A research assistant at a university in eastern Turkey was detained after he was suspended by the university over a “Kurdistan” post on social media, the Gazete Duvar news website reported on Friday.
Hifzullah Kutum, a research assistant at Fırat University in Elazığ, was taken into police custody on Friday in connection with a message he posted on Twitter on Sept. 14.
Kutum had tweeted, “Şoreşa Îlonê hemû Kurdan pîroz be, Bijî Kurdistan” (Happy September Revolution for all Kurds. Long live Kurdistan), against the backdrop of a photograph of Massoud Barzani, the former president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq.
— Hifzullah Kutum (@hifzullah_kutum) September 14, 2021
The university administration indicated in a statement that Kutum was suspended on suspicion of disseminating terrorist propaganda on social media and that an internal investigation had been launched.
“A complaint was filed about the person in question with the judicial authorities,” the statement said.
In the investigation conducted by the university, Kutum was asked about his intention in posting the tweet and if it posed any threat to the “territorial integrity of the Republic of Turkey.”
Kutum said the word “Kurdistan” and the flag in the tweet were used in official talks between Turkey and the KRG.
Meanwhile, Kutum posted a tweet in the morning saying that some people were waiting in front of his door and that he was ready to defend himself in the event of any attack.
Replying to Kutum’s tweet, Ayşegül Karaçorlu, affiliated with local branch of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), tweeted a photograph of a Turkish flag hung on the door of Kutum’s room at the university
“Don’t be afraid! This is the Republic of Turkey, and everyone has the place they deserve… The state is eternal, long live the Republic…” Karaçorlu tweeted.
Korkma!! Burası Türkiye Cumhuriyet'i Herkes Hak Ettiği Yerde.. Devlet ebed müddet, çok yaşa Cumhuriyet..🇹🇷 pic.twitter.com/l3ALcIUPRH
— Ayşegül Karaçorlu 🇹🇷 (@AysegulKaracrlu) November 5, 2021
Kutum told Gazete Duvar that he has been receiving death treats, as can be seen in the replies to his social media messages.
The Turkish bureaucracy and the public remain overly sensitive to the word “Kurdistan” and the tri-colored Kurdistan flag, which in some cases have been associated with “treason and terrorism” linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU.
Cemil Taşkesen, a shop owner in Siirt, was taken into custody last week for using the word “Kurdistan” to describe the region he lives in during an exchange with nationalist İYİ (Good) Party leader Meral Akşener. Taşkesen complained to her about the denial of Kurds’ cultural and political rights.
There have been cases of people being arrested for wearing Kurdistan T-shirts, activists detained for waving Kurdistan flags and students interrogated for tweeting pictures of the flag.
The websites of Turkey’s Presidency and Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as the state-run Anadolu news agency refer to the KRG in northern Iraq as Kurdistan.
Anti-Kurdish sentiment has been rising in Turkey, particularly after the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) abandoned its Kurdish peace process July 2015.
After declaring a ceasefire with the PKK in 2012, Turkish authorities had conducted direct talks with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan for several years until a truce in effect collapsed in 2015.
Since then, there have been clashes between the PKK and Turkish security forces.
More than 40,000 people, including 5,500 security force members, have been killed in four decades of fighting between the Turkish state and the PKK.