The online declaration of Academics for peace — which has been already hacked and blocked in Turkey — calling for peace in Kurdistan region and accusing the government of a “deliberate and planned massacre in serious violation of Turkey’s own laws and international treaties to which Turkey is a party”, was signed by more than 1,000 Academics, not only in Turkey, including the American philosopher Noam Chomsky and the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek. Turkish police until now detained 21 academics over “terrorist propaganda” and is investigating others for allegedly violating Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which criminalizes “insulting Turkishness”. Sedat Peker, a notorious figure convicted on organized charges, already said that the blood of those academics will be spilled in case the Muslim Turks’ state will fail. As the US ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, recently declared: “While we may not agree with the opinions expressed by those academics, we are nevertheless concerned about this pressure having a chilling effect on legitimate political discourse across Turkish society regarding the sources of and solutions to the ongoing violence.” The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America and its Committee on Academic Freedom expressed in a letter its serious concern over this situation and British academics also started a petition to support Turkish colleagues. Among American academics there have been different opinions on the declaration because of being very critical of the government without calling for the responsibility also of the PKK in creating the conflict.
I finally decided to send my email in order to sign the petition (but I didn’t receive any confirmation yet, probably even the email of person in charge has been blocked) even if I would have like a more balanced declaration, in order to support targeted academicians for a simple reason: in my country of origins, Italy, Fascism became really Fascism when started to imprison academics and intellectuals criticizing the government. Today Turkey is on a dangerous path, but I believe that with “carrots and sticks” from intellectuals and international community the Turkish state can improve on its path of democratization. I believe in Turkey because I know its people and its institutions and I want a more democratic, not a more autocratic, Turkey because a more democratic Turkey will help not only itself but also the region. This is the path that another academic, today Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, should push for, trying to control the excesses of President Erdogan. Also the Deputy Prime Minister, Mehmet Simsek, is an ex academic (and he is Kurd) believing that Turkey has still things to do to complete its democratization process. With their more moderate, tolerant and diplomatic approach, these important figures in future Turkish politics can help Erdogan to slow down in his authoritarian desires.
The problem is that today is still very difficult to treat the Kurdish issue in Turkey in a constructive and legitimate way or at least in an academically impartial way. This for many reasons, among which: the Sevres syndrome of Turkey – the idea that some outside Western forces, allied with internal opposition, conspire to weaken and destroy Turkey – constantly reinforced by the government narrative; the low ontological security of Turkey – in particular given the recent Kurdish autonomy in Syria and Iraq; the terrorist label used to delegitimize an ideological guerrilla of self-liberation and everyone who doesn’t stay with the government; the lack of impartial and non-embedded media coverage – and so who knows who kill who, when and where exactly, who broke the truce first, and so on; the definition of minorities – between the “Turks of the mountains” assimilated in once century and who define him/herself as Kurd and not Turk there is an abyss; the gigantic polarization in Turkey between Islamist and secular, right and left, one language and multiculturalism (similar in the past to my country, Italy); and finally the fight for power interests: at the end of the day this is the real struggle as usual among different armed or political actors and the people are in the middle as always.
Therefore all us academics, instead of increasing the politicization and polarization of an issue and a society that is already targeted by opposed propaganda, we should stick to our academic goals: analyze facts and theories to understand the past and interpret the present, try to predict the possible scenarios and help to transform conflicts. And when intellectual feel the need to make a petition for some civilians killed or trapped, they should calibrate the text, appealing to international norms and with the most impartial view, but at the same time they should not been targeted as anti-country supporting terrorism because they are intellectual and scholars, the searchers of truth, the last resorts in every case, either in democracy or autocracy. In particular I repeat in a country like Turkey, where to criticize governments is already difficult because governments are identified with the nation (using the flag of the country during the rally the ruling party make clear that there is no distinction) and where a PhD candidate like me, in visit to do his research, cannot present a scientific paper in a University treating the “securitization of Kurdish region”, without being interrupted by nationalist views that attack the “colonialist academics that try to dismember our dear country” or by Kurdish protesters that believe there is no securitization but civil war caused only by the government. This is the situation today for Turkey, a country that should enter soon in the EU (if France and Germany will overcome the Islamophobia and the ‘Powerphobia’, and Turkey its Sevres syndrome) or is destined to suffer for long time still, after more than 30 years of regional war.
The Middle East is starting now a new generation of conflicts and if Turkey could resolve its internal issues of integration and respect of Kurdish minority of the Eastern region, could really play the role of the pivotal country in the area. Turkey is the bridge not only between East and West, religiousness and secularism or among cultures and religions, but is the bridge between the past and the future, between the Christian, Islamic, nationalist and communist ideologies of the past and the post-ideological future, where all views could cohabit because it is the “citizenship”, in a country or in a continent, the glue of the community, not the sense of belonging to a group or another with the political construction of sectarian cleavages. And we, academics and intellectuals, should work for that, not for building new line ups of white and black between who is with me and who is against me, but for moderation and agreement, investigation of facts and search for peace. The Manichean view is not helpful but destructive, and in our times of destructive cults we need abstract destruction but concrete constructions, as Gramsci would say.