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Professor: 'Political purge' in Turkey

Ercan Coskun
February 8, 2017

Professor Yuksel Taskin is one of the many academics in Turkey who were recently dismissed from their posts at public universities. Taksin told DW the ongoing crackdown in the country is "a political purge."

Türkei Prozess über Akademiker in İstanbul
Image: DW/K. Akyol

DW: Has the targeting of academics come as a surprise to you?

Yuksel Taskin: No, it hasn't. We were already aware of the report of the investigation commission at Marmara University. We have been expecting already for about a month now that we would get fired by a decree.

Do you feel any resentment?

There's a remarkable amount of resentment, indeed, given what's going on is nothing else than a political purge. In that regard they're trying to eliminate us using a certain excuse. They have already done this elsewhere, in various places in Turkey. They have been doing this intensely in academia for a long time and currently they’re intensely continuing this very action of theirs. It might go on like this if no major reaction emerges.

What do you mean by political purge?

There is no crime that we can talk about - even according to their own law. There is not an act which was associated with terrorism by any judge. There is not a single lawsuit against the academics who signed the peace petition "Academics for Peace," not one. There is a lawsuit against four people, with regard to which the terror charges were withdrawn. As a result of that the universities have ended up to be more judging than the judges themselves. This is an opportunity for them. They already have an extremely unqualified organization within the university. The relatively qualified fails to coexist with the unqualified. There isn't a certain scholarly interaction anyway. Actually even academia itself doesn't exist in Turkey. There is handful of little islands, which we can define as academic, whereas the rest are civil servants. We're having that sort of a problem at the moment. And in my personal opinion, this very phenomenon is a political purge.

Türkei Istanbul Beyazit Universität
Universities have been targeted in Turkey's post-coup crackdownImage: picture-alliance/dpa/F. Baumgart

There are people on social media who argue these scholars shouldn't have signed the petition if they didn't want this kind of reaction. This time there are writers with close ties with the government, in contrast to the past, who said the academics shouldn't have been fired. There have been arguments around the idea that the people targeted had no connection whatsoever to the movement of Fetullah Gulen, the Muslim cleric living in self-imposed US-exile who the government accuses of being behind Turkey's failed coup in July. How would you comment on these reactions?

It’s basically absurd to accuse us of terror propaganda. I could have also lived in my ivory tower and written articles to be read by only five people. But at the same time I can adopt a political stance with regard to the fact that Turkey lost 50 thousand people. For instance I can say that this is a political issue and it shouldn't be resolved by means of guns, but with peaceful methods. The government used to say exactly the same a while ago.

There actually is criticism against the [outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK] here. Most of these aforementioned academics were critical of the PKK because of their re-introduction of the armed struggle. That's why we just laugh at the accusation that these people constitute a terrorist organisation. It is in no way real. We're just aware of the fact that one has to take risks for the future democratization of our country. If the numbers of those who take that risk increases, the country can be rescued from this abyss. There is also a grave dissatisfaction within the [ruling] Justice and Development Party (AKP) itself, but the culture of objection is absent in there.

What they're saying is: "We're so sad, this is not right, this is wrong." If you're calling something wrong, you need to express this as an objection and take action against it, put it into practice. Therefore I consider these statements to be positive in the sense of public opinion-building, however they're insufficient in regards to the morals of responsibility.

Türkei Prozess Akademiker Demo
People in Turkey have protested against the targeting of academicsImage: Getty Images/AFP/O. Kose

You were the Chair of Political History at Marmara University and you have published numerous books related to Turkish political history, Islamism as well as the AKP. How do you regard this era of Turkish politics?

Actually real socialism dissolved in 80 years and Kemalism in about 30-40. Under these circumstances, I think the current version of political Islam cannot survive for another 20-25 years, given they have misdiagnosed the ancient problem of Turkey. The ancient problem of Turkey is to learn how to share power, in other words to learn how to form a coalition. One shouldn't have a tiger by the tail.

Society can no longer be governed in a centralist manner. No matter what you do, a crisis arises. Consequently they move on the wrong track. There's no way out of that track. They're going to waste all this Islamic richness. It's fine by me, I'm not an Islamist, but they are. They have backed up Islamism with statism. There's no way out. I think they wasted their historic opportunity. But we're the ones who get harmed by it, the whole society - basically everyone gets harmed. But maybe we had to experience all this. After a certain amount of time, political Islam will have no charm in Turkey, because it does not have any project, it doesn't offer any answer to anything. We're currently witnessing an era in which people realize this remarkably. This is a kind of bankruptcy on their behalf; it is a devastating process indeed. Please do not deduce any optimism out of this. It's a process which devastates all of us - the entire society. However I don’t think that political Islam will get to be the winning side at the end.

Yuksel Taskin is the former Chair of Political History at Marmara University and the author of numerous books including "AKP era: Turkish Politics, Islamism and the Arab Spring" and "The History of Turkey from 1960 to Present".

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