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Turkey’s intelligence head speaks to university rectors, academics in unusual conference speech

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Hakan Fidan, the undersecretary of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT), gave a talk at a conference on regional security at the country’s Higher Education Council (YÖK) to all university rectors and academics who study political science and international relations, Turkish media reports said on Wednesday.

The event, titled, “Assessment of Regional Security,” took place in the conference hall at YÖK headquarters in Ankara.

The conference was the first of its kind in the history of Turkey as no other intelligence head in the past has addressed university rectors and academics during a conference.

In his speech Fidan talked about Turkey’s geostrategic and geopolitical position, noting that the country has to simultaneously fight domestic and foreign threats, perception management operations and cyber attacks.

University rectors in Turkey are directly appointed by the president; hence, they are criticized for lacking academic independence.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government issued two decrees in October 2016 which among other things canceled the intra-university elections that used to be held to elect university rectors.

According to the former system, universities held elections within their institutions, but the ultimate decision lay with the president. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan insisted that the abolition of the election system would be beneficial for the country.

The move attracted widespread criticism in that it would eliminate universities’ autonomy.

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