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Turkish Government Comes Down Hard On Academics After Failed Coup


The Turkish government has come down hard on academics since the failed coup attempt last week. It has suspended over 15,000 education workers, ordered the resignation of university deans across the country and imposed a temporary travel ban on academics. Those who are overseas on assignment are being asked to report to the government and might be sent home.

Sinan Ciddi is executive director of the Institute for Turkish Studies at Georgetown University. He taught in Turkey for four years, from 2004 to 2008. He says his colleagues there now are afraid for their lives, and I asked him why the government is targeting academics.

SINAN CIDDI: I mean, this wouldn't be the first time. I mean, in past coups, particularly following 1980 coup, the military order at that time also made an example of going after a considerable number of scholars and defanging the critical sort of perspective of academia.


CIDDI: And it's also no secret from the perspective of Erdogan that he's had a rough ride with academics who don't necessarily see eye-to-eye with his world view. Erdogan doesn't like the fact that academia and scholars and critical opinion basically tries to fine tune what should be Turkey's democratic credentials for the future. And ever since the mid-2000s, the tone of Erdogan against scholars has increasingly become more and more vitriolic.

MCEVERS: Right, I was going to say - and that would have a chilling effect on those academics who remain.

CIDDI: It does, and it's very chilling. And it's also - they would have to define what their role would be. I mean, now that, you know, new deans are likely to be appointed, possibly new university presidents, they might come down with very severe directives on what they can write, what conferences they can participate at. Are they going to be feared of being listened to or reported on if they take a critical tone? We've had a lot of defiant, a lot of brave scholars in the past who did what they were supposed to do, which was critically analyze what their expertise is and how that relates to Turkey.


CIDDI: I just feel at this stage more might be coming down in the way of these sort of punitive measures, which may endanger their livelihood.

MCEVERS: Turkey's government has blamed this failed coup on followers of a cleric named Fethullah Gulen. He's based here in the United States and has set up a network of schools inside Turkey. Are many Turkish academics followers of Gulen?

CIDDI: I'm sure there are certain universities in Turkey that are explicitly sort of Gulenish and that affiliate with the cleric, but also a considerable number of universities I don't think have anything to do with the movement. It's very hard to say, you know, who's who and who's what. But again, I mean, just the mere fact that these individuals might be sympathetic to or affiliated with Gulen movement does not make them criminals. This is why we fear that the wide net that's been cast to go after people is possibly a witch-hunt.

MCEVERS: How do you think this will all play out? I mean, what's the end game here for academics? I know you talked about people just being worried about where this is going to go. What's your sense?

CIDDI: It's hard. I mean, right now it's so fluid and so developing on a daily basis. My ultimate sense is this is not going to bode well, end well for the academy. It's not going to end well for journalism. It's not going to end well, I think, for a lot of voices who are not necessarily opponents of Erdogan, but, oh, you know, would like to live in a society that is broadly critical and analytic. I think right now Erdogan's in such a position that he is basically unparalleled and unrivaled in his ability to basically be able to eradicate, if not most, then maybe even all of it just by intimidation and fear.

MCEVERS: Sinan Ciddi is executive director of the Institute for Turkish Studies at Georgetown University. Thanks for your time today.

CIDDI: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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