A vicious war of words has broken out in Turkey after more than a thousand of the country's leading academics signed a petition calling for an end to the violence against the Kurds in the southeast of the country. The reaction from the government and its supporters to their petition has been loud and menacing.
“We will let your blood stream and we will take a shower in your blood,” Sedat Peker, a notorious convicted criminal and associate of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said in a posting on his personal website on January 13. The message was titled: “The So-Called Intellectuals, The Bells Will Toll for You First”.
Issuing death threats is illegal in Turkey, but despite calls for an investigation by parliamentarians that represent Kurdish interests the only investigating that's being done is into Professor Bulent Tanju of the Abdullah Gul University, who signed the petition and was promptly sacked after the letter came out. The Kayseri Public Prosecutor's Office has launched an investigation into Bulent for allegedly violating Article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code, which criminalizes “insulting Turkishness”.
Another signatory of the petition, associate professor Latife Akyuz of the Duzce University, was also fired and prosecutors have opened an investigation into her for allegedly making propaganda for the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), an outlawed terrorist organisation.
In all, 1,128 academics from 89 different universities – including foreign scholars like Noam Chomsky, David Harvey and Immanuel Wallerstein – signed the declaration titled: “We won’t be a part of this crime”.
The petition calls on Ankara to end the “massacre and slaughter” in the predominantly Kurdish southeastern regions of the country. “We ask the state to put an end to the violence inflicted against citizens right now, we as academics and researchers of this country declare that we won’t be a party to this crime and promise that we will sustain our stance in the presence of political parties, parliament and international public,” the statement reads.
“The Turkish state has effectively condemned its citizens in Sur, Silvan, Nusaybin, Cizre, Silopi, and many other towns and neighbourhoods in the Kurdish provinces to hunger through its use of curfews that have been ongoing for weeks. It has attacked these settlements with heavy weapons and equipment that should only be mobilized in wartime. As a result, the right to life, liberty and security, and in particular the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment protected by the constitution and international conventions, have been violated,” the petition continues.
The Turkish government's renewed campaign against the Kurds began in the wake of a deadly July 20 bombing in the southern town of Suruc that killed more than 30 people, which was blamed on Islamic State. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which had just lost its parliamentary majority due to a swing to the the pro-Kurdish, left-leaning Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) party, declared war on all terrorists – IS, PKK and far left – as it plotted fresh polls for November. Sure enough, three and a half months later it swept back into single-party power with an unexpectedly convincing win in the snap elections.
Today the southeastern provinces have become a no-go zone with street fighting breaking out on a daily basis (see bne IntelliNews exclusive report on the situation here). And in a dramatic illustration of the dangers, PKK militants set off a car bomb outside a police station in the biggest city in the region Diyarbakir on January 13, killing six. The death toll has been rising steadily with a total of 162 dead, half of them civilians, according to Turkish human rights groups.
But Turkey’s ruling elite are brooking no criticism of their campaign against what they regard as Kurdish terrorism. Erdogan lashed out at the academics earlier this week, ramping up the rehtoric by referring to them as “traitors”.
“I call upon all our institutions: everyone who benefits from this state but is now an enemy of the state must be punished without further delay," Erdogan said this week at a speech to ambassadors. He added that human rights violations in the southeast were being committed by “terrorists”, heaping the blame for the violence on the PKK and exonerating the state.
The Turkish nationalist opposition party, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), criticized the academics too, also calling them “traitors”. MHP leader Devlet Bahceli said: “We cannot entrust our children to them”, and accused the academics of “explicitly” supporting terrorism.
Peker has become a focal point in the row as he blatantly attempts to curry favour with the president with his inflammatory statements. Both the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) quickly called for the prosecutor general to bring charges against Peker.
Tempers are fraying on all sides. The “academics for peace” website that carries the petition was hacked on January 14 and a banner splashed across the home page that read: “This crime will never be forgiven”. At the time of writing the website was no longer available. Meanwhile, a pro-government newspaper Takvim published the names of all the academics who signed the peace petition, calling it the “list of traitors”. However, more people have since signed the petition in support of the academics; the number of signatories has now passed 2,000.
HDP co-spokesperson Ertugrul Kurkcu said: “If the public prosecutors do not act by considering these remarks [by Peker] as evidence of an organisation of mass killing, then it means that killing of the opposition is under the state’s protection. The impunity of this murderer will prove that the mafia has become an organic component of the ‘New State’.”
Peker’s death threats are only the latest in his pro-government antics. In October he held a “rally against terror”, campaigning in favour of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Rize in the run-up to the November 1 snap elections. At the rally, Peker declared “blood will flow greatly” if the security forces “tire” in their fight against terrorism.
In June last year the president attended the wedding of an infamous pro-government social media “troll” and was photographed chatting with Peker, who has repeatedly been accused by Turkish law enforcement officials of being the leader of an organized criminal gang.
With friends like that who needs enemies. But Erdogan has plenty of those and seems intent on creating many more as he seeks to further polarise this already bitterly divided country.