Open Letter to German Academia

We are deeply concerned to learn that the Zentrum für Türkeistudien und Integrationsforschung (ZfTI) in Essen is sponsoring a panel discussion on 13 June 2019 on the integration of refugee academics and students into Turkish higher education, and that it will do so in collaboration with the Turkish Council of Higher Education (YÖK).

A similar event was scheduled to be held on 11 June 2019 at the Brunei Gallery in the United Kingdom. Due to opposition from the international academic community, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) cancelled its hosting of the event (Source: Like the event in Essen, the panel discussion was planned in collaboration with YÖK, as one of a series of events organised to promote YÖK’s purported role in supporting refugee academics and students.

Established by the military junta in 1982, YÖK has played a key role in the harassment and dismissal of thousands of Turkish university faculty and staff, a role it has conducted under the direction of the Turkish government. The title of the event planned at ZfTI in Essen, ‘Carrying the Academic Heritage to the Future: Refugee Integration through Higher Education: Policies and Measures’, is thus both cynical and deeply troubling.

It is our hope that The University of Duisburg-Essen, as an internationally renowned institution which provides crucial support for persecuted scholars through the Academy in Exile, will not collaborate with an organisation that has been so detrimental to academic freedom.

Scholars at Risk, Human Rights Watch, and the Committee on Academic Freedom of Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America have all documented the severe violation of academic freedom in Turkey and reported on the Turkish government’s campaign against teaching and administrative staff and students. Since the July 2016 attempted coup d’etat, nearly 6000 university personnel have been dismissed and 15 universities closed. Most of their these individuals are permanently barred from employment in the public sector, and their passports have been confiscated. More shockingly, since 2016, almost 70,000 students have been jailed.

In January 2016, a group of 2212 academics have been specifically targeted for signing a petition requesting that Turkey return to the peace process. Hundreds of these academics have been either dismissed or forced to resign; dozens of graduate students have lost their scholarships or assistantships, and many are subjected to intimidation or threats at their universities. YÖK, together with the Turkish Scientific and Technological Research Council (TÜBİTAK) and the university chancellors, was directly involved in these purges and in the measures taken against students. The signatories of the peace petition have been removed from journal boards; they have been excluded from publications that are fully or partially funded by TÜBİTAK; many have been recalled to Turkey while abroad on visiting scholar positions; numerous scholars have been removed or banned from TÜBİTAK-funded projects.

Since 2016, hundreds of academics had to leave Turkey and they are forced into living in exile in different countries abroad. YÖK, together with TÜBİTAK, has not only helped carry out the government’s attacks on academics, but also legitimised them.

For this reason, we assert that any claim to protect the academic heritage in the Middle East by a country where thousands of academics are being arbitrarily dismissed, sentenced to jail terms, jailed, and forced into exile merely because of their alleged political views and without due legal process, is at best insincere.

We thus entreat The University of Duisburg-Essen to join us in denouncing the panel discussion to be held at ZfTI on 13 June 2019 and to reaffirm its commitment to defending academic freedom.

12 June 2019
Academics for Peace – Germany