Since 2002 Turkey has been ruled by the AKP, Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (Justice and Development Party), which has an openly Islamist agenda. At MEMRI, the first of a series of articles on the AKP government's attempt to move Turkey away from Ataturk's secularist legacy looks at the clash with the Higher Education Council that governs the policies of Turkey's state universities.
The conflict deepened with the recent arrest and incarceration of the president of Yuzuncu Yil University (YYU) in Van, Professor Yucel Askin, for alleged procedural misconduct. The Turkish media is suggesting that Prof. Askin's incarceration was an attempt by the Islamic government to remove a secular republican president from a university that was known, until he took office in 1999, as a hotbed for Islamists. During his tenure, Prof. Askin put an end to the activities of various Islamic extremists at the university.
Columnist Tufan Turenc of the mainstream, high circulation, centrist Turkish daily Hurriyet:
"[…] From the first day [of their rule,] the AKP government wanted to take over the universities and change these institutions of knowledge to conform to their own view of the world.
"The goal was to turn the Republic's [state] universities into madrassas.
"This dream was almost realized in the case of the YYU in Van, but the appointment of Prof. Yucel Askin as president there spoiled the plan.
"Upon assuming his duties, the president [Prof. Askin] started a fierce struggle against the deeply rooted [Islamic] sects and their supporters. His battle became even more difficult when the AKP came to power. In the past three years, unimaginable libels and plots were organized against Prof. Askin and [some of] his colleagues. When those did not help […] they started a judicial investigation based on lies and went as far as incarcerating him. This decision of arrest outraged not only the university presidents but also the legal experts.
"[…] They are taking revenge on Prof. Askin on behalf of fanatical circles. […]
"Coming to the heart of the matter…:
"The universities know all too well that this [AKP] government is adamant in destroying the roots of all academic institutions.
"Their goals are to permit [Islamic] head coverings for women [on campuses], to accept into all faculties the graduates of the [Islamic] Imam Hatip schools, [and] to fill the academic positions with backward-thinking [religious] staff members. Their dream is to raise new generations with belief in and knowledge of their religion [Islam], and then to place them in all the key positions of the state. In Van, the religious had taken over almost all the places, except the university. There the obstacle was Prof. Yucel Askin. Hence the anger and the hostility against him.
"[…] this scandal in Van shakes our belief in the rule of law [in Turkey] and raises the suspicion that our judiciary may be under political pressure.
"Then the real question becomes: 'How will Turkey – with this mentality – become a member of the European Union?'"
The city of Van is in Eastern Anatolia, at the heart of what was, prior to the Genocide, Turkish Armenia. As columnist Mehmet Y. Yilmaz reports, Professor Askin has been accused by an AKP member of parliament of being an Armenian, appointed to his position "in order to divide Van, a city claimed by the Armenians":
"Following his remarks, [the Islamist Turkish daily] Vakit wrote that President [Askin's] grandfather Mehmet Yakup Bey and his grandmother Ayse Huriye Hanim had notations in their registration documents showing them to be 'converts,' meaning they had changed their religion [from Christianity to Islam].
"I know nothing about the veracity of these allegations.
"But when I combined this 'news' with the remarks made by this AKP parliamentarian, I felt as if I was watching a 'Twilight Zone' film: One day you wake up and find that the Nazis have invaded Turkey! [People] with swastikas on their armbands are taking away all those who have in their pasts any relationship with Armenians, Greeks, Jews, Serbians, Georgians, Croatians, Albanians, Gypsies, Russians, Moldavians, Bulgarians, Arabs, Persians, [and others]!
"For centuries, we lived on the lands of an empire [i.e. the Ottoman Empire] that included many ethnic groups. We intermarried. We lived as neighbors and became also relatives.
"[…] In such a nation that lived in harmony, tolerance and peaceful relations, that can set an example for many other nations in the world, how can anybody go back, search, and find 'pure blood'?
"[…] Those who have recently gone searching with a magnifying glass for Armenian blood in all those they dislike remind me of […]Nazi Germany. Because what ended in concentration camps and gas chambers there started exactly in this manner.
"As a society, we must raise our voices against a new kind of fascism."
Post-war Germany acknowledged its guilt for the Holocaust. No German politician would now dream of smearing an opponent by accusing him of having Jewish blood, and working to a Jewish agenda against the interests of the German people. In the absence of any acknowledgement by the Turks for their responsibility for the Armenian Genocide, the same old poisons, instead of having been faced and expunged, are still circulating, ready to be called up by any unscrupulous politician.