Great ideas, it has been said, come into the world as gently as doves. Perhaps then, if we listen attentively, we shall hear, amid the uproar of empires and nations, a faint flutter of wings, the gentle stirring of life and hope. Some will say that this hope lies in a nation; others, in a man. I believe rather that it is awakened, revived, nourished by millions of solitary individuals whose deeds and works every day negate frontiers and the crudest implications of history.” – Albert Camus, Resistance, Rebellion and Death: Essays
The figures are mind-boggling. Since the attempted coup on 15 July 2016, a total of 5,717 academics in 117 universities have been sacked from their jobs in Turkey, according to Bianet.org; 15 universities have been shut down altogether; and, according to the Ministry of Justice, 69,301 students have been incarcerated as of the end of 2016, which accounts for one-third of the total number of prisoners in the whole country.
Most of those who have managed to keep their jobs have been affected by the atmosphere of increasing oppression, often – quite understandably – practising a form of self-censorship to avoid persecution. As the sociologist Nilufer Gole put it in a recent interview on the state of academic freedom in Turkey: “Our freedom of speech is under attack, our personal voices are silenced and our words are penalised.”
A simple headcount or fancy infographics are not enough to fully grasp the consequences of the Turkish government’s war on academe.
What we are facing is nothing less than what some have called an ‘academicide’, a real carnage with real victims – former academics who commit suicide in desperation or lose their lives while working in hazardous temporary jobs; families ripped apart due to the travel ban imposed on discharged academic personnel; financial hardship resulting from the inability to find employment either in the public sector or indeed the private sector, which is reluctant to hire the ‘unwanted’ as it seeks to avoid potential trouble with the government.
Deprived of the means to secure a livelihood and their basic freedoms, the purged academics are trapped, if not inside concrete walls, then in a void, a dark present with no future.
No wonder, then, that academics and students who are already abroad are no longer returning to Turkey and those who have not yet been purged or banned from travelling seek every opportunity to continue their career and education elsewhere while they still can.
“Turkey loses it brains”, wrote journalist Zia Weise in an article on the unprecedented level of brain drain from Turkey, pointing to the sharp increase in the number of applications to various institutions such as Scholars at Risk or Scholar Rescue Fund from Turkish scholars.