Urgent Action: Dismissed Educators on Hunger Strike in Turkey!

Mr Peter WELLS
Chief of Section
Section for Higher Education
Division for Basic Rights to Higher Educations and Learning, UNESCO
7, place de Fontoney
75352 Paris 07 SP, France

Dear Mr Peter WELLS,

We, a group of UK-based academics from the Academics for Peace Initiative, would like to call your attention to the life threatening circumstances of two educators in Turkey: Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça. As of 8 May 2017, Ms. Gülmen and Mr. Özakça will be on the 61st day of their hunger strike in protest of their dismissals from their positions in Turkish universities and schools.

Ms. Gülmen as an academic, and Mr. Özakça as a schoolteacher were among the thousands of public servants who were discharged from their teaching postitions through a Statutory Degree issued under the ongoing state of emergency rule. Since the failed coup attempt in July 2016, more than 128 000 public servants have been fired, more than 90 000 have been detained, and over 45 000 have been arrested. Majority of some 5000 dismissed academics are members of a leftist education union and/or the signatories of Academics for Peace Petition that called on the Turkish government to stop the destruction and civilian killings being carried out in Kurdish cities and towns. A bright young academic and a petitioner of the Academics for Peace Initiative, Mehmet Fatih Traş has committed suicide after his contract at the university was terminated, and his jobs applications to several universities were turned down on the grounds that he is a security risk.

Ms. Gülmen and Mr. Özakça courageously refuse to accept the labeling and criminalization of academics and teachers as threats to national security. They have been arrested more than 20 times for protesting against their dismissal, and for demanding respect for academic and speech freedoms. They both want to go back to their institutions, their students, and their research. Their suffering is the result of the state violence that academics have been subjected to by the authoritarian Turkish government. This violence must stop. And the lives of Ms. Gülmen and Mr. Özakça must be saved.

UNESCO is the only United Nations agency with a mandate in higher education. It ‘promotes higher education …as a promoter of human rights, sustainable development, democracy, peace and justice’ – the ideals that have informed Ms. Gülmen’s and Mr. Özakça’s reaction to state violence against the critical educators in Turkey. We ask you to mobilize all other UN agencies and all UNESCO partners to call on the Turkish government to stop its assault on academic freedom, and reinstate all teachers and academics, who have no relationship to coup-plotters, such as all dismissed signatories of the Peace Petition by the Academics for Peace Initiative, but particularly and urgently Ms. Gülmen and Mr. Özakça to their positions . This is an emergency that neither UNESCO nor any institution that values human life can overlook.


We would appreciate it very much, if you could take emergency action with respect to the life-threatening circumstances of Ms. Gülmen and Mr. Özakça – and with respect to the fate of hundreds of signatories of the Academics for Peace letter, which have exposed the hostility of the Turkish government to the core aim of higher education: promotion of peace, democracy and human rights.


Thank you very much for your attention.

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