Nearly three centuries later — and slightly revising the historian Shelby Foote‘s famous line — “A Turkish university, these days, is a group of buildings around a small library, a mosque and classrooms cleansed of unwanted scholars.”
The “Great Turkish Purge” launched by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist, autocratic government in the aftermath of a coup attempt in July surprised many in its size. It should not have done. The failed putsch gave Erdogan’s government a golden opportunity to advance his crackdown on dissent of every kind. No wonder Erdogan, on the night of the attempt, said: “This [coup attempt] is a gift of God”.
In its annual “Freedom in the World” report, entitled “Populists and Autocrats: The Dual Threat to Global Democracy,” the Washington-based Freedom House said on January 31 that Turkey suffered the largest decline in freedoms among 195 countries over the past year. Turkey’s aggregate score declined 15 points to 38 out of 100 (the most free) — from having been in 53rd place in the 2016 report. It did manage to maintain its “partly free” status for “freedoms” together with 59 other countries. “[A]n attempted coup in July… led the government to declare a state of emergency and carry out mass arrests and firings of civil servants, academics, journalists, opposition figures, and other perceived enemies,” the report said.
Education Minister Ismet Yilmaz said that a total of 33,065 personnel have been dismissed from his ministry, most of them teachers, educators and administrative staff. Of those purged, 3,855 have been detained on charges of “terrorism”.
Qualitatively speaking, the situation at Turkish universities is no better. Most university presidents, appointed by Erdogan, staunchly ally with his party politics and dismiss academics they view as “Erdogan’s political adversaries.”
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