Originally published by the International Panel on Social Progress, author and professor Pelin Tan writes an op-ed from Turkey about the effect terrorism and border conflict has had on his students. Read the original version here.
A 17 year old Syrian refugee named Mohammed follows me to my department at the university to find a sleeping place for two days before he will be deported to Syria from the border of the Mardin city region. The helpless director of Mardin’s foreign migrant station is overloaded with new arrivals and has no idea where he can host this young man. Mohammed just came from Istanbul where he searched for a job in Taksim Square after managing to escape from Homs by entering Turkey via the Antioch border. His family is in Syria hoping he will be safe and can continue his studies. Now he will be returned to Syria to join the military as a soldier, since this will be his only way of surviving in Syria.
Meanwhile, the family of my architecture student refugee Tarık plans to take the boat from İzmir to Chios. The 18 March EU-Turkey Agreement seeks to prevent the entry of refugees and migrant to Europe; at the moment it is expected that Greece will send anyone who enters back to Turkey. The EU intends to pay three billion Euros to Turkey in order to improve conditions for refugees and migrants. The agreement also defines Turkey and Greece as the buffer zones for absorbing the humanitarian disaster.
Under the shadow of this bad-faith deal between the Turkish state and the EU to trade the Syrian refugees and paperless migrants as leverage for negotiating its borders, the citizens of Kurdish-populated towns such as Cizre, Nusaybin and Diyarbakır embroiled in severe urban battles between the Turkish state and the PKK are also being forcing to migrate. Already many citizens have been killed without any solution on the horizon. Some of my graduate students could not even leave home due to the curfews and had to follow my classes over the internet.
Since mid-summer 2015, the urban surveillance and border security infrastructures have expanded due to the escalating political battles and violence in Turkey. Installing an extra-statecraft strategy of security and surveillance rather than a human-focused strategy can do nothing but support the ongoing violence. While the entire apparatuses of security and surveillance can only remain as empty signifiers, the justification for their application in public space marks a much bigger threat for citizens. Moreover, a war economy functions as a de facto urban development project that self-justifies rebuilding destroyed areas as a tabula rasa.
In the meantime, academics are being censored for their comments on this urban warfare and militarism. The Academics for Peace petition demands that the Turkish government resume the resolution process. The peace petition was signed by 1128 academics, and later others, over 1000 supporting academics’ signatures. The Turkish government has begun investigating those who signed the petition and officially pressuring universities to fire academics who signed. The state’s ignorance and criminalization of Academics for Peace as “terrorists” is a violation of the right of free speech essential to both academia and society in general. The case is dismantling the entire academic realm and casting it backwards into Turkey’s socio-political past. Dr. Esra Mungan (assistant professor of psychology), Dr.Kıvanç Ersoy (associate professor of mathematics) and Dr. Muzaffer Kaya (assistant professor of social science) asked for peace and were arrested and accused of spreading terrorist propaganda.
Mohammed may be dead now. Tarık’s family may be in the hands of human traffickers. Esra can no longer continue her classes from prison and may try to remain cheerful if she receives support. My other master student in architecture moved out with his family from the embattled town of Nusaybin to another town, and can no longer fully follow classes. One might think their situations are different, but in fact they are all part of an interrelated phenomenon in which terrorism, border conflict and urban warfare are the primary tools used nowadays by our all governments to justify the removal of citizens’ rights, human rights and urban rights. Not only will they tremendously harm the formation of our society, they are already creating entirely new and irreversible social conflicts. Sadly, what we call a society today has become more of a constellation of necropolitical forces than seeking a community.
What is the role of social scientists and academics, as the official producers and disseminators of knowledge in our own societies and in the global world? Given such a complex socio-political condition and rapidly escalating interrelated conflicts, is analyzing and taking action to resolve such conflicts even possible? In the meantime, how are these conflicts already affecting our own research and writing? Is it even worthwhile to continue our work and research in the academic sphere given these realities? These are questions yet to be answered.
*Image of Istanbul police in conflict via Reuters