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Pro-AKP Media Figures Continue to Target Academics for Peace

[Protest against the imprisonment of four Academics for Peace, Bogazici University, Istanbul, 18 March 2016.] [Protest against the imprisonment of four Academics for Peace, Bogazici University, Istanbul, 18 March 2016.]

On 22 March 2016, Yıldıray Oğur, a pro-government media figure, wrote a column targeting the Academics for Peace, Bosphorus/Boğaziçi University, the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), and Jadaliyya, among others. 

The piece problematically conflates terrorism with Academics for Peace, and blatantly asserts that signatory academics manipulate facts. At the same time, the author appears to obscure the fact that after the Suruç bombing on 20 July 2015, the ruling party AKP, together with Turkish nationalist party MHP, blocked a parliamentary investigation on the ISIS-led suicide bombing in Suruç. And in fact, only one month before the Suruç bombing, on 16 June 2015, reporters had asked the AKP-appointed governor of Urfa (where Suruç is located) whether ISIS militants posited a threat in the area. In response, the governor had the reporters taken into custody. The thirty-two youth killed on 20 July 2015 were pro-Kurdish activists who were getting ready to cross the Syrian border to plant trees as a symbolic act for peace and to bring humanitarian aid (toys, food) to Kobane—where Kurds fought against ISIS. Instead of investigating ISIS at length, the government started bombing PKK camps, thus ending the peace process.

Had the government shown the same diligence with the ISIS cell responsible for the Suruç bombing and not blocked a parliamentary investigation, could the bloody Ankara bombing that cost 102 lives in October 2015 be prevented? (The Ankara bombing had targeted a pro-Kurdish peace rally organized by labor unions and professional organizations, including the Turkish Medical Association.) This is a legitimate question, as it turned out the same ISIS cell was responsible for both the Suruç and the Ankara bombings. 

By lumping together all these different bombings that marked Turkey since June 2015 (when another bomb exploded during the pro-Kurdish party HDP electoral rally right before the general elections), the author conveniently erases their differences as though they all have targeted the government. As such, the author appears to attribute them altogether to the government’s perceived enemies, such the Kurds or the Academics for Peace. Further, the author obscures the fact that calling for government accountability doesn’t have the same implication for each and every one of the bombings he cites. The 2015 Suruç and Ankara bombings are examples for this.

In the current Turkish context, where bureaucratic transparency has dramatically eroded, a parliamentary investigation could have meant some sort of transparency; the investigation findings would likely go on the public record. Currently, the public is cut off from the opportunity to even follow any such violent attack (i.e., suicide bombing) in the media, because government officials are quick to issue a public ban on media coverage of the bombings, and to suspend access to some websites and social media. This has been a general trend so far, with some variations in application.

Holding one's government accountable for the escalated violence and the prolonged bans against going out in the street (mistakenly called "curfews"—as they last for months without any possibility of going to search for food, water, or medical aid, including at night) that cost civilian lives in Kurdish regions would be a predictable outcome in a democratic country. In a democracy, the government would be accountable for and to its citizens, and the citizens would have the right to critique the government's policies and demand transparency. But to pro-government media figures, exercising the right to freedom of expression and assembly appears to be a sign of propagandizing terrorism. It is indeed important to remember that this is what the court record finds the three imprisoned academics guilty of: that they signed a petition which only criticized their own government,and not the PKK.

One thing is certain: the advocacy of conspiracy theories and the criminalization of a petition are in fact the criminalization of the right to expression and assembly, and amount to a practice of thought policing.

Further, in the below piece, Yıldıray Oğur disingenuously insinuates that MESA's letters are the result of a conspiracy, dismissing the fact that MESA in itself has members who study Turkey or other countries in the Middle East, and who are perfectly capable of reading, listening and judging the situation for themselves. In addition, in an environment where academics are placed in high-security prisons, strip-searched, and put in solitary confinement simply for having signed a petition and for having called for peace, such professional support is a demand for justice for one's colleagues, and not evidence of a conspiracy.

The readers might ask why we give such space to a clearly polemical newspaper column. Unfortunately, it is because such conspiracy theory articles might be considered as grounds for prosecution in Turkey. Indeed, as we have already mentioned in an earlier post, a similarly conspiratorial and problematic article was accepted as a criminal complaint by the Istanbul Chief Prosecutor's Office, which eventually led to the arrest warrant for the three academics who are now in prison and placed under solitary confinement. 

The English translation of the piece is below.

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Simons[1] Living in Bosphorus -2-

22 March 2016

Yıldıray Ogur

There was a fire set in the Kartal Aydos Forests on 25 August 2015. Tuzla Infantry School was also located there. It was difficult to extinguish the fire. The police started to inquire about the possibility that the fires were acts of sabotage when a new forest fire was set on 10 September 2015, fifteen days after the first fire on the same military location.

After some time, a group of PKK members who set this fire organized attacks against general stores and the offices of the Justice and Development Party (AKP).

On the basis of the information acquired from these PKK members, a “carrier,” who carries the PKK’s reports from İstanbul and other regions to Diyarbakır, was spotted. 

The carrier was monitored, and on 7 October 2015 was taken under custody at İstanbul Sabiha Gökçen Airport when he was just about to get on a flight to Diyarbakır. 

The person who was taken under custody was H.D., a senior at Bosphorus University—a university where students are admitted by the higher scores on the central examination for university education. 

H.D., who was a member of the Youth Assembly of the Peoples’ Democratic Congress—an organization run by co-presidents Sabahat Tuncel and Ertuğrul Kürkçü—had not committed any illegal deed until that day. According to the police forces, that is the reason why he was selected as the carrier. The information that he carried was on a flash memory drive, containing the reports released to the press. The reports were meant to be handed to someone whose address and identity was specified and who was in Diyarbakır and known as the [PKK] Representative in Turkey. 

According to the resources of the police, one of the reports in the same flash memory drive was sent from the PKK’s Çukurova region, in which a woman militant stated that “she is ready even for a suicide bomb attack if needed.” 

Up until now I have listed the claims of the police forces released to the [mass] media, and those that I could access myself. 

Now let’s turn to what H.D.’s attorney said: 

“The police forces invaded H.D’s home and they seized his unbanned books. These books have the record label of the Ministry of Culture on them. Besides that, a couple of journals were also confiscated. Apart from that they also found a couple of songs on his phone and downloaded them. Afterwards they said ‘If you listen to these songs and read these books, then you are a member of the organization’ [meaning the PKK—translator’s note]. They showed the videos that he watched and songs that he listened to, saying that ‘There are members of the organization in these videos,’ thus blaming H.D. for this reason.” 

This is the defense that claims “there is nothing at all,” resembling the defense by the attorneys, examples of which were also listed in my previous piece. It turns out that the police forces took under custody a university student, not in his home or school, but at the airport just on the basis of the songs that he listened to on YouTube, just for oppression. 

Yet, we still have just reasons to be skeptical. In Turkey there is this tradition of unjust custody and quick attribution to membership in the organization. There were a lot of examples of this in the past; today it is still continuing. 

The news was broadcast in certain part of the mass media on the basis of the claims by the police forces; and in another part of the mass media on the basis of the attorney’s declarations. Again, the news concerned was cleared of any doubt. For example: “The Bosphorus University student who was an HDK member, was arrested because of the books he read and the songs he listened to!” But I assume that when we are struggling against terror which locks people in their houses, no one has the luxury to manipulate the truth in accordance with political interests, not at all. Especially in a country where suicide bombers explode themselves all over [the country]; when the PKK started armed “resistance” in Sur, Cizre; when the world is struggling against terror and Turkey is the neighbor of those centers of terror; and moreover when the state is being criticized rightly for failing to preempt the terrorist acts on time, for failing in intelligence regarding suicide bombers, a university, and especially the scholars of the university—which is the best university in Turkey—are expected to be more cautious, more skeptical.

This is all the more so when the students whose responsibilities that they take on themselves are concerned. But no, it could not happen this time either. Partisanship, revolutionary solidarity, unconditional support overwhelmed; and the academics did what the journalists in my previous piece did. Around two hundred academics working at Bosphorus University, including those most prominent in their respective fields, all of whom are typically very wary, signed a declaration, titled “we claim our student.”  This did not suffice. Beth Baron, the chair of the US-based Middle East Studies Association (MESA), one of the most well-known institutions in the field of research on the Middle East, wrote a letter to Prime Minister Davutoğlu on behalf of H.D., clearly based on the reference of the scholars from Bosphorus University.  

(I can presume who facilitated the writing of the letter. However I do not have solid information about it. Thus, let me just put this link here: http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/about) While the scholars were writing the aforementioned declaration, H.D.’s attorney, Hüseyin Boğatekin, who is a member of the Association of Libertarian Jurists [Özgürlükçü Hukukçular Derneği], was defending the rights of other students in Balıkesir in another lawsuit. (There is a legal support network formed by Boğatekin and his association, which gives support to the students who are brought to court in PKK-related cases.) One of those students turned out to be a suicide bomber six months later in Ankara. Briefly, the attorney who is the source of all the information about H.D.’s innocence has another client whose name is even mentioned in the letter from the MESA chair to Prime Minister Davutoğlu, and whom the attorney defended on the grounds of similar arguments, exploded herself/himself five months later in the center of Ankara. It is certain that an attorney can defend anybody. S/he cannot be blamed for defending her/his client. But it is essential to keep doubt alive when you’re vouching for some one. This is all the more so when the student you had defended against slander turns out to be the suicide bomber responsible for the death of thirty-seven innocent people.But even this case does not seem to have led to doubt or confusion among the Simons living in Bosphorus. This is still so even when the police forces claimed that one of the reports carried by one of the students contained a woman’s statement of her willingness to be a suicide bomber. And we are talking about a university where two vehicles parked in the parking lots in and out of the campus, were seized with the suspicion that they would be used in a suicide bombing attack, about twenty days ago. Let’s read the news about the seizing of the first vehicle from Hürriyet: “The police forces were following Sinem Oğuz, with the alias Funda Kaya. According to the police forces’ findings, mechanisms were set in the Citroen brand automobile; the explosives that would be carried over from Diyarbakır were yet to come. The automobile was taken to the parking lot in the university by an employee in the Bosphorus University, who is an acquaintance of Sinem Oğuz.The university employee, R.Ü. who helped Oğuz, vanished away. Sinem Oğuz went to Diyarbakır. Oğuz and her accomplice H.A. beside her, both purported PKK members, were arrested in Diyarbakır on 27 January.”When you search on the campus of Bosphorus University for R.Ü., the university employee who “hosted” the vehicle carrying the mechanism for locating the bomb you come across an administrator who is probably in control of the whole information network of the university. According to the police records, the bomber Sinem Oğuz and the person accompanying her went to Diyarbakır to pick up the bombs that would be located inside the vehicle. Then, if they had been able to return [to İstanbul] without being arrested, where was the target of the vehicle, waiting on the campus of Bosphorus University? Again, according to the police records, the target was the mobile striking force spot, just behind Taksim Square. This means Taksim Square! This means all of us! If a state had this much information, and if the state were to say “no way, s/he would not do such things,” and if that man or another person with his assistance had committed an act, that state would have been severely accused and this would have been a just accusation. And what about signing a petition under this responsibility, in the face of a case that makes one horrified even in its one in a billion probability of being true? We are all right to criticize the state, the intelligence, to ask for more precautions regarding suicide bombers, regarding terrorism. Then what about those, who open breathing space and acting space for terrorism and for suicide bombers through their political battles, ideological animosities, revolutionary solidarities, who support them, who open the path to them in their newspapers, in the courts, in the universities; who unconditionally believe in their propaganda; who are used as instruments… 

If we want to protect our liberties and our security none of us has the right to become a Simon, especially now, when a list, citing Suruç, Ankara, Sultanahmet, Ankara, İstiklal, stands before us...

NOTES

[1] Here the term “Simons” is most probably used in the way it was used in Hanefi Avcı’s book, titled Haliç’te Yaşayan Simonlar (Simons Living in Haliç), basically denoting those people who totally abide with the priorities and aims of the groups/organizations to which they belong and who react against only those violations of rights that are directly related to their groups/organizations. Besides, the name “Simon” has widely been used in the discourse of conservative circles throughout republican history in Turkey in a rather pejorative manner. It is a kind of a “catchword” that reflects the common conservative discriminatory stance against any ethnicity/religious identity that is not related to Sunni-Muslim Turkishness. Briefly, while the term is originally Hebrew, it is also used to connote Armenian identity.

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