MESA Academic Freedom Award

Signatories of Academic for Peace Petition in Turkey

2016 Recipient


Contact: Geoffrey Knox: 917 414-1749; [email protected] 

Middle East Scholars Give Academic Freedom Award to 
Signatories of Academics for Peace Petition in Turkey

“Many of the petition’s over 2,000 signatories lost jobs, received death threats, or were subject to other harassment by the state. Their collective action is emblematic of the broader struggle of academics in Turkey for peace, justice and academic freedom.“ 
— Laurie Brand, Chair of Committee on Academic Freedom

(November 18, 2016, Boston, MA)  The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) has awarded the over 2,000 signatories of the Academics for Peace petition in Turkey its 2016 Academic Freedom Award.

The now famous January 2016 Academics for Peace petition in Turkey called for non-violent resolution to the conflict in the southeast region of the country. Turkish president Erdogan immediately branded the signatories as traitors.  Since then arrests, threats of physical violence and death, as well as other serious forms of intimidation against the signers have escalated dramatically. Following an attempted coup in July, a number of private universities were closed and the Turkish Higher Education Council (YOK) suspended and began investigations against over 5,000 academic faculty and staff.  All 1,576 deans from all universities in Turkey were forced to resign and travel bans were widely imposed.  Further government decrees led to mass dismissals of academics with the petition signatories being charged as terrorists and subjected to ongoing harassment, prosecution, and reprisals.

MESA made the Academic Freedom Award on Thursday evening, November 17, 2016, at an awards ceremony held during its 50th annual meeting, in Boston, MA.  MESA, through its Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF), said it stood in solidarity with all petition signatories and cited in particular their struggle to preserve academic freedom in Turkey through their research, writing, and advocacy.

Laurie Brand, Chair of the Committee on Academic Freedom, on presenting the award, stated: 
Assaults upon academic freedom have increased markedly in the MENA region in 2016, but the deterioration of conditions in Turkey has been unprecedented in its nature and scope.  As a result, CAF felt it most appropriate to make an award that would honor a large number of courageous academics. The signatories of the Petition embody both the courage and the resistance of the broader Turkish academic community as it struggles against state harassment and repression.

Several signatories accepted the award on behalf of all of the Peace Petition signatories stating, "This award bears witness to the resilience of Turkish academics in the face of the dramatic erosion of human rights and academic freedom in the country. We appreciate this statement of international solidarity with all Turkish academics in these dark times.”

The Academic Freedom Award follows a concerted effort by MESA and concerned partners in urging Turkey’s government to end “moves to dismantle much of the structure of Turkish higher education through purges, restrictions, and assertions of central control.” A MESA statement was signed onto by an unusually strong, diverse coalition of 62 academic organizations based in the US and in Europe. (See statement with signatories here.)

MESA also developed a set of resources to help Turkish scholars seeking refuge in light of the attacks on academic freedom in Turkey. The practical advice includes how to find job and fellowship opportunities within academia and ways higher education institutions can host, and/or take other initiatives to directly support scholars fearful of returning to Turkey. (See Resources here.)

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The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) is a non-profit learned society that brings together scholars, educators and those interested in the study of the region from all over the world. From its inception in 1966 with 50 founding members, MESA has increased its membership to more than 3,000 and now serves as an umbrella organization for more than sixty institutional members and thirty-nine affiliated organizations.

The Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) seeks to foster the free exchange of knowledge as a human right and to inhibit infringements on that right by government restrictions on scholars. The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provide the principal standards by which human rights violations are identified today. Those rights include the right to education and work, freedom of movement and residence, and freedom of association and assembly.

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