Alternative Knowledge Production and Transmission in Turkey: Solidarity Academies (III)

By Noémi Lévy-Aksu

Since the mid-2010s, the authoritarian turn of the Turkish regime has resulted in multiple violations of human rights and freedoms. Universities have been particularly affected by the process, with mass dismissals of academics, repeated attacks on academic freedom and autonomy, and repression of students’ initiatives and protests. While scholars who are directly concerned continue to struggle for their rights, a significant part of those who remain in Turkey have become involved in solidarity networks and alternative organizations. Known as “Solidarity Academies”, new formations emerged in various cities in Turkey, gathering academics and students affected by the repression and their supporters. Since 2016, these formations have emerged as important spaces for critical thinking and knowledge production and transmission. While most of them remain anchored on the local level, others have opted for a thematic focus and gather members throughout Turkey. These groups offer workshops and seminars for various audiences, but they have also engaged in civil society projects including research, fieldwork, and monitoring activities.

Seminar on psychoanalysis and cinema, 12 April 2019 (Çağdaş Yalçın, Eskişehir Okulu)

The following interviews constitute the third part of our exploration of solidarity academies and networks of Academics for Peace in Turkey. They offer insight into the activities of three groups: Eskişehir Okulu (Eskişehir School), a platform for alternative forms of scientific discourse; Kampüssüzler (Academics With No Campus), aiming at the production of academic work outside the institutional academy and at cooperation; and the ADA Cooperative for Education, based in Ankara, an autonomous space for researchers and academicsbased in Ankara.

Eskişehir Okulu (Eskişehir School)

Zeynep Erk Emeksiz

When and why did you decide to establish your organization? What are its aims and how would you define it (CSO, solidarity academy, alternative academic network…)?

Eskişehir School is one of the solidarity academies in Turkey, established in 2017 as a civil organization. We are a group of academics dismissed by Decree Law 686 in February 2017 for signing the peace petition. However, our history goes back to May 2016, when we started to give solidarity lessons open to the public sphere right after our universities started legal investigations against us. We wanted to establish a platform on which we can construct an alternative form of scientific discourse free of the official discourse of state universities in Turkey. Another reason is that we wanted to discuss the peace petition and let people know who we are. We define ourselves as a part of the solidarity academies in Turkey. We are a part of this network. We also want to be in line with the Frankfurt School (Frankfurter Schule) of social theory and critical thinking. This is why we named our organization “Eskişehir School”. At the beginning, the only members were the dismissed academics, but now we have many members from academies and outside the academies who want to support the growth of this alternative free university without walls.

Could you tell us about a particular project or activity conducted by your organization?

We’ve conducted 89 solidarity lessons open to the public and given by academics and researchers from various disciplines, from Law to Physics. We’ve regularly organized several courses and workshops on various topics (Poetics, Social Gender, Turkish Law, Theory of Arts, Linguistics, Discourse Analysis) for five years. We keep giving our lectures on line because of the pandemic. We have a YouTube channel where we upload our solidarity lectures and seminars (you can find the recording of our lecture on fascism by Tanıl Bora).

A group of members of ES started a series of seminars on psychoanalysis and cinema in 2018 (including me and Cem Kaptanoğlu, a psychiatrist dismissed from Osmangazi University). We have given 12 seminars on structural and post-structural approaches to psychoanalysis and cinema so far, and we are working on a book covering our seminars. (You can find one of the recordings here)

EO provides a platform to those who want to organize academic meetings on topics that might be “inconvenient” for state universities, like “freedom of thought”, “human rights”, and “state laws”. For example, we organized a conference on “Muzaffer Sheriff and his works on racism and fascism” with The Organization of Turkish Psychologists (Türk Psikologlar Derneği) in 2019. They were well aware that no state university would provide a platform to discuss the ideas of Muzaffer Sheriff. We were also the organizing partner of the 5th Conference of Political Psychology. A group of academics dismissed from the Faculty of Law in Anadolu University organized the conference on “Law and Dystopia” in 2018.

What are the main challenges faced by your organization and its members?

At the beginning, a few people, those who feel themselves a part of the socialist discourse, participated in our seminars. Most people were too frightened to support us, because the government presented us as a group of academics who support a terrorist organization. We had difficulty finding a place for our lecture. Thanks to Adımlar Kitap & Kafe (a bookstore in Eskişehir) for providing us their conference room! We were able to organize our solidarity courses and seminars there. This was such brave support. This is how our café-academy experience started. Then four of our dismissed colleagues suggested establishing our own café-academy with their own savings. We started giving our lectures and seminars in Uçurtma Kitap Kafe in 2019. ES is also a partner of Uçurtma Kitap Kafe. Things were going well for Uçurtma till the pandemic. Now they have difficulties paying the rent and the salary of the workers. This is one of the reasons we applied for a grant from the EED (European Endowment for Democracy). 

Some of us had to leave Eskişehir for economic reasons. They moved either to their hometown or to Europe. We were 35 people at the beginning, but now there are only 15 people who could stay. I myself got a PSI scholarship for two years. Now I am at University of Mainz.

Is your organization part of any international network? How could international solidarity and partnerships contribute to supporting your organization and its members?

We haven’t been a part of any international organization till now. We applied for a grant from the EED, and now our initiative was accepted. We applied to universities in Europe to provide us access to their online libraries and to recognize our members and organization as an affiliated institution. However, our colleagues in Germany and the UK faced some bureaucratic obstacles and could not manage to do so. 

When we started to look for funds for our academy, we realized that the EU gives funds only to human rights activists. Now, most of the solidarity academies are studying human rights. We appreciate this, however, one should also accept that the EU shapes the alternative academy by giving funds on the topics they choose.

What future do you see for your organization? More broadly, do you think that alternative academic structures and networks have a potential to challenge the multiple obstacles faced by knowledge production and transmission in Turkey and on the global level?

Yes, we believe that solidarity academics will lead to a new model of a global university. The pandemic forces universities all around the world to do so.

Zeynep Erk Emeksiz is a linguist specialized in semantics and literary text theories. She completed her doctoral dissertation in 2003 at the Department of Linguistics, Ankara University. She has published several works on nominal and verbal aspects of Turkish grammar. She worked as an associate professor at the Department of Turkish Language and Literature in Anadolu University until she was dismissed by Decree Law 686 after the coup attempt for signing the peace petition titled “We will not be a party to this crime”. She is one of the founders of Eskişehir Solidarity Academy, where she gave several public lectures after her dismissal. She is currently a Humboldt PSI fellow at Johannes Gütenberg-Universitat Mainz.

Kampüssüzler (Academics With No Campus)

Meral Camcı

When and why did you decide to establish your organization? What are its aims and how would you define it (CSO, solidarity academy, alternative academic network…)?

Academics With No Campus (Kampüssüzler) was established in early May 2016. After the peace declaration, signatory academics working at foundation universities started to lose their jobs and rights. The first founders of the Academics With No Campus (Kampüssüzler) were unemployed academics from foundation universities. Later, it expanded with the participation of signatories who still work at given universities but care about being free and in solidarity. The first aim was to continue producing academic work outside the institutional academy and to cooperate with each other. At the same time, it was to create a coexistence in which we can work with the relational, dynamic, and reciprocal nature of academic work and knowledge production.

Could you tell us about a particular project or activity conducted by your organization?

Social History of Capitalism Readings/Courses and Workshop: The Academics With No Campus started to work together in May 2016 and conducted a mutual, relational, and dynamic research and analysis study with the title “Social History of Capitalism 19th Century” in the summer of 2016. At the Karaburun Science Congress, which was first held from August 31 to September 1, 2016, it aimed to produce collective knowledge sharing and interaction with an intensive session with the same title, “Social History of Capitalism 19th Century”. This session was important in that it set an example of one of the pillars we hope to realize within the alternative academy we have set before us as Academics for Peace. Moreover, this session set the first precedent of collective course content and the search for a critical, praxis-based academy, as an outcome of the work carried out by non-campuses since May 2016.

Following this first and ongoing work, many lectures and workshops were held, with topics ranging from gender to literature, from cinema to urban, migration, and dislocation studies. They included workshops in Istanbul and Dersim; the organization of the first workshop of the Solidarity Academies in Aliağa in 2017; and the summer camps of the Aliağa 2018 and Bodrum Gümüşlük Academy 2019 with students coming from several universities and cities.

The reading group study titled “The Invisible History of Women” continues. We are preparing and seeking funding for publication.

Likewise, our Social History of Capitalism reading group continues, and we are seeking publication funding.

The oral history study of Women’s Media, Women’s Memory / Our Story is ongoing. A website with a high domain of bizimhikayemiz.org has been created. In the current phase of this study, workshops titled Women’s Labor, Women’s Narrative Patterns, and Migration Maps will be held in coming days. Our work is followed with interest and interaction by women’s organizations, unions, academics, and artists.

What are the main challenges faced by your organization and its members?

Following the Peace Declaration, the field of unemployment and rights violations has expanded and continues until today. During these five years of struggle and solidarity, the biggest challenge for us has been the constant search for financial support. We can find support for our projects and works for a limited time. However, it is limited to certain periods, and our flexible and insecure working environment sometimes tires us. However, our ambition to work and our academic curiosity and interest continue, due to being together.

Is your organization part of any international network? How could international solidarity and partnerships contribute to supporting your organization and its members?

We, like all other solidarity academies, are in relation and cooperation with institutions such as CDPR, FES, EED, and Solifond and initiatives like Bak-Germany, Bak-England, Bak-France, Bak-North America, etc. and Off-Uni.

What future do you see for your organization? More broadly, do you think that alternative academic structures and networks have a potential to challenge the multiple obstacles faced by knowledge production and transmission in Turkey and on the global level?

We want to continue the production and dissemination of knowledge and being in solidarity. During these five years, we have worked hard and accumulated a lot of knowledge and experience. It is our dream to establish our own educational institution together with solidarity academies or more independently. However, this requires an increase in both financial and international academic and political support. This does not seem very likely for now in this conjuncture in Turkey. This can only happen if EU institutions increase their support and initiatives in this regard.

Meral Camcı was an assistant professor in Translation and Interpreting Studies in Istanbul until January 2016, when she was dismissed for signing the declaration “We will not be a party to this crime”. On 10 March 2016, she was arrested after a press statement that pointed out the rights violations suffered at the universities. She was released on 22 April 2016. She was a visiting scholar at the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, Germany with a scholarship from the Humboldt Foundation-Philipp Schwartz Initiative from June 2016 to July 2018. She currently translates literary texts, reads a lot, and mostly intends to write. She is an active member of such Solidarity Academies as Birarada Derneği (Altogether Assoc.) and Kampüssüzler (Academics-With-No-Campus Initiative), a founding member of Scientific Research and Application Cooperative (BİLARK), and a volunteer member of Translators at Disasters (ARÇ).

ADA Cooperative For Education (Ankara Solidarity Academy)

Ülkü Doğanay and Yasemin Özgün

When and why did you decide to establish your organization? What are its aims and how would you define it (CSO, solidarity academy, alternative academic network…)?

The ADA Cooperative for Education was established in January 2018 to provide an institutional basis for the Ankara Solidarity Academy (ADA), founded in January 2017 by “peace academics” who were dismissed from their jobs at universities by decree laws issued during the state of emergency and their colleagues in solidarity with them. 

Open lectures, seminars, workshops, panel discussions and conferences, and research and publication activities carried out by the Ankara Solidarity Academy (ADA) are increasingly continued under the roof of the ADA Cooperative for Education.

The goals of the ADA Cooperative for Education are as follows: creating an autonomous space for researchers and academics who regard their academic studies as an intervention in social life as a whole and whose aim is to contribute to critical thinking and scientific production; establishing a common structure to conduct scientific research and educational studies with emancipated academic imagination; generating and sharing pro-labor, pro-community, and pro-nature collective knowledge; democratizing knowledge generation and scientific debate.

Our members consist of academics and researchers who are willing to share the academic knowledge in their fields of specialization with other societal segments; to co-create and disseminate a democratic, egalitarian, and participative culture and to protect human rights and a sustainable environment. They have an understanding of science for the sake of the nature and the society.

Our primary fields of specialization include educational sciences, finance, political sciences, public administration, international relations, psychology, sociology, linguistics, communication, cultural studies, technology, ecology, environment, urbanization, philosophy, and the fine arts.

Could you tell us about a particular project or activity conducted by your organization?

The ADA Cooperative for Education conducts activities to meet its partners’ educational-training and research needs, to provide access to academic knowledge and accumulation free of charge in the required fields to the public, including primarily non-governmental organizations, rights defenders, volunteers, and students, and to strengthen the links between academics and non-governmental organizations in accordance with the private education legislation. Our primary activities include seminars, workshops, panel discussions and conferences, research and investigation, and publication.

Publications (ADA Library)

Starting in the 2017-2018 Fall semester, we launched 6-12 weeks of lectures under the name Ada Library, which will be eventually published as a book and therefore be developed and planned as a book draft.

At the end of these lecture series, the book “Işığın Kirli Yüzü: Işık Kirliliği” (The Dirty Face of Light: Light Pollution) by Bülent Aslan was published by ADA Publishing House. In addition, three books were published with the cooperation of ADA Library and İletişim Publishing House: Metaların Kerameti (The Miracle of Commodities) by Melda Yaman and Özgür Öztürk was published in 2019 and “Borçlandırma Siyaseti: Türkiye’de Finansal İçerilme” (Debt Politics: Financial Inclusion in Turkey) by Ali Rıza Güngen was published in 2020.

Seminars and workshops

Since 2017, we have conducted 103 workshops and seminars, ranging in duration from 5 to 12 weeks, involving 76 academics. 41 of the ADA’s workshops and seminars were held online with over 500 participants in total. 12 of these workshops were carried out within the ADA Labor Studies Program supported by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Association, 6 within the framework of the ADA Equal Citizenship and Participation Program carried out with the support of Civil Rights Defenders, and 7 within the ADA Cultural Studies Program supported by Duvar Media. In addition, the Transition Program carried out by the Embassy of the Czech Republic supported a summer school and 6 workshops and was supported by the Social Research Program for Promoting the Understanding of Human Rights.

Projects

Promoting Gender Equality via the Network of Solidarity Academies: This project runs from 2020 to 2024 in cooperation with the ADA Cooperative for Education (Ankara Solidarity Academy) and the Birarada Association, with the financial support of the European Union. KAOS-GL and the Human Rights Joint Platform are associated with the measure. This project seeks to create a Gender Equality Solidarity Network (AĞ-DA) that will bring together CSOs and academics to share their knowledge, research, and experience in the field of gender equality, promote collective advocacy and research activities, and address challenges raised by the repressive environment.

The Middle East through Films: VAHA ( “oasis” in Turkish) is a two-year program made with and for the empowered voices of independent arts and culture spaces, advocating for public discussion and dialogue in cities across Turkey, Europe, and their neighboring countries. VAHA is an initiative of Anadolu Kültür and MitOst, funded by Stiftung Mercator and the European Cultural Foundation.

The ADA Educational Cooperative is part of the Ankara hub of the VAHA Project along with Batıkent New Life Association and Aramızda Gender Research Association. Based on the idea that we can use cinema as a bridge to overcome the artificial distance between peoples of the Middle East by highlighting what is overlooked, neglected, and forgotten about the Middle East, we want to organize a Middle East Films Festival in Ankara. To this end, in the first phase of the project, we are organizing activities such as seminars, panel discussions, and talks that lay the foundation for the festival. We expect these events to appeal to audiences interested in cinema, predominantly Middle Eastern cinema, cultural life, and history, to people who struggle for peace and democracy in our country and the world, and to NGOs.

What are the main challenges faced by your organization and its members?

The main problem we faced during this process was that we could not access the financial support that would make our activities sustainable. For this reason, we continued our activities largely by volunteering. The reluctance of funders to support research projects, workshops, and lectures in our fields of interest has significantly limited our ability to contribute to the production of academic knowledge. In addition, the ADA did not have a place to hold workshops and meetings in its first three years. Almost all of our workshops were held in halls that other institutions allowed in solidarity, or in cafes. On the other hand, these workshops have attracted great interest from the very beginning. This interest demonstrated the need for the dissemination of critical knowledge in areas whose content was emptied in universities by purges and self-censorship. Participants in these workshops included university students and academics, members and volunteers of non-governmental organizations, teachers, employees from trade unions, and local administrations. Later, due to the pandemic, we started to run the workshops online. In this process, we started to find small amounts of financial support to run the workshops, and the ADA started to share an office with the EU project. On the other hand, most ADA activities are still carried out with the voluntary labor of its members, and the absence of paid staff affects our efficiency in coordinating these activities.

Is your organization part of any international network? How could international solidarity and partnerships contribute to supporting your organization and its members?

At the moment, we are not a part of any international network.

What future do you see for your organization? More broadly, do you think that alternative academic structures and networks have a potential to challenge the multiple obstacles faced by knowledge production and transmission in Turkey and on the global level?

Beyond carrying out many of the activities mentioned above under very difficult conditions for almost four years, the Ankara Solidarity Academy gained significant experience in using digital technology by continuing its projects, seminars, and workshops online throughout the pandemic. Moreover, the opportunity to reach many people outside Ankara has been achieved, and we have received very good feedback. Hence, we believe that the ADA and the other alternative academic structures and networks will be the main potential challenge to produce research-based knowledge beyond the confines of university campuses and to promote critical thinking about the alternative democratic educational environment and awareness of democracy, gender equity, and human rights in Turkey.

Part I of this contribution can be found here and part II here.


Noémi Lévy-Aksu is a member of the “Memory and Peace Studies” team at Hafıza Merkezi in Istanbul. She was an assistant professor in history at Boğaziçi University (Istanbul) until 2017, when she was dismissed for signing the Declaration for Peace. In 2019-20, she was the coordinator of “Academia”, a project funded by the European Endowment for Democracy and led by the Centre for Democracy and Peace Research (CDPR), which aimed to strengthen the capacity of eight solidarity academies in Turkey. Noémi was a re:constitution Fellow 2019/20 at the Forum Transregionale Studien.

Ülkü Doğanay received her BA from Ankara University Faculty of Communication in 1993, her master’s degree in Political Science from the Middle East Technical University and her PhD from Ankara University, Department of Political Science and Public Administration.  In 2009, she became Associate Professor in the field of Political Life and Institutions, and in 2014 she is appointed as a full professor at the Faculty of Communication of Ankara University where she worked between 1994 and 2017. In February 2017, she was dismissed and banned from public service, for signing the “Academics for Peace Petition”. She is currently a member of Ankara Solidarity Academy, working as the coordinator of the Promoting Gender Equality via the Network of Solidarity Academies Project that is runned by Ankara Solidarity Academy and Birarada Association and supported by the EU. 

Yasemin Özgün received her master’s degree in Political Theory from University of Essex, England, with a thesis titled “The Paradox of Representation in Politics” and her PhD with a thesis titled “Democracy Discourse of the Period of 27 May 1960” from Ankara University, Institute of Social Sciences. She started working at Anadolu University in 1995, where she became an associate professor in Communication Sciences in 2012. She was expelled in February 2017, on the grounds of signing the “Academics for Peace Petition”. Amongst her field of interests are political sociology, media and politics, gender studies, political economy, and Turkish political life. She is currently working on the current theoretical debates on the transformation of the state, populism and democracy.


Further articles in the Academic Freedom series on TRAFO:

Pascal Engel, Academic Freedom is the Freedom to Know, 24 February 2021.

Gisèle Sapiro, Amr Hamzawy, and Başak Tuğ, Threats to Academic Freedom – Historical and Contemporary Remarks, 17 February 2021.

Mitchell G. Ash, The Suppression and Misuses of Academic Freedom During the Nazi Regime, 3 March 2021.

Sandra Richter, What Kind of Academic Freedom and for Whom? Karl Jaspers’ Idea of the University, 10 March 2021.

Libora Oates-Indruchová, Academic Presses in Czechoslovakia and Hungary under Communist Regimes, 24 March 2021.

Balázs Trencsényi, Notes from the Underground: Academic Freedom, (Un)Civil Society, and Kulturkampf in Hungary, 1 April 2021.

Amr Hamzawy, The Long-lived “July Republic” and the Abolition of the Egyptian University’s Autonomy, 07.04.2021

Noémi Lévy-Aksu, Alternative Knowledge Production and Transmission in Turkey: Solidarity Academies (I), 14.04.2021

Noémi Lévy-Aksu, Alternative Knowledge Production and Transmission in Turkey: Solidarity Academies (II), 21.04.2021

Sari Hanafi, The Pen and the Sword: The Narrow Margin of Academic Freedom in the Arab World, 05.05.2021


Citation: Noémi Lévy-Aksu, Alternative Knowledge Production and Transmission in Turkey: Solidarity Academies (III), in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/28724, 19.05.2021.


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