Academic Freedom Thrives in Peace: When Militarism Dominates, It Disappears

Academic freedom thrives in peace: When militarism dominates, it disappears
by
Serdar M. Değirmencioğlu

Since January 11, scholars in Turkey have taken on strange habits. Some started flying and filming kites with their students, then posting videos on the internet late in the evening. Some started songwriting, producing strange lyrics. Some started organizing bus tours. My mobile phone had never seen so much WhatsApp action: It is now full of photos, songs, and conversations about these bizarre scholarly activities. Meanwhile, others started keeping tallies. A tally of those who lost their jobs. Another tally for very serious threats. Another for disciplinary actions. Yet another tally of those who suddenly lost their research or travel grants. The tallies are updated every week.

This is a true story. I am one of those who lost a job. On April 29, after months of mobbing, I was summarily dismissed. The administrators at Doğuş University found me at fault for signing a peace declaration, for calling on the government to stop its ruthless and senseless military campaign in the Southeast. My dismissal was part of an ongoing witch-hunt. 

As a scientist, I do not believe in witches. But obviously the government, controlled by a single man, does. The Council of Higher Education circulated orders to universities and internal investigations were initiated. In my case, the investigation was started on January 18. I told the committee I was expressing my rights and as a social scientist I have a duty to speak out. Shortly thereafter I lost my position as chair of the psychology department. It was clear what was to follow. I was soon found guilty and was dismissed weeks before the term was over. I was teaching four courses but no one cared about students or ethics. And one of my courses was focused on peace psychology.

Yes, I do believe in peace. But the government does not. And I firmly believe that I have a right to live in peace, to invite authorities to establish peace, and to express my opinions freely. As a scholar, I believe freedom of speech is essential for democracy, let alone the very existence of universities. But the government does not. Turkey is now full of universities where seeking or speaking the truth is not very popular. Even skepticism is not tolerated: The country is at war and in times of war a strong leader is needed. Dissent is considered treason. Academic freedom is, after all, a luxury.

I was not the only one who lost their job. Aslı Vatansever, a sociologist, was dismissed with me. We received the same sentence, the same injustice, and are now tallied. And the tallies are getting uglier and longer. A criminal investigation is underway and the government sent a warning: Four scholars were arrested and swiftly sent to prison. All they did was to speak at a press conference to reiterate the demands in the petition. That is when the kites emerged. Scholars and students flew kites right outside of the prisons: Kites symbolize freedom so the message was: “Freedom and peace will prevail.” The bus tours were also an act of solidarity. Scholars, journalists, peace activists and students were bussed to two prisons where they kept vigil. And those scholarly songs all songs of peace and freedom.

Speaking the truth has become a very dangerous act in Turkey. I will let others speak instead. The UN Human Rights Chief Zeyd Raad El Huseyin recently asked for an independent investigation of civilians who were burned to death in Cizre. Erik Jan Zürcher, a renowned historian, returned a medal of honor given to him in 2005 by the President of Turkey. “Basic freedoms in Turkey are no more,” he said. The hope for a democratic Turkey has vanished. Yervant Bostancı, a musician, recently said he had difficulty expressing what he had witnessed in Suriçi, Diyarbakır, the place where he was born and bred. “I am very, very sad,” he said, “It is as if my soul is bleeding.”

This is now certain: When militarism goes up, academic freedom goes down. Soon “academic risk” replaces academic freedom. I was recently told that I am a “scholar-at-risk.” If that is true, the same label can very well apply to the entire context. Universities in Turkey are at risk because academic freedom is disappearing. And so is the future of Turkey. This is why my soul is also bleeding. But I do have hope. Kites will fly, tyrants will fall. Truth will eventually prevail, and so will peace.

Editor's Note: 
Until recently Serdar M. Değirmencioğlu was professor of developmental and community psychology at Doğuş University in Istanbul. He is currently a member of the Executive Committee of Division 48 -- Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence and a member of the Steering Committee of Psychologists for Social Responsibility. Contact Serdar M. Değirmencioğlu.

Cyprus Academic Dialogue

Introduction – 
This is some exciting work being done in Cyprus in the academic community in regards to higher-profile peace work.  Many peace psychologists are involved in exceptional academic work in the Cyprus community and I encourage members to keep an eye open for their work.  If you are interested in reading more from these excellent peace psychologists you could also look at chapters in these books –
Social Identity in a Divided Cyprus
http://www.springer.com/us/book/9783319298672
and
Contested Symbols as Social Representations: The Case of Cyprus
http://www.springer.com/us/book/9783319054636
–– Scott Moeschberger, President-elect, Division 48

Cyprus Academic Dialogue – A Bi-Communal NGO of Academics, Scholars and Intellectuals Engaging for Peace in their Shared Island
by
Nicos Anastasiou, Co-President, Cyprus Academic Dialogue and Academic Director, InterNapa College
and
Costa Constanti, Political Analyst, Cyprus Academic Dialogue Board Member

Cyprus Academic Dialogue (CAD) held its first gathering of academics from both communities of Cyprus firstly in Nicosia in 2009 and then in the UN Buffer Zone in 2010 with the assistance of the Centre for Dialogue of La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia. The aim of these initial meetings was to discuss and exchange ideas on the Cyprus Problem and ways to end the division of the island. In 2012, CAD registered as an independent bi-communal NGO within the Republic of Cyprus with 210 members from both communities, the diaspora, Turkey, Greece, United Kingdom and elsewhere. It has an elected Board of Governors, all volunteers, led by two co-presidents – one from each main Cypriot community. 

CAD has grown to be a respected, influential, impartial NGO that supports peace, peace-building, peace-keeping, dialogue, compromise and engagement across the entire spectrum of politics and civilian led initiatives. CAD’s primary aim is an acceptable solution for the benefit of both the communities of Cyprus on the principles of a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation with political quality. CAD the last few years has been able to engage with the leaders of the two communities, the inter-communal negotiators and their advisors, political parties, Cyprus Problem related NGOs, media based in Cyprus, and, more importantly, political parties, media and civil societies in Turkey and across Europe. CAD was the first bi-communal Cypriot NGO to engage academics and other stakeholders in Turkey with the 2011 and 2013 roundtables in Istanbul and the 2015 roundtable in Ankara with the participation of Turkish Foreign Affairs officials, government representatives, as well as diplomats from many other interested countries. The latter event was an incredible opportunity to exchange ideas and have the Cypriot voice heard in the Turkish capital, something lacking for approximately 50 years. 

The CAD aims to bridge the divide between the aims and goals of its Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, whilst fostering an environment of peace, cooperation and compromise. The CAD not only consists of academics, but has grown to include writers, journalists, activists etc. Together they reach out to all stakeholders and the common person in Cyprus to facilitate a shift towards reconciliation and future-looking rhetoric that is inclusive of all Cypriots, regardless of ‘ethnicity’ or political affiliation. Whilst not wanting to erase the past, through peaceful non-confrontational approaches, CAD exposes the benefits of reunifying the island and working together for the common good of all inhabitants of the island.     

CAD, being a non-political entity and being tapped into the media and political parties, has been able to express itself as a Cypriot NGO working neither for, nor against, any of the communities of Cyprus, but purely as a Cypriot NGO. CAD always aims to be impartial and open-minded. CAD objectively looks at the realities and encourages dialogue and exchange of ideas to reach the best possible convergences between all stakeholders. This makes CAD quite a unique NGO, not only in Cyprus, but across the entire Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean region.  

By engaging the media, CAD has been able to reach much of the population and to allow them to see various points of view and alternative options to those currently known. CAD tries to influence policy making of the Cypriot leaders and its negotiators as well as public opinion by developing policy papers and public statements and encouraging progress in the peace talks. Its efforts focus to influence public opinion positively so that the negotiations for peace in Cyprus can be viewed as a necessity to break the stalemate and reach a solution for the future of all Cypriots. Its attempts are to explain the details of the peace process and the path to reunification through conferences, workshops panels, op-eds, public announcements and the social media. Such events have taken place all over Cyprus, in Turkey, Greece and the UK. 

Via the social-media page, CAD has been able to communicate ideas and information to an incredible 55,000 Cypriots (out of a total population of under one million). This helps to drive public opinion and raise awareness of what can be demanded and expected of the Cypriot leaders. 

Apart from the historical roundtables in Turkey, CAD also hosted the two Chief Negotiators at an intense closed-door discussion on the island of Corfu in 2015. In June 2016 it hosted the two Cypriot Leaders whereby they presented their views of life in a post-reunification federal island. This garnered unprecedented media attention, both locally and internationally. 

CAD has these last few years campaigned and prepared policy papers on the crucial Property Issue in the negotiations, on Displaced Persons, Governance, Truth and Reconciliation, Security, Decentralized Federation, Education and Confidence Building Measures (CBMs). These have been shared with all stakeholders, political leaders, negotiators, advisors, the UN, EU, political parties, diplomatic circles, academic institutes, NGOs etc. These have generally been linked to workshops, roundtables, panels and online debates within Cyprus, as well as Turkey. In recent years the diaspora has become more engaged in the process and CAD has opened fronts with them as well, mainly in the UK and Australia. 

By fostering a culture of peace, CAD has endeavored to contribute to the lessening of misinformation, to lowering ethnic-based tensions, hate-speech and racism, to limit exclusion, to encourage interaction and has chipped away slowly at the physical and mental wall that divides Cyprus and the Cypriots. By exposing Cypriots to alternative views, progressive ideas, demystifying the ‘other’ and encouraging truth and reconciliation, CAD does its utmost to foster a culture that demands peace and is driving the island away from division and towards unity. The work being undertaken by CAD in Cyprus can be utilized as a case-example for the Middle East and the broader region and indeed if the island is reunited soon Cyprus can be a shining example of peace for other nearby troubled areas.  CAD could help to export its methods and engage regional partners to follow suit.