Academic arrests: is Turkey shooting itself in the foot again?

A few days after the call of Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan on Turkish academics abroad to return their homes for incentives and attractive scholarships “to reverse the brain drain”, 13 Turkish academics were taken under custody on Nov 16 due to suspicions of undermining the government. There were prominent professor of law Dr Turgut Tarhanlı and professor of mathematics Dr Betül Tanbay among them, and Çiğdem Mater who is also a film producer, and Yiğit Aksakoğlu, a prominent pedagogue, and Dr Hakan Altınay the former head of the Open Society Foundation in Turkey. They were all members of a non-profit Anatolia Culture Society headed by social activist Osman Kavala who has been in prison since Oct 19, 2017.
Kavala is accused of similar charges; mainly, to mastermind the Gezi Park wave of protests in June 2013 in order to put down Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government. Kavala is also accused by government circles and mainstream media which is now mostly owned by pro-government business groups of being in contact with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the illegal network of the U.S.-resident Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen who is indicted to be the mastermind the July 15, 2016 military coup attempt in Turkey with the same purpose: to overthrow the government. The point is, there is still no indictment against Kavala.
The last wave of custodies also came right before the “High Level Political Dialogue” between Turkey and the European Union (EU) to be held in Ankara on Nov 22 with the participation of the EU’s foreign and security policies head Federica Mogherini and expansion chief Johannes Hahn, who will be hosted by Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. Ankara has been giving signals to break the ice in between with the EU for some time, especially in solidarity against the U.S. sanctions and the news was not a good one.
The academics were started to be released the next day but the move was like shooting itself on the foot for the Turkish government.
There are influential names in government circles Ankara who think they observe similar tactics used by the Gülenists in judiciary before to put the government is a difficult situation at a crucial time. One of my sources even said that the arrest of academics was like the arrest of the arrest and release of the American pastor Andrew Brunson, which further worsened the relations with the U.S. and costed Turkey dearly could be a similar move.
The AK Parti circles have started to suspect that those, police officers, prosecutors and judges who filled in the positions emptied by the Gülenists, mostly in line with Devlet Bahçeli’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) could be responsible of those moves by abusing the power in their hands for their own political agenda. Bahçeli, has been supportive of Erdoğan since the presidential referendum in 2017 which continued in the early general elections of 2018. But recently Bahçeli has been pressing hard for an amnesty which Erdoğan rejects on the grounds that it could include some infamous organized crime leaders. Bahçeli also objects the idea of reconciliation of the EU. Right before local elections on March 31, energy is accumulating in the fault lines between Erdoğan and Bahçeli, which may increase the chances of opposition parties to win the municipalities of some key towns.
It is not clear whether the rest of civil rights activists and Kavala in particular will be released nowadays, but the case has certain effects in Turkey’s domestic and international politics.


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