Turkey's plagiarism pandemic
The storm of controversy surrounding the appointment of a ruling AKP politician, as the rector of Boğaziçi University, Turkey's top institution of higher education, who is guilty of extensive plagiarism, is drawing attention to the plagiarism pandemic in Turkey. Plagiarism as a practice runs rampant in Turkey, from the bottom all the way up to the top echelons of power.
It didn't take long for a storm of controversy to rain down over Turkey as the new year rolled in. Massive outrage followed the appointment of Melih Bulu, a ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) politician, as the rector of Boğaziçi University, Turkey's top institution of higher education.
The decision was widely interpreted as the latest attempt by the government to intensify its stranglehold over the country's universities. Current and former students and professors alike blasted the move, defiantly declaring their refusal to accept Bulu as the head of their school.
Adding fuel to the fire, Twitter users quickly revealed that Bulu was guilty of extensive plagiarism in his master's thesis, doctoral dissertation, and other academic papers. Boğaziçi alumni were incensed, noting that if they were caught plagiarizing while enrolled at the school they would not have been able to graduate. Ironically, a pro-gov't writer herself plagiarized a tweet while defending the embattled Bulu.
Others found the revelations banal, saying that they would be more surprised if Bulu had not been guilty of plagiarism at some point. This is because plagiarism as a practice runs rampant in Turkey, from the bottom all the way up to the top echelons of power. Those lower on the totem pole, like current high school and university students, may be punished for their transgressions, but those in power revel in impunity.
Turkey's previous Central Bank governor, Murat Uysal, was found to have plagiarized parts of his master's thesis shortly after he was appointed to his post in 2019. Despite backlash and coverage of the scandal, Uysal kept his job until he was replaced in November of last year. It was ultimately politics, not plagiarism, that caused him to lose his position.
Nearly a decade ago I was a teaching assistant at Sabancı University, one of the country's top private universities. My first-year students were required to write a one-page paper about their reflections on the lecture of the week. These papers were often plagiarized. What's worse is that many of these students were educated at some of the country's best and most expensive private high schools, yet by the time they reached university they were either unable or unwilling to write a single page of original work.
At least part of the blame lies with Turkey's education system, which emphasizes rote memorization and exam preparation rather than critical thinking and proper writing and citation skills. The problem is certainly not confined to governmental figures, as it runs rampant in the cultural sphere as well. Elif Şafak, one of Turkey's most internationally-recognized authors, has been accused of plagiarism numerous times over the past decade. Last year, novelist Buket Uzuner filed suit against the producers of the Turkish 'original' Netflix show The Gift, alleging that the series appropriated characters from one of her novels.
The theft of words and ideas is a grave sin which reveals an absence thereof on the part of the thief. Us writers are forever in pursuit of an original sentence that holds meaning, an idea that can provide some clarity and hope in this dark, tangled mess of a world. When those pilfer the content of others with less thought than it even takes to copy and paste, it is an affront to our craft, to our struggle.
Emblazoned on the walls of Turkish courtrooms is the iconic phrase “Justice is the basis of property.” However, in today’s Turkey, those same courts cannot or will not provide assurance that one's property (physical or intellectual) is protected.
When words and ideas are stolen and the thieves are not punished for their crimes, it only deepens the determination of those who believe that the pen is mightier than the sword and that truth and authenticity will prevail over lies and appropriation. Power without ideas is mere brute force and is doomed to unravel unceremoniously. While those who have the blessing of their master may pilfer the intellectual property of others with impunity, we will make sure their crimes are not forgotten.