Behlul Ozkan writes: Last month, more than 1,200 Turkish and foreign academics signed a petition calling attention to the continuing humanitarian crisis in many Kurdish-majority towns in southeastern Turkey, which are the site of fighting between the Turkish Army and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K. The petition decried the Army’s shelling of urban areas and the imposition of weekslong, 24-hour curfews, which have left many civilians unable to bury their dead or even obtain food. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly denounced the signers as “so-called intellectuals” and “traitors.” Within days, antiterror police had detained and harassed dozens of the signatories.
Mr. Erdogan’s actions shouldn’t have been surprising. The president has a history of jailing journalists and cracking down on media companies critical of his policies. And yet this time the response from his supporters was exceptionally chilling: A pro-Erdogan organized crime boss proclaimed, “We will take a shower in your blood,” while the office doors of some of the academics were ominously marked with red crosses.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who as a former academic might have been expected to come to his colleagues’ defense, announced that he “did not regard the petition as falling under the rubric of free speech.” He then set out on a trip to several European countries in order to encourage foreign investment in Turkey’s foundering economy. In Britain and Germany, Mr. Davutoglu received a warm welcome from Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor Angela Merkel. The European Union’s response to the latest crackdown on dissent in Turkey amounted to little more than a statement calling the persecution of the academics “extremely worrying.”
Many prominent Western academics and non-governmental organizations have been vocal in censuring the persecution suffered by their Turkish counterparts. The European Union’s lack of action on Turkey’s crackdown on academic freedom and human rights would therefore be inexplicable but for one crucial detail: As the European Union faces its largest refugee crisis since World War II, the 2.5 million Syrians currently in Turkey are a huge bargaining chip for Ankara. Europe’s leaders are well aware of this. [Continue reading…]