Haci Bişkin/ DUVAR

Turkey is developing new fault lines while its older ones are deepening, said Professor Tuna Altınel, who has faced persecution by the state since he was a signee of a petition that outraged President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. 

Altınel was among the Academics for Peace, who signed a petition condemning violence, calling for peace and an end to the conflict between Turkish security forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that broke out following the collapse of a peace process in 2015. 

The 2016 petition was initially signed by more than 1000 academics, many of whom have been prosecuted on terror charges for doing so. 

Altınel, who is a professor of mathematics in France, was arrested in the Turkish province of Balıkesir this May after attending and providing simultaneous translations at a conference in Lyon earlier this year conducted by a Kurdish organization. 

He was released after 80 days in jail, but has had his passport confiscated and cannot return to France to teach his classes at Claude Bernard University, despite the fact that judicial control or a travel ban was not imposed upon Altinel following his release. 

Altınel appeared in front of a court today in Balikesir and demanded his acquittal. A prosecutor requested a criminal sentence for Altınel, and a subsequent hearing will be held in January of next year. 

The conference concerned people that were killed while they were taking shelter in basements in the predominantly-Kurdish district of Cizre in southeast Turkey, which was one of the areas that experienced the heaviest conflicts between security forces and PKK fighters after the peace process collapsed. Among those who attended and spoke at the conference was pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) former deputy Faysal Sarıyıldız, who left Turkey in 2015 and sought asylum in France. 

“The state of academics in Turkey isn’t any better than the state of the country in general,” Altınel said, referring to fact that numerous academics, particularly those who signed the petition in question, were booted from their jobs during extended periods of state of emergency that followed the July 2016 coup attempt. 

“It was already a problematic system, at least in my particular area. With the excuse of ‘problem solving’, the government brought academics to an even more problematic state and emptied it out for the purpose of strengthening its own totalitarian character. In Turkey there is a term that is used frequently: desertification. It is being imposed on the academics,” Altınel said. 

“I was in jail for 80 days. It was a very short period but it affected me deeply. It was like school for me. I’m making an effort to not just discuss to my students but with everyone around me what I learned while I was there,” said Altınel, who also gave French and English language classes to inmates while he was behind bars. 

Regarding the overall state of things in Turkey, Altınel said it was difficult to talk about positive things, referring to the country’s deep economic recession and totalitarian regime that continues to increase its pressure.