Turkey academics speak of fear and loss amid mass sackings

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Academics lay down their gowns during a protest outside a university campus in Ankara (10 February 2017)Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Academics and students at a university campus in Ankara laid down their gowns in protest on Friday

Turkey's university lecturers remain defiant, despite what they describe as heavy-handed police tactics during protests against the latest sacking of 330 academics.

In the last seven months following the failed coup attempt, nearly 100,000 civil servants have been removed from their posts. That includes teachers, police officers, soldiers, academics and lawyers.

The government accuses them of being members of terrorist organisations or groups seen as a threat to national security.

Among them is a famous music maestro, a leading neuropsychologist aged 82, a well-known constitutional professor and a lecturer who was imprisoned for signing a petition denouncing Turkey's conflict with Kurdish rebels.

Symbolic protests were held by students, academics and opposition MPs in the capital Ankara and in Istanbul, where sacked professors delivered lectures.

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In some cases, academics laid their gowns on the ground protesting against the police blockades preventing them from entering universities. Photographs showed police trampling on their gowns, sparking a big reaction on social media.

The leading neuropsychologist

Eighty-two year old professor Oget Oktem Tanor, who founded the first neuropsychology clinic in Turkey, has been working as a guest lecturer in many universities.

In Turkey's state universities, staff are classed as civil servants. But she says the government's sacking cannot be applied to her because she is not working under a government contract.

Image source, Ugur Cikrikcili
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Oget Oktem Tanor founded the first neuropsychology clinic in Turkey

"Advisers tell me I might lose my title as a professor," Ms Tanor told the BBC. "This is nonsense. It is an academic title.

"They say I might lose my passport. OK, that's fine. They say my pension might be blocked. I cannot comprehend it. But, of course, they can do anything."

Her students describe her as a hard-working, colourful character. They say she is tireless when it comes to teaching and sharing her knowledge and experiences.

The music maestro

Ibrahim Yazici gave lectures in several universities in Turkey and has worked on the international stage as a conductor.

Mr Yazici told the BBC he could not think of "terror and music together".

Image source, Ibrahimyazici.com
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Music maestro Ibrahim Yazici says that Turkey should overcome fear through art

"During the concerts I conducted after big terror attacks in Turkey, I always turned to the audience and emphasised the fact that terror aims to create fear in people," he said.

"And we should overcome that fear through art. Especially in the times of terror attacks, art is holding people together."

The prominent law professor

Sacked constitutional professor Ibrahim Kaboglu warned in December against the timing of the amendments to presidential powers in Turkey.

Image source, AFP
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Sacked constitutional professor Ibrahim Kaboglu warned in December against the timing of the amendments to presidential powers

This followed a state of emergency being announced after the military coup attempt in July 2016 which has been extended several times.

He believes this means a fair public debate on constitutional change cannot take place.

The literary scholar

Last year Meral Camci was imprisoned after signing a petition of academics, objecting to violence in south-eastern Turkey.

She has since been sacked as a civil servant, which prevents her from working in Turkish universities in future.

Image source, Alexander Englert
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Last year Meral Camci was imprisoned after signing a petition

She is now working as a guest researcher at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in Germany.

"Neither when I was sacked from my job in Istanbul after 14 years of hard work, nor during my imprisonment have I felt what I am feeling right now," she said.

"I am out now but I feel myself restricted and imprisoned."

The government says the ones who were expelled have links to terrorist organisations including the Gulen movement, a group that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses of being behind the coup attempt.

However, critics - including many academics - claim Mr Erdogan is using this as an excuse to strengthen his position.