Turkish academics ‘very scared’ as government imposes travel ban

Ex-Pentagon official: Erdogan liquidating his ‘suspected or imagined enemies’

July 21, 2016 06:16
2 minute read.
turkey coup

Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan shout slogans on the back of a truck during a pro-government demonstration on Taksim square in Istanbul, Turkey, July 16, 2016. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Israeli and Western researchers involved with Turkey’s academia told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that Turkish academics are living in fear, since the government implemented a travel ban in the aftermath of the recent coup attempt.

Academics were banned from traveling abroad on Wednesday in what a Turkish official said was a temporary measure to prevent the risk of alleged coup plotters in universities from fleeing.

State TRT television said 95 academics had been removed from their posts at Istanbul University alone.

“Universities have always been crucial for military juntas in Turkey and certain individuals are believed to be in contact with cells within the military,” the official said.

The official justified the ban by stating that it was a temporary measure.

“For [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, most of the universities are Western agents because their pro-Kemalist tendencies and links to American and European academic institutions,” Prof.

Efraim Inbar, director of Bar- Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies told The Jerusalem Post.

“Academic freedom is not a value that is cherished by Erdogan and Muslim Brotherhood circles,” he said.

A Western-based academic, who did not want to be identified and risk harming his work with Turkey, told the Post that his colleagues in the country are “very scared, as a witch hunt is under way now.”

Turkish academics abroad are receiving phone calls from their universities demanding they return as soon as possible, said the academic, adding that any failure to comply could mean trouble and raised suspicions.

The academic added that many Turkish academics will have difficulty carrying out their research if it involves work outside of the country.

The government is investigating each one.

Harold Rhode, a former longtime Pentagon official who specialized in Turkey, told the Post that Turkish academics are “petrified.”

“It is a strange form of democracy where people are afraid to open their mouths,” he charged, adding that Erdogan is using the coup “as a chance to liquidate his suspected or imagined enemies.”

Erdogan’s AKP-led government has accused the former ally and US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen as being behind the coup attempt.

“We are witnessing a battle within Islam. Gulen represents ‘Turkic’ Islam and Erdogan, Muslim Brotherhood Islam,” said Rhode, who is currently a visiting professor at Ariel University and a senior fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute.

On a more positive future looking note, Nimrod Goren, head of the Mitvim Institute, told the Post that academic freedom is an essential component of democracy and Israeli and Turkish academics succeeded in maintaining contacts despite the recent years of tension.

“Although the political crisis limited the scope of their cooperation. Now that an Israel-Turkey deal has been reached, civil society cooperation – including between universities – should be increased.”

“It will open wider channels of communication and insight into social and political trends in both countries.

Student and faculty exchange, as well as mutual participation in academic and policy conferences, should be encouraged and not limited,” added Goren.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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