies were sent to the air­port in ster­ile ambu­lances. Even the dead were not equals. This was an apoc­a­lypse and also the peri­od in which the AfP peti­tion was pub­lished and cir­cu­lat­ed. “This is a crime,” it stat­ed, “we’ll not be a par­ty to this crime.” A new fortress rose in me.

While being attacked or tar­get­ed, and with threats becom­ing increas­ing­ly com­mon, The Uni­ver­si­ty of Mardin Artuk­lu where I worked as a pro­fes­sor of Kur­dish and Turk­ish Lit­er­a­ture joined the crack­down and formed many com­mit­tees. With­out even the slight­est sense of shame, Kur­dish aca­d­e­mics from Bat­man, Siverek, Kilis, Van, Mardin, and Beşiri were fight­ing, almost lynch­ing, each oth­er to be includ­ed in these com­mit­tees. Legal­ly speak­ing, every com­mit­tee had to have at least three mem­bers. The com­mit­tee that was formed to inves­ti­gate me had only two mem­bers; that is, it was­n’t even con­sid­ered legal! Both mem­bers of this com­mit­tee were the Assis­tant Deans. And both were inves­ti­gat­ed lat­er for alleged con­nec­tions with PDY (Par­al­lel State Struc­ture, which refers to the Gülenists who were allied with the rul­ing par­ty AKP until the attempt­ed coup d’e­tat on July 15, 2016). The third assis­tant to the Dean Ahmet Ağırakça, (the same Dean who was called “ISIS-mind­ed” by the well-known Islamist İhs­an Eli­açık), was also dis­missed as a result of PDY charges. And yet the Dean remained in his posi­tion after dis­miss­ing many aca­d­e­mics who iden­ti­fied as Kur­dish, demo­c­rat, sec­u­lar, women, lib­er­als, Ale­vi, and so on. In fact, there was already a remark­able con­nec­tion between the uni­ver­si­ty admin­is­tra­tors who attacked most of the AfP peti­tion­ers and the Gülenist Organization!

Academics for Peace demonstration, Dec. 19, 2019 (Photo: courtesy Öykü Tekten)

I did not allow either of the “aca­d­e­mics” on this com­mit­tee to inves­ti­gate me either. I was once again a killjoy, refused to tes­ti­fy, and added a two-page doc­u­ment I pre­pared at home to my file that essen­tial­ly crit­i­cized the peti­tion that was put togeth­er by a group called “Aca­d­e­mics Against Ter­ror­ism” (AAT). Refer­ring to these com­mit­tee mem­bers, I told the atten­dant in the room: “Mr. X, bring two appli­ca­tion forms for the Police Acad­e­my so that these col­leagues who are more inclined to be police­men can apply for it. Maybe they will get accept­ed. See, I did­n’t say appli­ca­tion forms for the Attor­ney Gen­er­al­ship. They are not qual­i­fied for that.” One of the “aca­d­e­mics” said, “You are insult­ing us, dear col­league” to which I respond­ed: “Why do you con­sid­er the duties of a police­man whom you cher­ish as an insult? If you real­ly con­sid­er it as such, let’s set­tle accounts with each oth­er.” I can­not say they have the spir­it of a knight errant!

There we talked more about the AAT peti­tion that one of them signed than the AfP peti­tion I had signed since in this par­tic­u­lar peri­od, the peti­tion that had to be ques­tioned by the com­mit­tees cre­at­ed to defend human­i­ty was not AfP’s, but the one that was penned against it. As I wrote pre­vi­ous­ly in an arti­cle in Gazete Duvar, AAT’s peti­tion stat­ed that the Kurds, known as “the peo­ple of the region” by those who refuse to use the word Kurd to define us, should be put through a social reha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram. Local and nation­al Nazism, that is. And again, in this peti­tion, they pro­posed to deep­en the ongo­ing war, even declared to the State that “they were ready to par­tic­i­pate in this war.” That is, about 5,000 aca­d­e­mics asked to be called into mil­i­tary service!

On July 26, 2019 the Con­sti­tu­tion­al Court in Turkey ruled that our peti­tion was an expres­sion of “free­dom of speech,” which must have cre­at­ed such pan­ic among the ATT peti­tion­ers that a group called itself 1071 start­ed anoth­er peti­tion, this time against the Court’s deci­sion. Accord­ing to offi­cial Turk­ish his­to­ry, 1071 is the year the Turks arrived in Ana­to­lia. This is, in fact, the year the Turks arrived, not in Ana­to­lia, but in Arme­nia and Kur­dis­tan. The region called “Ana­to­lia” was far­ther up in the West, but this offi­cial his­to­ry has nev­er had any accu­ra­cy or inter­est in being eth­i­cal. The name 1071 was also a stolen one. Once again, while the whole world watched the Turk­ish State attack­ing Afrin with the jihadists and dis­plac­ing the local Kurds in order to posi­tion the jihadists in the town, a cam­paign to sup­port this oper­a­tion was launched by the ultra-nation­al­ist “Turan Intel­lec­tu­als” who called them­selves 1071.

On the occa­sion of 1071, I remem­bered the ATT group and was curi­ous to revis­it the list of aca­d­e­mics who signed the peti­tion. Who were those who signed this peti­tion and where are they now? It is a mys­tery! The list is gone, lost! The blogs, Twit­ter and Face­book accounts where this list was pub­lished and cir­cu­lat­ed are all closed, except one Face­book page—most like­ly, they haven’t noticed that it is still open. This page was cre­at­ed on the day AfP’s peti­tion was pub­lished and their last post appeared two days lat­er. Why did they last only two days? Sim­ply because those who incit­ed most hatred because of our peti­tion were all arrest­ed under the PDY investigation! 

The Aca­d­e­mics for Peace have been under intense pres­sure and attack for the past four years. Among those who have tar­get­ed them are the State, the gov­ern­ment in pow­er along with the struc­tures that were its old ally, now turned to be its new enemy—that is, its own coun­ter­parts. The under­ground, in the mean­time, is filled with the new­ly dead. 


Trans­lat­ed by Öykü Tekten


Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished on August 4, 2019 in Gazete Duvar.

Academics for PeaceKurdish cultureTurkey

Born in Mêrîna, Batman in 1972, Selîm Temo is a Kurdish poet, scholar, translator, and editor. Temo studied Anthropology in Ankara University (BA) and Turkish Literature (MA) in Bilkent University where he also received his PhD degree. He has authored more than thirty books, including Kurdish or Turkish poetry, translations, anthologies, children’s books, novels, and news articles. Temo is currently a visiting scholar in Paul Valéry University of Montpellier.


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