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Draining Turkey's brains

Hartl, Judith
Judith Hartl
July 24, 2016

Universities in Turkey are being systematically brought to heel. Hundreds of academics are being sacked. Soon the country will face a brain drain, with very serious consequences, DW's Judith Hartl writes.

Türkei Präsident Erdogan
Image: picture-alliance/abaca/K. Ozer

Attempts at intimidation by Turkey's government are nothing new. Scientists and academics have long been subject to harassment. Years ago, Yok, the Turkish university council, started getting rid of rectors and replacing them with academics who toed the party line. Until recently, just four were left. They have now been forced to step down, along with almost 1,600 deans.

A travel ban has been imposed on almost all university academic staff. No one is allowed to go to conferences anymore, to travel abroad for research, for fellowships or even for leisure. The very successful TDU Turkish-German university in Istanbul, inaugurated in 2014, has also been affected. Turkish academics abroad have been ordered to return as soon as possible.

It is obvious what will happen next. The deans will be replaced by Justice and Development Party loyalists, and they will keep a close eye on what is taught. Anyone who expresses even the slightest criticism will be sacked. All this in order to purge the universities, which have supposedly been infiltrated by supporters of the Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Hartl Judith Kommentarbild App
DW's Judith Hartl

It's Turkey's loss

This is a disaster, and not just because it has left thousands of distraught academics with no future in the current political climate. Above all, it is a catastrophe for Turkey, which is going to lose the scholarly class that has become indispensable to modern democracies: academics, intellectuals, free thinkers, creatives. It won't be long before they leave the country - even if it breaks their hearts to do so. Only abroad will they be able to pursue their careers unmuzzled, without fear of being sacked or even arrested for the least expression of critical opinion.

Turkey will bleed to death intellectually as long as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in power. The light of understanding is unlikely to touch him anytime soon.

Scientists and academics will leave the country, and the German and European scientific communities need to adopt a clear position - not just criticize the dreadful things currently happening in Turkey, not just express concern, but offer real support to the people affected. Send them a clear signal: You are welcome here. Their valuable specialist knowledge, their ideas and visions, must not be lost because of a transient despotic government.

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