Solidarity with Professor Meltem Ahıska

Former Visiting Professor (CEU, Department of Gender Studies, 2003) target of unjust repression and sentenced to prison (conditional deferral for 5 years) in Turkey

The CEU Department of Gender Studies expresses solidarity with our former colleague Meltem Ahıska, who was among those recently sentenced to prison for voicing their opposition to military conflict. We call on the Turkish government to cease its persecution of academics and activists, including several of our students, alumni/ae, and current colleagues at CEU, who have been targets of unjust political repression and legal persecution in Turkey in recent years. The following profile reflects what many scholars have been facing in Turkey and is a reminder of the precarious position of academics and students from a variety of countries with the increasing power of populist and nationalist leaders who threaten freedoms of movement and expression for scholars around the world.

A professor of sociology at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, Meltem Ahıska has written extensively on Orientalism/Occidentalism, social memory, and gender, including: Occidentalism in Turkey: Questions of Modernity and National Identity in Turkish Radio Broadcasting, London: I.B.Tauris 2010; Milletin Bölünmez Bütünlüğü’: Demokratikleşme Sürecinde Parçalayan Milliyetçilik(ler) [‘The Indivisible Unity of the Nation’: Fragmenting Nationalisms in the Process of Democratization] (with Ferhat Kentel and Fırat Genç), TESEV 2007;  and most recently “The power-drive and the time of feminine politics”, in Feministiqá (2018).

Meltem Ahıska is one of the signatories of the 2016 Peace Petition “We will not be a party to this crime!” along with 2212 of her colleagues. The Peace Petition called on the Turkish state to cease its escalating violence and violations of human rights in Kurdish provinces, and to obey local and international law.

Soon after the publication of the Peace Petition, the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, heavily criticized academics, accusing them of terrorism. Following this, the Turkish media started a massive defamation and intimidation campaign against the signatories. Several of them received threats. Four were imprisoned for a month in pre-trial detention on charges of making terrorist propaganda. All signatories faced police investigations, over 500 have faced disciplinary measures. Many academics who signed the petition have lost their jobs. Others were removed from administrative positions, experienced bullying in their institutions, and had their academic work systematically impeded. Similarly, PhD students have faced severe changes to their funding provisions, some grants were cut or their PhD projects made impossible altogether. These reactions to the Peace Petition highlight the extent of authoritarianism and harsh repression in the Turkish state.

On February 21, 2019, the 33rd Heavy Penal Court at the İstanbul Courthouse handed down its judgment on 27 academics, whose cases were previously combined. 14 academics have been sentenced to 2 years and 3 months in prison for "propagandizing for a terrorist organization" because they did not “show remorse”. The 14 academics will appeal against the ruling. The court has sentenced another 13 academics, among them Meltem Ahıska, to 1 year, 10 months and 15 days in prison for “propagandizing for a terrorist organization”. In these 13 cases the announcement of the verdict has been deferred. This limits the right to defense.

During the trial, following the attorneys’ defense statements, the academics were asked for their last words. Meltem Ahıska’s statement was: “I want peace and justice.”