The state of emergency declared after the coup attempt on July 15 resulted in a purge in universities that has never been seen before in Turkey's recent history. The emergency decrees have been used for dismissing both experienced academics who carried out many researches in universities and young academics whose careers had just begun. However, despite everything that happened, some academics hold on to their profession, which they define as “reason for being”. In this regard, Kocaeli Solidarity Academy is a precursor and guiding initiative. Having completed its first term of “alternative education”, it has also the purpose of establishing an open and free school of life for people with a new two-tear program.
FATİH GÖKHAN DİLER
Academics who signed the declaration titled “We won't be accomplices to this crime” on January 11, 2016 took a new and challenging turn in their lives after President Erdoğan called them “evil”, “cruel”, “vile” and so on and urged “the related institutions to take the necessary measures”. The number of signatory academics was 1128 at the beginning, but this number had risen all over the country as a reaction against Erdoğan's call. On the other hand, university administrations obeyed Erdoğan's call and started launching investigations against these academics.
While the investigations continued, the coup attempt on July 15 brought state of emergency and decrees having the force of law to our lives. With the decree no. 672 issued on September 1, 2016, 2,346 academic personnel were dismissed; this decree was also a message for academics who signed the declaration titled “We won't be accomplices to this crime”. 19 signatory academics from Kocaeli University were included in the list of dismissed academics. Kocaeli fostered so many developments after the declaration that the city became a “pilot area” as the signatory academics defined.
Academics from Kocaeli University who signed the declaration, in addition to the administrative investigations, were detained in raids to their houses on January 15, 2017 and had criminal proceedings against them. Furthermore, academics from Kocaeli University were the first ones who were dismissed because of the declaration. The wave of dismissal continued without slowing down. In addition to dismissal, contracts of other academics were not renewed.
Suicide and hunger strike
With the purge in universities, lives of people who devoted themselves to academic production and shaped their lives around this career turned upside down. Most of the academics lost their works that they defined as “reason for being” and found themselves in difficult financial situations. The contract of Mehmet Fatih Traş, an academic from Çukurova University Department of Economics and Administrative Sciences, was not renewed; he had been working there for 6 years. On February 25, 2017, Traş committed suicide. Academic Nuriye Gülmen was dismissed with the decree no. 679 issued on January 6, 2017. Gülmen went on a hunger strike for returning to her position; now, she is on hunger strike for over 60 days, which is a critical point that might lead to permanent impairments.
However, wave of dismissal gave way to new models of resistance in various cities. Academics started to create alternative working platforms in order not be drifted away both from their works and students.
Kocaeli, the first target of the purge, hosts the first solidarity academy in Turkey. 19 dismissed academics continue to teach in the hall of the union; in this way, they keep contact with their students and say “We are here. We won't leave this city” with one voice. After the crowded launch on September 28, 2016, Kocaeli Solidarity Academy (KODA) started its courses on October 5. The first semester will end on May 24 with the seminar titled “Two brief assessments on urban space”. Courses of summer school can be seen at kocaelidayanisma.org.
We visited KODA in order to attend the course offered by Aysun Gezen and Kamuran Akın, two academics dismissed from Ankara University. We talked about the problems with which academics are faced and also listened to the story of solidarity academy about which academics are really excited.
List of academics dismissed from Kocaeli University
Assist. Prof. Adem Yeşiyurt, Assoc. Prof. Aynur Özuğurlu, Assist. Prof. Burcu Yakut Çakar, Assist. Prof. Derya Keskin, Assoc. Prof. Gül Köksal, Assist. Prof. Güven Bakırezer, Assoc. Prof. Hakan Koçak, Assist. Prof. Hülya Kendir, Prof. Kuvvet İhsan Lordoğlu, Prof. Mehmet Cengiz Erçin, Assoc. Prof. Mehmet Rauf Kesici, Mehmet Ruhi Demiray PhD, Prof. Nilay Etiler, Prof. Onur Hamzaoğlu, Assoc. Prof. Özlem Özkan, Prof. Ümit Biçer, Prof. Veli Deniz, Assist. Prof. Yücel Demirer, Prof. Zelal Ekinci.
Keskin: “KODA is our reason of being”
Certainly, “we won't leave this city” is the sentence that we hear most frequently in Kocaeli Solidarity Academy. 15 academics dismissed from Kocaeli University paved a way for the establishment of many other solidarity academies with the enthusiastic launch of KODA on September 28. In fact, they even encouraged their colleagues.
The first solidarity academy
Derya Keskin, one of the most active academics in KODA, tells about the process of establishment: “We decided not to leave this city and then we discussed how we can make this possible. We thought that we can do it only by continuing what we have been doing so far. We are scholars; we write, we tell and we improve ourselves with our students. We decided to establish an academy. We discussed what we should name it and agreed on 'solidarity academy'. Solidarity is important for us. We thought of the name 'peace academy'. There are solidarity courses in other cities, but KODA is the first solidarity academy. Afterwards, others were established. Our opening was full of enthusiasm; many friends from various institutions came.”
A university in touch with people
Series of seminars was started with Güven Balıkezer's course titled “Freedom of expression and its epistemological foundations” and then continued in the office of Eğitim-Sen (Education and Science Workers' Union) Kocaeli Branch on every Wednesday. Derya Keskin says: “The first seminars were the most crowded ones. Naturally, the number decreased a bit in time. In the course of 15 weeks, each of us offered one seminar. We didn't make any specific preparations; we just made presentations related to our research interests in order to come together with locals of the city and students. We had discussions. In addition to students, retired people were also coming. We had to take a break for about 2 weeks, since students were not in the city. Apart from that break, we kept holding events. We wanted to have opportunities for coming together other than the seminars. The process created itself. Journalists came, mostly from Europe. Some people wanted our advice on different matters. For instance, an education union from Germany wanted to organize a workshop in their country for discussing what kind of a solidarity action might be taken. Since our passports are canceled, our friends in Germany will attend the workshop. On seminar days, we meet early in the morning. Our agenda is determined by what people expect from us. We want to hold a forum after the seminars. We want to evaluate this year and discuss what we can do next.” This is how Keskin summarizes what happened in KODA so far. She adds that there will be more serious projects and they are working for launching a two-year school of life.
Two-year program is ready
They try to turn KODA into an association in order to make it a legal entity. However, the state of emergency poses an obstacle. The application made on March 1 was rejected due to shortcomings. Under normal circumstances, application is enough for establishing an association, but under the state of emergency, it takes an investigation. Keskin says, “They didn't regard us 'founded'. On April 1, we inquired after our application, but they didn't say anything. They just say there is state of emergency. Though we lack a legal entity, we are working as an institution. We issued a bylaw. We released it, even if they don't recognize it. In Turkey, it is really hard to make long-term plans. A year ago, this was beyond our imagination. Suddenly, our lives had completely changed. There are several reasons for having established KODA. We wanted to continue what we have been doing and maintain our contact with the city and our students. We are not working for our wage. We can do it without being paid. However, some conditions should be met; technical, physical and economic conditions. We use the office of Eğitim-Sen, which is a sustainable option. We are seeking an alternative model of education. We are preparing a two-year program. Each of us is working for their own researches. We are applying for grants. Some of our works are supported. Our greatest project is the two-year program. We will spend two years continuing what we are doing here in an alternative way. This is our goal. This is our reason for being; to take a stand in the face of this wrecked situation in Turkey. This is the reason why there is a solidarity academy. We are trying to do something with other academies. For now, there are 12 of them.”
“Don't get used to this situation”
Addressing her colleagues currently working in universities, Keskin says: “There is one thing that hurts me: people are getting used to this. They say, ‘They left and we continue. We are still paid and working as academics.’ This is critical. I don't expect them to sink in sorrow, but some of our friends will lose their future, if they get used to this situation. Their acceptance offends me the most. Of course, we want them to stand by us. We staged protests. After the last decree, our students staged protests, expressing their solidarity with their professors. We were tear-gassed, beaten up. Whenever we take to streets, we are beaten up. Police officers call me by name and then beat me up. Some of our friends resigned from Eğitim-Sen, which is the only organization that supports us. It is like our home. When you resign from it, it means that you no longer support me. They greet me when we come across, but it means nothing under these circumstances.”
Kayhan: “My friends tell me that I would feel relieved if I am dismissed”
Those who attended opening events of KODA listened to a speaker who told about the situation in Kocaeli University after 19 academics were dismissed with a decree. Aslı Kayhan was among the second group who signed the declaration as a reaction after President Erdoğan urged “the related institutions to take the necessary measures” concerning 1128 academics who signed “We won't accomplices to this crime” declaration. On the day of opening, Kayhan said: “In this university, a different kind of state of emergency operates. The university is turned into an open prison, so to speak. Due to ID control, there are long queues in front of the gates. Inside the university, security follows us constantly and everybody is under pressure. The courses are devoid of spirit.”
“It is not a university”
Aslı Kayhan is an academic staying in limbo; her soul is in the solidarity academy, while her body remains in the university. She says, “Working is too hard for me. I don't feel like I am a part of academic environment. I don't feel like I am going to a university. It is not a university. I don't mean to insult the friends in there. I just don't think that there is any academic activity.” Working in sociology department, Kayhan's research interests are culture of solidarity and working class. When her friends with whom she shared an office were leaving, she kept thinking what she will do after them. First thing she considered was to resign.
“Academy is not there, but here”
“My friends told me that I shouldn't resign. After all, university is a place of struggle... We say that we will go back. It is the people. This thing is, we are the people, not them. We will take this public service back. I stay there only for continuing this struggle.” She adds that she feels worried from time to time, thinking how she will make a living. However, she states that foundation of KODA eliminated such worries: “In a meeting, we decided not to leave this city. I feel belong here. I carried out my academic work here. I don't have that worry anymore. Every morning, I have to encourage myself to go to the university. And my friends tell me that I would feel relieved if I am dismissed. The classroom is the only place in which I feel free. I teach sociology. I am telling something that is different from what is happening outside. I told this to my students. I revised my syllabus in this regard. I said that I am going through the most important period of my career; I said that I want to come to school, though I feel barely motivated. Some students understood it very well. There are others who are concerned that I might be dismissed. I am outspoken in the class.”
Lordoğlu: “My roommate was the one who signed the decree”
Kuvvet Lordoğlu, after he was dismissed with the decree no. 672, applied for settling his social security issues. He was informed that he worked as an academic for 35 years 5 months and 14 days. Though his life has changed rapidly since September 1, when he was dismissed from Kocaeli University along with his 18 colleagues, there is one thing that has never changed: he still lives the life of an academic. He is one of the senior academics in KODA; the fact that state won't add it to the number of days worked doesn't matter. He hasn't left the city and continues working as an academic with the hope establishing a free school of life.
Being an academic for peace
Having signed “We won’t be accomplices to this crime” declaration, Lordoğlu says: “I have never felt fed up by academy. If I had a second chance in life, I would have chosen to be an academic again.” He worked in private sector for a while, but he didn’t like it. He talks about his career in university that started in 1981: “It is a place that gives you some authority and makes you feel that authority. There is a spiritual pleasure in the way people call you ‘professor’. I loved being with students and academy. I would love to go back one day, once this period is over.”
Kocaeli is the city where academic purge has started. Lordoğlu and his 18 colleagues are the first ones who are dismissed with a decree. Kocaeli stands out with the solidarity and resistance taking place there. When we are waiting for the next course in KODA, we keep hearing this: “We won’t leave this city.” Lordoğlu says, “What keeps us together is being an academic for peace, which served like a common ground that brought people with different worldviews together.”
Lordoğlu and his wife went to Cizre with Turkish Medical Association on October 2015. “I saw destroyed buildings, walls riddled with bullets and neighborhoods separated by curtains there. After that, I didn’t hesitate to sign the declaration. I would sign it again. What I saw there cannot be overlooked.” He also talks about the process of signing the declaration: “We had signed so many declarations before and nothing happened. However, when I saw President Erdoğan’s reaction, I felt like we managed to initiate something this time. I thought that he was promoting us. Because of his reaction, many people signed the second declaration. He raised awareness. And I was surprised, since I didn’t expect such a reaction. I have never thought that there will be decrees. We have nothing to do with this Gulen movement. Ours is another story. We expected suspension, but decrees were unexpected. When we detained on January 15, our students came to stand with us. And the chief prosecutor talked to our lawyers and said, ‘We wish they forgive us.’ This shows that they were under pressure. My wife and I signed the petition and faced with a decree. We were asked to leave our dwelling in 15 days.”
I felt like being stabbed in the back
After that, some people gave him the cold shoulder and some colleagues stopped calling him. And the decree that caused dismissal of Lordoğlu and his 18 friends were signed by one of his old friends who was his roommate when they were students. Lordoğlu says that he feels disappointed: “I was in his associate professorship examination. He used to come to my house. We lived in the same campus. I found out that he signed the decree. I felt sad. I thought I should call him, maybe there is a mistake. I asked him if he signed it and he said that he doesn’t remember. This is not possible. Then, our friends expostulated on him and he admitted he signed it, saying ‘They would have thought that I am Gulenist, had I not signed it.’ This is what offended me most. It is like being stabbed in the back… So unexpected… I was very close to some of my colleagues, but then they stopped talking to me. I came across one of them recently, but I pretended I didn’t see him, because I didn’t want to cause him trouble. He called out to me and we talked. He said, ‘I cannot say I am sorry, I don’t know what to say.’ Saying sorry is a symbolic thing; it is an expression of support. He felt embarrassed and became distant. However, I cannot forget, it is hard.”
An academic in a village
Lordoğlu and his wife moved to a village for avoiding financial problems for a while. He talks about his friends, both spiritual and real, and people who isolated themselves from the world and never talk: “People had hard times. It was comparatively less hard for me. Some of them are paying rent and stuff. I have a home in a village in İznik; we used to go there on weekends. We moved there, since we didn’t have anywhere else to go. An isolated life outside the village… I like working with soil, but of course it is less comfortable. We used stove to heat. We had to go some other villages to get newspaper. We spent the winter there. It is hard to make a living, pay the rent with little income. I have two daughters. I have even a grandchild. This situation affects one’s close relatives very much. We are fine, life goes on. They felt said, but there is no fear. We managed to do with less. I tried to continue my academic activities except from teaching. I wrote articles and reports…”
Opened on September 28 2016, KODA held a series of seminars from October 5 to March 12. Now, it brings other dismissed academics from various cities together with people and students. Lordoğlu notes that they need support for maintaining KODA and adds: “We will start a summer school. There are some students who feel alone after we left. We are trying to make KODA sustainable.”