Murat Belge, a renowned Turkish academic, leaving Turkey as ‘scholar at risk’

Murat Belge, a renowned liberal Turkish scholar known for his activism in favour of a referendum change in 2010 is planning to leave Turkey for a position at Oxford University aided by a fund for scholars at risk, reported by leftist, neo-nationalist Aydınlık daily.

“Murat Belge too is joining the caravan of liberal writers leaving Turkey,” the newspaper said, adding that anti-government academics were upset that a figure they saw as having been close to the government until recently should apply for funding to escape the consequences of its policies.

According to a report by online news outlet Ahval, Murat Belge had a long record of espousing liberal causes in Turkey, and narrowly avoided a prison sentence in 2005 for hosting a conference on the Armenian genocide at İstanbul’s Bilgi University.

He was among the founders and active members of the human rights group Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, later renamed Citizens’ Assembly, which became a target of the Turkish press after two of its employees were among 10 rights activists detained on accusations of planning to overthrow the government.

Belge was also prominent in the run-up to the 2010 referendum on changing Turkey’s constitution, in which he urged a “yes, but not enough” vote in favour of what he saw as a broadly positive set of changes to the military-instituted 1982 constitution.

Opponents to the measure said that liberals were being manipulated by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, and that while the package included wide-ranging reforms, it would also increase the power of the executive over the judiciary.

At least 5,717 academics at 117 universities in Turkey were dismissed from their jobs by the government decrees issued under a state of emergency declared in the aftermath of a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Approximately 380 academics were dismissed for signing a peace declaration accusing Turkish government of carrying out heavy-handed operations in Turkey’s southeastern region, while 2,808 academics working at 15 Gülen-affiliated universities were dismissed as the universities were closed.

According to a BBC Turkish report in July, 23,427 academics have been affected by the state of emergency that was declared following the failed coup attempt in 2016. The report said at least 23,427 academics either lost their jobs at universities when their contracts were terminated or were dismissed from their positions, or the universities where they worked were closed down by the government after Sept. 1, 2016.

With the first government decree, No. 667, 15 universities were closed down on the grounds that they were linked to the faith-based Gülen movement. There is no information about the number of administrative staff members working at these universities who were affected, but 2,808 academics were left unemployed and 65,000 students had to seek new universities according to figures from Turkey’s Council of Higher Education (YÖK).

Another state decree in September targeted 15,000 research assistants for their alleged links to the Gülen movement. They were part of an Assistant Professor Training Program (ÖYP) that was launched in 2010 to meet the need for academics in Turkey.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. Turkey’s Interior Minister announced on December 12, 2017 that 55,665  people have been arrested. Previously, on December 13, 2017, The Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

A total of 48,305 people were arrested by courts across Turkey in 2017 over their alleged links to the Gülen movement, said Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Dec. 2, 2018. “The number of detentions is nearly three times higher,” Soylu told a security meeting in İstanbul and claimed that “Even these figures are not enough to reveal the severity of the issue.”

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