Nuray Pehlivan / DUVAR
A former longtime student, archaeologist Canay Alpagut, has accused Istanbul University Prehistory Department head Necmi Karul of sexual harassment in a letter Alpagut sent to the department’s email group and university administration.
Alpagut worked with Karul between 2007 and 2016 on the Aktopraklık archaeological dig in the northwest province of Bursa. After sending her letter to the email group, another archaeology student, Ilgın Yaren Demirkesen, came forward with similar claims of sexual harassment against the professor that allegedly took place last year during an excavation in the southeastern province of Urfa.
Karul has denied the accusations, which he describes as a “lynch campaign,” though he has resigned from his position as department head.
Alpagut said that she grappled with the weight of the harassment for four years before sharing her letter. She wrote that the harassment began with messages from Karul asking her if she wanted to drink rakı, a Turkish spirit, with him. It continued throughout the course of two excavation seasons until an incident occurred in 2015 that Alpagut said brought the situation to an unbearable level.
As Karul was her thesis advisor, Alpagut was required to set up an appointment with him to examine material collected during the excavation in Bursa. As Alpagut was afraid of being alone with Karul, she tried to make an appointment during the day, but Karul opted to schedule it at night after he had been drinking.
“Every time I gave him a piece of pottery, together with the material, he touched my whole hand and continued to smile at me in a suggestive manner that was very uncomfortable. Later on, he tried to pull me toward him by holding my t-shirt but I didn’t allow him to do so, I was frozen stiff. Afterwards, he said ‘now I’m going to turn off his lamp, I’m going to go to my room and you are going to follow me to my room from behind’,” Alpagut wrote.
“I will not stay silent about what happened to me and betray the women who will work on that man’s excavations. I won’t turn my back towards women’s solidarity any longer. After this, I have nothing to fear or hide whatsoever. I’m not afraid of anyone, I’m here as a woman that has been subjected to harassment and I am aware of my strength,” she said.
Ilgın Yaren Demirkesen came forward with her story after reading Alpagut’s letter and finding their experiences with being subjected to Karul’s sexual harassment to be similar. In 2019, at the Karahantepe excavation site in Urfa, Demirkesen said that she was eating dinner with students on the opposite side of a courtyard from where the teachers were dining, when Karul came over and asked her to join their table. She chatted with the professors about her plans for the future, but after midnight Karul and one of the others had gotten very intoxicated. All of the other students had gone to sleep, and Demirkesen began to tidy up the area with another professor. Karul returned from the restroom and asked Demirkesen to come upstairs. She complied, assuming that he wanted to give her something and send her back downstairs.
“He told me to open the door. I opened it and then he told me to go inside. I went inside, but when professor Necmi entered from behind without turning on the light, I knew something was wrong. He started to approach me as if he was going to hug and kiss me, and when he made contact with my waist and arms I didn’t know what to say and I bumped into the table. When I took a step back he threw his hands up in the air and said ‘okay, okay’ and withdrew. I ran out of the room,” Demirkesen said.
Demirkesen said that the following day Karul glared at her as if she had done something wrong, and went out of his way to sit next to her during one meal. After the trip, Demirkesen said that Karul sent her several text messages, one of which was sent after midnight.
“Professor Necmi had an important place in my mind. The other professors in my circle said [the trip with Karul] would be a good chance for me and that I shouldn’t miss it. I went to the excavation with these thoughts and with great professional hopes. But had I known about what Canay had gone through, I never would have sat at that table. If I don’t speak about this, other students will go and sit at the table,” Demirkesen said.
Karul said that he has filed a criminal complain against Alpagut and others that have shared posts on social media concerning the matter.
“In general, for me, the mere thought of harming someone is overwhelming. When I look at what is happening I really can’t make sense of it, and I think that I’m facing a serious injustice. I also can’t make sense of this being carried out in a systematic manner, with great efforts, anonymous emails and Tweets that are sent tagging every type of institution that comes to mind,” Karul said.