Mehmet Fatih Traş, a 34 year-old assistant researcher at the faculty of economic and administrative sciences at the University Çukurova of Adana, decided last February 25 to bring an end to his life by jumping from the seventh storey of a building in Mersin.
The circumstances of Mehmet’s act, as established by converging sources, throw a stark light on what is happening in Turkey today. Mehmet Fatih Traş had defended his thesis in Econometrics on June 23, 2016. Starting in September 2010, as part of the preparation of his doctorate, he had held a temporary position (status 50d). After he obtained his doctoral degree, his contract was not renewed, but he was given a few teaching assignments. After the attack of December 10, 2016 in Istanbul, which was claimed by a group close to the PKK, he was denounced as a “terrorist” by one of his colleagues because of his links with the pro-Kurdish party HDP (which is legal and represented in Parliament) and his signing of the “Academics for Peace” (BAK) declaration on January 10, 2016, which voiced opposition to the war operations of the Turkish army against Kurdish civilians. His courses were thus suspended sine die, without any hearing or objective investigation. In the notes given to the newspaper Evrensel by his family, Mehmet Fatih Traş stressed that, in spite of the harassment he experienced along with two other colleagues who had signed the BAK petition, he persisted in considering his signature as a continuation of his academic activities and an expression of his academic freedom.
Mehmet Fatih Traş tried to apply to other universities, first in Mardin, where he was initially considered favourably before being brutally rejected given his signature of “Academics for Peace”; then at Istanbul-Aydin University, which offered him a two and a half year contract in 2017 with the department of Economy and Finance. He was about to move to his new job when word reached him that his appointment had been cancelled, for “reasons independent” of the will of the university. Realizing that he would have no academic future anywhere in Turkey “as long as I don’t compromise the human values which are part of my identity”, he chose to die.
The suicide of Mehmet Fatih Traş is the first to affect academics, but it is the twenty-first such act committed by people arrested without real proof of being accomplice to the putschists of July 15, 2016, or dismissed for the same reason, or for being accomplices to “terrorism” for having supported the HDP party or signing petitions calling for peace in the Kurdish regions.
In today’s Turkey under the state of emergency, where a further reinforcement of presidential powers is in store, these voluntary deaths attest to the government’s will to annihilation. The 130 000 civil servants revoked by a series of decrees (30 000 primary and secondary school teachers and 4811 academics) are placed in a situation of economic death, since they lose all rights to a salary, unemployment compensation, retirement pension or savings. Banished from the job market, they suffer a social as well as a civic death, since they are denounced as criminals to their neighbours and family. Frequently deprived of passports, they cannot go into exile.
No human being can resist such annihilation for long. Political stigmatization, being torn out of any normal professional life, the terrible fear for oneself and one’s family magnified by the anticipation of a drastic lack of resources, the stigma of being dismissed, the inability to project oneself into the future – this whole terrifying context is what leads to acts such as the suicide of our colleague. Without such persecution Mehmet Fatih Traş would still be alive. The lives of people like Mehmet have no importance whatsoever to the regime; they are “naked lives” in the sense defined by the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben in his essay Homo Sacer, reminding us of what Hannah Arendt had said about the stateless refugees of the inter-war period: they had lost even the right to have rights. Stripped of the elementary attributes of humanity, these men and these women are reduced to their sole biological existence, which can thus end in the face of complete indifference of society and the state, since they are held to be “savages”.
Suicide is the outcome of the policy of repression in Turkey. It concerns not only dismissed civil servants and prisoners of opinion. The story of Mehmet Fatih Traş highlights the enormous gray zones of persecution since July 16, 2016 against temporary staff and university and high school students. Having signed the “Academics for Peace” petition is considered equivalent to treason against the ethnic-religious community that Erdogan seeks to promote as the absolute principle of the nation. If researchers, academics, teachers, students are particularly targeted, it is because of the capacity of their knowledge, when critical, to express and thus to counter these processes of dehumanization of people judged to be deviant and asocial. The creation and transmission of such knowledge can communicate to young people the hope of a future.
The world needs to understand what is happening in Turkey. Europe has a role to play in preventing the irreparable from occurring, thanks to its experience of dehumanization of populations in order to destroy them, and its conscience of the democratic moorings indispensable for survival. We therefore call on its leaders to make it their priority to host refugee academics in exile and, more generally, to protect fundamental human rights including the right to have rights. We ask them to create a European academic institution that would allow all the academics in the world who have been dismissed because of their opinion or their belonging to a minority to be affiliated with it and thus preserve some form of professional identity. Such an institution could perhaps even provide a salary to those most deprived. We encourage everyone to be in solidarity with the teachers of Turkey, including by contributing financially to the aid provided by the Egitim-sen union to the victims of the purges*.
The future of Europe is unfolding in Adana and Istanbul, but also in Moscow, Damascus, Cairo, Teheran, Beijing and Washington. It is necessary and urgent to look history straight in the eye.
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Many of our colleagues in Turkey have had to abstain from signing this text in order not to reinforce the attacks they are already subjected to for having signed a simple call for peace.
Hamit Bozarslan (EHESS), Vincent Duclert (Sciences Po, EHESS), Selim Eskiizmirliler (Université Paris Diderot, Université Paris Descartes), Etienne Balibar (Université Paris Ouest La Défense), Eric Fassin (Université Paris VIII), Sophie Wauquier (Université Paris VIII), Claude Calame (EHESS), Diana Gonzalez (Sciences Po), Nora Seni (Université Paris 8), Jean-Louis Fabiani (Central European University Budapest), Joseph-Désiré Som-1 (Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient), Michela Russo (Univ. Lyon 3 & UMR 7023 CNRS), Clemens Zobel (Université Paris VIII), Thomas Berns (Univ. Libre de Bruxelles), Olivia Martina Dalla Torre (Université Lumière Lyon 2), Azadeh Kian (Université Paris Diderot), Isabelle Darmon (universite d'Edimbourg), Tuna Altinel (Université Lyon 1), Karine Abderemane (Université François-Rabelais de Tours), Olivier Grojean (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne), Zeynep Kivilcim (Georg-August University Gottingen), Marc Abélès (EHESS), Alain Musset (EHESS), Laurent Joly (CNRS), Pierre-Antoine Chardel (IMT / EHESS), Pierre-Antoine Chardel (IMT / EHESS), Aminah Mohammad-Arif (CNRS), Marie-Laure Basilien-Gainche (Université Lyon 3, IUF), Stéphanie Tawa Lama-Rewal (CNRS), Loïc Ballarini (Université de Lorraine), Zülâl Muslu (Paris Nanterre), Eric Michaud (EHESS), Anna Poujeau (CNRS), Thierry Labica (Nanterre), Alain Gascon (IFG-Paris 8), Serge Tcherkezoff (EHESS), Pascal Buresi (CNRS-EHESS-IISMM), Muriel Darmon (CNRS), Jacques Revel (EHESS), Marie-Aude Fouéré (EHESS), , , , , , Arsène , , , Yohann ,
Next signatories and text both in English and French, see:
Translation:Clemens Zobel and Jim Cohen
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