Turkey’s academic freedom under spotlight with new appointment

Turkey’s academic freedom under spotlight with new appointment
The Bogazici University South campus, Istanbul, Turkey. (AFP/File)
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Updated 02 January 2021

Turkey’s academic freedom under spotlight with new appointment

Turkey’s academic freedom under spotlight with new appointment
  • Erdogan appoints party man to head Istanbul university and extends control over education

ANKARA: Academic freedom in Turkey was dealt a huge blow with a politically motivated appointment to one of the country’s handful of independent universities, Bogazici University, which is more than 150 years old.

By presidential decree the current rector of the university was replaced on the first night of the year with a political figure who was a candidate standing for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) during the previous general and local elections.

The new rector, Melih Bulu, was a founding member of a district branch of the AKP. Over the past year, 27 rectors have been appointed by the president.

Bogazici University, overlooking the Bosphorus, was founded in 1863, the first American higher education institution to be established outside the US. It has more than 15,000 students and six campuses on the European side of Istanbul.

This latest appointment symbolizes the increased politicization of Turkish universities, along with an alarming trend of keeping the critical voices in media, civil society and academia under the control.

“President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has tightened his control over the higher education system in Turkey,” Berk Esen, a political scientist at Sabanci University in Istanbul, told Arab News.

As Erdogan has repeatedly stated that his party has not yet gained hegemony over education and culture, Esen thinks that such moves can be seen as deliberate attempts to change this situation.

He said Erdogan's decision to appoint Melih Bulu as rector is especially worrisome for several reasons.

“Bogazici is one of the best universities in the country and employs some of Turkey's most respected academics in various fields. In the past, President Erdogan refrained from appointing outsiders as rectors to prominent universities in the country,” he said.

“Our country needs free academia, free scientists and productive students. This freedom and productivity cannot be achieved by appointing trustees. We want a free academia,” tweeted Ali Babacan, the leader of breakaway DEVA party.

Students of the university, who are known for their high political awareness, protested under the Twitter hashtag #KayyumRektorIstemiyoruz (We don’t want a trustee rector).

In 2018, several anti-war students were arrested after a police raid in their houses and dormitories after they staged a peaceful demonstration in the university campus against Turkey’s military campaigns in Syria. They were criticized by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as being “communist, terrorist youth” in a public speech.

“It is impossible to have competitive universities on a global level and students who express themselves freely if you bring rectors to the universities in a top-down fashion. You cannot get success with such a mentality,” said Burak Dalgin, a founding member of DEVA who is also a graduate of Bogazici University.

Dalgin studied at Bogazici University in the mechanical engineering department between 1995 and 1999 before starting to work in the investment sector.

“Despite the shortcomings of Turkish democracy in the past, the school was still a safe haven for personal liberty,” he said.

Traditionally the candidate with the highest share of votes in the university elections became the rector of Bogazici University.

As the outgoing Bogazici rector is a professor at the university and briefly worked as vice-rector before taking on the top job, Esen said this recent move breaks with such precedent.

“Melih Bulu comes from outside the ranks of the Bogazici University and many have questioned whether he even has the academic credentials to work at Bogazici, let alone become rector. Also, his close connections to the AKP Istanbul branch will call into question his impartiality towards critics of the government among the academic staff and the student body,” he said.

According to Esen, this latest decision to appoint a political crony will further contribute to the culture of fear that has permeated the higher education system in Turkey and significantly harm academic freedoms.

“There is now widespread fear that universities will turn into sites for Erdogan to reward his party stalwarts,” he said.

Another presidential decree last year led to the closure of Sehir University, a private university in Istanbul linked to former prime minister and political rival Ahmet Davutoglu, making jobless all its academic staff, many of whom had taken a critical political stance over recent years.


Iran place to look into for extraterritorial killings, says former US secretary of state

Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that Iran was the place to look into for extraterritorial killings and not Saudi Arabia. (File/AFP)
Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that Iran was the place to look into for extraterritorial killings and not Saudi Arabia. (File/AFP)
Updated 43 min 28 sec ago

Iran place to look into for extraterritorial killings, says former US secretary of state

Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that Iran was the place to look into for extraterritorial killings and not Saudi Arabia. (File/AFP)

LONDON: Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that Iran was the place to look into for extraterritorial killings and not Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia has denounced a CIA report about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying it completely rejected the “negative, false and unacceptable assessment in the report pertaining to the Kingdom’s leadership, and notes that the report contained inaccurate information and conclusions.”

Pompeo told Fox News that President Joe Biden’s administration wanted to take the Kingdom, which is an important security partner for the US, and make it a foe. 

“They want to go sit down and cut deals with the Iranians who have, by the way, murdered far more people all across the world than the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has during our four years and the eight years before that as well,” he said. “Make no mistake about it, if you’re looking about extraterritorial killings the ayatollah is the place to look, (Foreign) Minister Zarif is the place to look, President Rouhani is the place to look in Iran, not the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” 

The Kingdom’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said the people responsible for the journalist's death had been convicted and sentenced in Saudi courts, and that these sentences were “welcomed by the family of Jamal Khashoggi.”


Don’t let pandemic distract from fight against extremism: Experts 

Don’t let pandemic distract from fight against extremism: Experts 
Updated 41 min 31 sec ago

Don’t let pandemic distract from fight against extremism: Experts 

Don’t let pandemic distract from fight against extremism: Experts 
  • Pro-Iran Shiite militias pose ‘major’ Mideast threat: Ex-UK envoy to Saudi Arabia
  • Emirati ambassador: UAE has found success by listening to aspirations of country’s youth

LONDON: The UK and Middle Eastern countries should not allow the coronavirus pandemic and its restrictions to distract from the importance of countering extremism, a group of experts said on Monday.

At an event hosted by the UK’s Emirates Society and attended by Arab News, Sir John Jenkins, former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said: “The danger of the pandemic is that it distracts our attention (from extremism), and weakens the ability of governments and societies to deal with it and address it honestly and intelligently.”

He added that the appeal of extremist ideologies “hasn’t gone away,” and that all governments need to remain focused on this issue. 

“One of the major threats to the Middle East is the spread of Shiite Islamist militias that have a degree of loyalty not simply to Iran, but to the supreme leader himself — they’re Khameneists, basically,” he said.

“We see it with Hezbollah in Lebanon, we see it in Syria, and we see it extraordinarily in Iraq. The hollowing out of state capacity in large parts of the Middle East, in favor of these predatory militias, is a major long-term threat,” he added. “The key for governments is not to lose focus of all of this.”

John Woodcock, the UK special envoy for countering violent extremism, echoed those concerns over the persistent threat of violent extremism.

“There has been a danger in the last 12 months that national focuses haven’t been on the issue of extremism,” he said.

“I think that’s potentially a far greater issue for the years ahead because of the huge resource pressure that countries will come under in the post-pandemic economic recovery.”

This financial pressure, Woodcock warned, could trickle down to multilateral agencies working in conflict and post-conflict zones, potentially hampering their ability to carry out work that acts as a preventative buffer to the allures of extremism.

His concerns appear to already be playing out in the UK, amid reports on Monday that Britain will cut its aid budget to Yemen, which is embroiled in a civil war involving pro-Iran Houthi militias.

Omar Ghobash, the UAE’s ambassador to France, said his country recognized early that religious extremism presented a real challenge that demanded attention, and was successful in tackling it.

In the UAE, “we saw that there was a very powerful narrative within our own Islamic community that was pulling kids into warzones and into acts of violence,” he added.

“This recognition happened some time ago,” he said, but after the 9/11 attacks “this became much clearer to us.”

To counter this, the UAE “focused on young people in particular and what aspirations they have, asking how we as a government can provide them with the means to achieve those aspirations,” Ghobash added.

The UAE “has continued to develop sensitivity to what young people want to do and what they can do,” he said.

“The approach of the leadership has been to invest in intellectual, legal and physical infrastructure to provide uplifting visions of where the country and its people can go.”

The launch of the Mars Hope probe, Ghobash said, presents just one example to the country’s youth of how Emiratis can operate internationally, bypassing cultural or religious differences.

Initiatives like that, he added, encourage the country’s youth to focus on “improving the lot of mankind, not just our own neighborhood.”


Suffering of Syria detainees ‘unimaginable’: UN panel

Suffering of Syria detainees ‘unimaginable’: UN panel
Updated 01 March 2021

Suffering of Syria detainees ‘unimaginable’: UN panel

Suffering of Syria detainees ‘unimaginable’: UN panel
  • Almost every major party that has controlled territory in Syria since 2011 has committed detention-related violations and abuses
  • Report stressed that detainees continued to be mistreated in notorious detention facilities even as the conflict approached its 11th year

GENEVA: Thousands of civilians have been subjected to “unimaginable suffering” including torture, sexual violence and death in detention during a decade of conflict in Syria, United Nations investigators said on Monday.
Tens of thousands of civilians who were detained are unaccounted for, with no trace of their whereabouts, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria found.
The three-member panel’s report, based on more than 2,500 interviews conducted over 10 years, carried out investigations into more than 100 detention facilities.
It found that almost every major party that has controlled territory in Syria since 2011 has committed detention-related violations and abuses.
“Hundreds of thousands of family members have a right to the truth about their loved ones’ fate,” said commission chair Paulo Pinheiro.
“This is a national trauma that needs to be urgently addressed by action from the parties and the international community.”
The report stressed that detainees continued to be mistreated in notorious detention facilities even as the conflict approached its 11th year.
“These detainees have endured unimaginable suffering,” the commission said.
“This has been happening with the knowledge and acquiescence of the governments who have supported the different parties to the conflict.
“The fate of tens of thousands of civilians who were forcibly disappeared by Syrian government forces, many nearly a decade ago, remains unknown. Many are presumed to have died or been executed.”
Commissioner Karen Koning AbuZayd said parties to the conflict had, with few exceptions, failed to investigate their own forces, with the focus seemingly on concealing rather than probing crimes committed in detention facilities.
The report said that men, women, boys and girls detained by government or pro-government forces were subjected to inhuman treatment and torture, including rape.
“At least 20 different horrific methods of torture used by the government of Syria have been extensively documented,” the report said.
“These include administering electric shocks, the burning of body parts, pulling off nails and teeth, mock executions, folding detainees into a car tire and crucifying or suspending individuals from one or two limbs for prolonged periods, often in combination with severe beating.”
The authors called for all parties in the conflict to stop violations, immediately release certain categories of detainee and allow independent monitoring of detention facilities.
Its findings will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council on March 11.
The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria was mandated by the council to investigate and record all violations of international law since March 2011 in the country.
The commission has repeatedly accused the various sides of war crimes and in some cases crimes against humanity.
Since Syria’s civil war broke out in 2011, more than 387,000 people have been killed and millions forced from their homes.


UN launching donor conference amid fears of famine in Yemen

UN launching donor conference amid fears of famine in Yemen
Updated 01 March 2021

UN launching donor conference amid fears of famine in Yemen

UN launching donor conference amid fears of famine in Yemen
  • The UN warned that more than 16 million people in Yemen would go hungry this year
  • More than six years of war has created the world’s worst humanitarian disaster

CAIRO: The United Nations launched an appeal Monday for countries to fund its response to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where more than six years of war has created the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.
At a pledging virtual conference, co-hosed by Sweden and Switzerland, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will appeal for $3.85 billion this year to address the impoverished Arab country’s dire needs in the country.
It is unlikely a response from donors will meet UN goals, given that the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating consequences have hit economies around the globe.
Yemen’s war started in 2014 when the Iran-backed Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country’s north. The Saudi-led, US-backed coalition intervened months later to restore the internationally recognized government.
The conflict has killed some 130,000 people and spawned the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. Half of Yemen’s health facilities are shuttered or destroyed, and 4 million Yemenis have been driven from their homes. The coronavirus pandemic, cholera epidemics and severe malnutrition among children have led to thousands of additional deaths.
Separately, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned that more than 16 million people in Yemen would go hungry this year, with already some half a million living in famine-like conditions.
Jan Egeland, the secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, who is on a week-long visit to Yemen, warned on Monday that aid groups were “catastrophically” underfunded and overstretched.
Last year’s UN pledging conference, raised $1.35 billion — a billion dollars short of what aid agencies said they needed. In 2019, the UN received around $3.6 billion in international donations for its campaign, short of its $4.2 billion goal.


UAE records 2,526 new coronavirus cases, 17 new deaths

UAE records 2,526 new coronavirus cases, 17 new deaths
Updated 01 March 2021

UAE records 2,526 new coronavirus cases, 17 new deaths

UAE records 2,526 new coronavirus cases, 17 new deaths

DUBAI: The UAE's Ministry of Health announced 2,526 new coronavirus cases on Monday, bringing the total number of recorded cases in the country to 394,050.

The ministry said the infected individuals are from various nationalities, are in a stable condition, and receiving the necessary care, in a statement released on state-run news agency WAM.

It also announced 17 deaths due to COVID-19 complications, bringing the total number of deaths in the country to 1,238.

An additional 1,107 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries to 382,332.

The ministry said it conducted 175,033 additional COVID-19 tests over the past 24 hours.