Turkey’s main opposition leader vows to reinstate peace academics

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Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has said his party will reinstate all academics who were dismissed from their jobs for signing a peace declaration in 2016 in the first week of the CHP coming to power, Turkish media reported.

The CHP leader was addressing civil society organizations in eastern Van province. Several  lawmakers and local officials from the CHP and the Good (İYİ) Party also attended the meeting.

“The peace academics are among the strongest and most competent people in the country. And we removed more than 1,000 of them from their jobs just because they issued a ‘peace declaration’,” Kılıçdaroğlu said during the meeting.

A total of 1,128 academics who referred to themselves as the “Peace Academics” signed a declaration in early 2016 calling on the government to halt operations by security forces in southeastern Turkey, restore peace to the nation and return to the negotiating table to restart shelved talks to find a peaceful solution to the so-called Kurdish problem.

The move attracted widespread criticism from the government. Many of the signatories were fired, sentenced to prison or were subjected to an overseas travel ban.

“How can you fire a person from a university for espousing different views? This is a disgrace,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.

After the initial signatories were targeted by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, more academics signed it in solidarity, with the total number exceeding 2,000.

A total of 7,316 academics were dismissed in the aftermath of a coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Professors and lecturers from nearly all universities in Turkey were targeted in the government’s post-coup crackdown.

In July 2019 Turkey’s Constitutional Court said the rights of the peace academics had been violated. The decision was made by Constitutional Court President Zühtü Arslan’s tie-breaking vote. The top court also ordered the government to pay TL 9,000 in damages to each of the nine academics who had appealed.

Kılıçdaroğlu also spoke up for “those who do not think or act like” him, asking why former co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş and philanthropist Osman Kavala were behind bars.

Demirtaş was an outspoken critic of Erdoğan before he was jailed in 2016. He ran in the presidential elections of 2014 and 2018 as a rival to Erdoğan. Demirtaş conducted his election campaign from jail for the 2018 election.

A civil society activist and critic of Erdoğan, Kavala has been in jail since his arrest in 2017, facing myriad charges linked to protests in 2013 and the 2016 attempted coup.

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