Sunday, April 10, 2016

"Destination Turkey": 
Turkish Minister of Science, Technology and Industry and the Scientific and Technological Research Council (TÜBİTAK) Protested at MIT in Boston

abd tubitak  
Scholars in Boston Protest the Turkish officials and TÜBİTAK during their visit at MIT. 
Photo from Diken.
At a time when academics are detained for signing a petition and calling for peace with Kurds, and President Erdoğan is calling those academics "terrorists" and claims they have no difference from those who take arms, and demands stripping them from their Turkish citizenship, the Turkish Minister of Science, Technology and Industry and the Scientific and Technological Research Council (TÜBİTAK) started a tour in the United States to show what a great place Turkey is for science and research.

TÜBİTAK has been a controversial institution, since many of its workers were forced to resign under the pressure of criminal investigations (that did not turn into an indictment and therefore not publicly available) threatening to tie hundreds of TÜBİTAK scientists to the sham trials that had shaken the country in the late 2000s. The first signs of this purge were felt in 2009, when the new administrators sought to censor Darwin on the occasion of his 200th birthday.  In an earlier post, we have already addressed how scientific institutions were under attack by the successive AKP administrations and how TÜBİTAK was finally taken over with decree laws in 2011, ending the institution's relative autonomy.

TÜBİTAK is an important institution as the scientific base for making decisions on technological bidding, weapons, but also an authority for computer forensics. Regardless of whether the allegations of this is why the Gülenists wanted to take over the institution when they were in good terms with the AKP are true or not, the scandals of the institution since the new director was appointed after the decree law that removed the former director in August 2011, ended with yet another scandal: after the AKP fallout with Gülenists, the director first resigned and then taken into custody. This was part of the second wave of purging the personnel at TÜBİTAK that occurred over the last decade.

Now, TÜBİTAK together with the Minister of Science, Technology and Industry invites scientists at the MIT, Yale, Nature Jobs Career Expo in San Francisco, and UC San Diego, to join a research destination Turkey. Their poster claims the conference "will provide an overview of the major developments in the past years in Turkish Research Area."

Unfortunately, the "major developments in the past years in Turkish Research Area," as the poster phrases it, include an array of arrests, power struggles, government encroachment on (relatively) autonomous institutions and areas of research and expertise, attempts at criminalization of research, teaching and the freedom of expression, and termination as exemplified in the recent case of the signatories of (what came to be known as) the Peace Petition.

At MIT, TÜBİTAK and the Minister of Science, Technology and Industry were thus protested. The protesters brought back reality into the picture, and the Minister decided to cancel his speech. It is a pity, because it would have been interesting to see how he would handle questions in an environment where freedom of expression still persists.