Joint statement

Turkey: Call for Proposals for Policy Brief Series

Freedom House seeks proposals based in Turkey, the Middle East, and the European Union, on academic freedom in Turkey.

Freedom House seeks proposals from both rising and experienced independent researchers, scholars, and affiliated research analysts, especially those based in Turkey, the Middle East, and the European Union, for forward-looking briefs on the following theme:

Academic Freedom at Stake in Turkey

The appointment of former AKP MP candidate Melih Bulu as the trustee rector of Boğaziçi University, one of the most reputable universities in Turkey, by President Erdoğan on January 1, 2021, struck a major blow to the academic freedom in the country. Until 2016, presidents of Turkey had the authority to appoint university rectors from among three candidates internal to the university, voted for by their peers. However, these internal rector elections were abolished by the presidential decree issued in October 2016. Melih Bulu’s appointment by the president made him the first to be selected solely by the president and the first to be from outside the university community since the 1980 military coup. This growing trend of direct involvement by President Erdoğan clearly politicizes the position of rector and brings the independence of Boğaziçi University, and Turkish academia more generally, into question. This triggered mass protests by students and scholars at the university, in an attempt to defend what is one of the last bastions of academic freedom in Turkey. Later, Bulu appointed himself as dean of the university's faculty of communications, which was also established by a Presidential decision. Following the establishment of new faculties via presidential decision, the rector appointed several scholars with close ties to the ruling AKP as deputy rectors holding various positions at the university. 

Since the appointment of Bulu, faculty members have organized a silent protest every day by standing on the main lawn and turning their backs towards the office of the rector. Most recently, Bulu suspended classes offered by part-time lecturers. Among them was Feyzi Erçin, a lecturer who had also been offering legal counseling services to students arrested during police raids in the aftermath of the protests.

Boğaziçi university is not the first or only case in Turkey where academic freedom is violated. Government intervention in academia in Turkey is very common. In 2016, thousands of academics signed a petition calling on the government to peacefully end the conflict in the southeast involving the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group. Many signatories lost their jobs, and some were tried and convicted for disseminating terrorist propaganda. Following the coup attempt later that year, even more academics across Turkey were removed and, in some cases, detained, while several universities were closed.

The brief would examine the Turkish government’s ongoing policies that undermine academic freedom in the country and the increasing crackdown on scholars and students who are critical of the government, particularly after the state of emergency was declared following the failed coup attempt in 2016. The brief would focus on the possible implications of President Erdoğan’s trustee rector at Boğaziçi University on academic freedom and freedom of expression, including on self-censorship and an exodus of academics to other countries.

Procedures:

Please submit concept proposals to [email protected] by July 26, 2021, with “Turkey Policy Briefs” in the subject line. The concept proposal should consist of an abstract of an outline of the proposed argument and recommendations that is no more than 200 words, and a CV of the principal researcher or researchers. Organizations and individuals may submit proposals for more than one brief. Priority will be given to concept proposals submitted in English. Also, Freedom House will encourage non-traditional applicants such as journalists, lawyers, or students, to provide the opportunity to write about the issues impacting their lives or livelihoods.

Contracted researchers will be asked to deliver a draft of 2500-3000 words. The brief will be published and promoted by Freedom House, with the byline and affiliation of the scholar or researcher. An honorarium of between $500 and $1,000 will be provided depending on the scope of the brief.

Turkey protest pic  Lawyers from Istanbul Bar Association gathered in front of the Bar Association building to support other Bar Associations whose protests were blocked.

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