Two dozen schools were bombed or set on fire and 28 teachers abducted in 2010-2012, mostly in the south-east, where Kurdish insurgents were active. Hundreds of university students were arrested in protests that were suppressed with excessive use of force.1655
During 2009-2012, the long-running insurgency led by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) continued in south-eastern Turkey. Armed clashes between the PKK and the Turkish military escalated in 2011 but in 2013 there was a ceasefire in the context of a peace process.
The government restricted the right to protest and constraints on academic freedom continued. There was a deepening polarization between the religious conservative government and the secularist Republican People’s Party.1656 Police violence against demonstrators continued and protesters, including students, were beaten at protests. Academics were arrested in the context of investigations into coup plots against the government and serious violations of due process occurred during the controversial trials that followed. There were also arrests of academics in association with the Kurdish issue.
On 30 September 2013, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan announced a package of legal reforms, two of them relevant to education for Kurdish students and teachers.1657 Instruction would be allowed in minority languages, including Kurdish, in private schools but not in the state sector.1658 An oath of national allegiance, to which many Kurds objected due to its Turkish ethnic bias, would no longer be obligatory in primary schools.1659 In addition, the ban on headscarves in the civil service, including for teachers in schools and universities, a contentious issue between secularists and advocates of religious freedom, would be lifted.1660
Net primary enrolment was 96 per cent, net secondary enrolment was 85 per cent, and gross tertiary enrolment was 61 per cent (2011). Adult literacy was 91 per cent (2009).1661
Attacks on schools
Media reports suggest that there were at least two dozen attacks on schools from 2009 to 2012,1662 mainly in south-eastern Turkey. In one incident, attackers shouted pro-PKK slogans but in many cases the perpetrators were not identified. Kurdish militants were assumed to target schools because they believed they were being used as tools of assimilation. The majority of attacks were fire-bombings.1663 For instance, it was reported that on 9 October 2012, a student and two teachers were injured when masked men threw Molotov cocktails at a high school in Diyarbakir.1664 During a two-week spate of attacks in October 2012, suspected PKK activists set at least 20 schools on fire1665 including a kindergarten.1666
A car bomb suspected to have been detonated by the PKK exploded outside a secondary school in Ankara in September 2011, killing three people; the schoolyard was used to treat the injured.1667
Attacks on school students, teachers and other education personnel
According to a compilation of media reports, 28 teachers were abducted in 2011-2012,1668 including 12 in one week.1669 Most were kidnapped by PKK members; many were released shortly afterwards. In one incident, armed militants broke into a teachers’ staff room and kidnapped six of the 19 teachers present but released them under pressure from local people.1670
In one incident in December 2011, a group of PKK supporters reportedly threw Molotov cocktails and stones at a housing unit for dozens of teachers, yelling at them to leave the area and threatening to burn them.1671
Media and trade union reports suggest that more than 40 teacher trade unionists in the teachers’ union Eğitim Sen were arrested or detained as state authorities suppressed union activism including on the right to education in Kurdish.1672 Twenty-seven teacher trade unionists arrested in May 2009 were charged with providing intellectual support to illegal organizations.1673 In October 2011, 25 teacher trade unionists were sentenced to six years and five months’ imprisonment under anti-terrorism laws. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, the evidence against them included the possession of books that were freely available in bookshops and the holding of trade union meetings.1674
Attacks on higher education
Police beat and used excessive force against students during two demonstrations against government higher education and other policies, one held in central Istanbul in early December 20101675 and the other at Middle East Technical University on 18 December 2012. At the second protest, the police allegedly fired 2,000 tear gas canisters, pepper spray and water cannon at the 300 gathered students, causing injury, according to the International Human Rights Network of Academics and Scholarly Societies (IHRNASS).1676
The research group GIT Turkey reported in June 2012 that there had been an increase in academics’ rights violations in recent years and noted that those who suffered most were academics working on subjects deemed sensitive by the government, particularly Kurdish and minority issues.1677
Kemal Gürüz, a leading republican secularist and a former president of both the Turkish Higher Education Council (YÖK) and the Turkish science-funding agency TÜBITAK, was one of many people accused of plotting to overthrow the elected government in a case that was opened after a cache of grenades and other explosives was found in the home of a retired non-commissioned Turkish army officer. The IHRNASS reported that there was no evidence supporting the claims in relation to Gürüz, who believed he was jailed because of his stance on secularism. As head of YÖK, he implemented a ban on wearing headscarves in universities which Prime Minister Erdogan’s party strongly opposed.1678 He was sentenced to 13 years and nine months in jail. In September 2013, he was released pending an appeal.1679
Attacks on education in 2013
A bomb exploded at a school in Cizre in January injuring three students, but the perpetrator was unknown.1680 In September and October, police used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon against Middle East Technical University students protesting against a road planned through their campus.1681
The acquittal of sociologist Pinar Selek on terrorism charges was overturned in 2013 and she was given a life sentence. An advocate for the rights of socially disadvantaged children and women who has researched Kurdish groups, she had been repeatedly arrested and tried on allegations of participating in a 1998 explosion at a spice market. Court investigations found that the explosion resulted from an accidental gas leak rather than a bomb and, in the 14 years following the incident, Selek was acquitted three times of terrorism charges due to lack of admissible evidence.1682 She was also allegedly tortured to elicit the names of her interview participants in contravention of the ethics rules governing research, and in contravention of domestic and international law.1683
1655 This profile covers attacks on education in 2009-2012, with an additional section on attacks in 2013.
1656 Dorian Jones, “Turkey: Ankara Intimidating Academics, Restricting Free Speech,” Eurasianet.org, 9 November 2011; HRW, “Human Rights in Turkey,” last modified 6 August 2013; Nick Tattersall and Orhan Coskun, “Erdogan’s Ambition Weighs on Hopes for a New Turkish Constitution,” Reuters, 18 February 2013; Aslan Amani, “Turkey’s Growing Constitutional Conundrum,” Open Democracy, 22 March 2013; and “Conspiracy convictions deepen Turkey’s divide,” Al Jazeera, 10 August 2013.
1657 Noah Blaser, “The Enduring Frustration of Turkey’s Kurds,” Foreign Policy,4 October 2013.
1658 “Turkey’s Erdogan announces Kurdish reforms,” BBC News, 30 September 2013.
1659 Humeyra Pamuk, “UPDATE 1-Turkey lifts generations-old ban on Islamic headscarf,” Reuters, 8 October 2013; and Kaya Genc, “Good riddance, Turkish school oath – but reforms don’t go far enough,” The Guardian, 1 October 2013.
1660 Humeyra Pamuk, “UPDATE 1-Turkey lifts generations-old ban on Islamic headscarf,” Reuters, 8 October 2013; and John Feffer, “Standing Up in Turkey,” Huffington Post (Blog), 7 October 2013.
1661 UNESCO Institute for Statistics, “Education (all levels) Profile - Turkey,” UIS Statistics in Brief (2011).
1662 Piotr Zalewski, “A Turkish War of Religion: Kurdish Activists Sense a Conspiracy,” Time, 4 June 2012; “Masked protesters attack kindergarten in Turkey’s southeast,” Hurriyet Daily News, 2 November 2012; “Alleged PKK members attack schools in Turkey,” Euro News, 23 October 2012; “Unknown attacks school in Turkey,” CNN Turk, 4 May 2010; “Unknown attacks school in Turkey with Molotov cocktail,” CNN Turk, 21 September 2010; and Associated Press in Ankara, “Three killed as explosion outside school rocks Turkish capital Ankara,” The Guardian, 20 September 2011.
1663 “A Turkish War of Religion: Kurdish Activists Sense a Conspiracy,” Time, 4 June 2012; Selcan Hacaoglu, “Suspected PKK militants injure student, teachers in school raid,” Bloomberg News, 9 October 2012; “PKK attack on high school leaves 3 injured in Turkey,” Press TV, 10 October 2012; “Masked protesters attack kindergarten in Turkey’s southeast,” Hurriyet Daily News, 2 November 2012; “Unknown attacks school in Turkey,” CNN Turk, 4 May 2010; “Unknown attacks school in Turkey with Molotov cocktail,” CNN Turk, 21 September 2010; and “Alleged PKK members attack schools in Turkey,” Euro News, 23 October 2012.
1664 “Turkey’s PKK school attack leaves 3 injured,” Xinhua, 9 October 2012.
1665 “Alleged PKK Members Attack School in Turkey,” Euro News, 23 October 2012.
1666 “Masked Protesters Attack Kindergarten in Turkey’s Southeast,” Hurriyet Daily News, 2 November 2012; and “PKK Supporters Attack Kindergarten with Molotovs in Sirnak,” Today’s Zaman, 2 November 2012.
1667 Haroon Siddique, “Turkish car bomb blast kills three outside secondary school,” The Guardian, 20 September 2011.
1668 Dogan News Agency, “Soldier, policeman killed, teachers kidnapped in wave of PKK attacks,” Hurriyet Daily News, 23 September 2012; “School teachers kidnapped by PKK terrorists,” Turkish Weekly, 28 September 2011; Xiong Tong, “PKK Rebels Kidnap Another Three Teachers in SE Turkey,” Xinhuanet News, 28 September 2011; “Educators Protest PKK for Kidnapped Teachers,” Hurriyet Daily News, 29 September 2011; “Four people kidnapped by PKK in southeastern Turkey,” Hurriyet Daily News, 16 October 2012; Dogan News Agency, “PKK kidnaps, releases six teachers,” Hurriyet Daily News, 17 October 2012; “PKK kidnap 3 teachers, village guard in southeast Turkey,” Shafaqna, 17 October 2012; “Teachers abducted by PKK in Iğdır say determined to stay,” Today’s Zaman, 23 October 2012; “Terrorists unsuccessful in bid to kidnap young teachers in Iğdır,” 23 October 2012; “Alleged PKK members attack schools in Turkey,” Euro News, 23 October 2012; “Two killed, teachers abducted in eastern Turkey,” Kurd Press International News Agency, 31 October 2012; Dogan News Agency, “Three teachers kidnapped by PKK in southeastern Turkey,” Xinhua.net, 10 November 2012; and Today’s Zaman, quoted in: “PKK militants free kidnapped teachers in Turkey,” Xinhua.net, 12 November 2012.
1669 “Educators Protest PKK for Kidnapped Teachers,” Hurriyet Daily News, 29 September 2011.
1670 Dogan News Agency, “PKK kidnaps, releases six teachers,” Hurriyet Daily News,17 October 2012.
1671 “PKK Supporters Attempt to Torch Teachers’ Housing in SE Turkey,” Hurriyet Daily News, 9 December 2011.
1672 Education International, “Turkey: EI concerned about the fate of 31 public sector trade unionists on trial today,” 2 March 2010; and Letter from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) to the Prime Minister, “Massive raids against trade union offices, detention of 71 union members and leaders,” 25 June 2012.
1673 Education International, “Turkey: EI concerned about the fate of 31 public sector trade unionists on trial today,” 2 March 2010.
1674 Letter from ITUC to the Prime Minister, “Massive raids against trade union offices, detention of 71 union members and leaders,” 25 June 2012, 2.
1675 Thomas Seibert, “Attacks on Students Show Turkish Police Still Use Violence,” The National, 10 December 2010.
1676 Carol Corillon, Peter Diam, and Hans-Peter Zenner, Scientists, Engineers and Doctors in Turkey: a Human Rights Mission – Prepublication Copy (International Human Rights Network of Academics and Scholarly Societies, accessed August 2013), 14-15.
1677 Carol Corillon, Peter Diam, and Hans-Peter Zenner, Scientists, Engineers and Doctors in Turkey: a Human Rights Mission – Prepublication Copy (International Human Rights Network of Academics and Scholarly Societies, accessed August2013), 16; and Alison Abbott, “Turkey cracks down on academic freedom,” Nature, 3 July 2012.
1678 Alison Abbott, “Secularist Academic Jailed in Turkey,” Nature, 26 June 2012; “Glimmer of hope after stunning verdict in Turkish trial,” Science Insider, 8 June 2013; Carol Corillon, Peter Diam, and Hans-Peter Zenner, Scientists, Engineers and Doctors in Turkey: a Human Rights Mission – Prepublication Copy (International Human Rights Network of Academics and Scholarly Societies, accessed August 2013), 48.
1679 Committee of Concerned Scientists, “Kemal Guruz released from prison,” 13 September 2013.
1680 “3 Turkish students injured in bomb blast,” Xinhua, 2 January 2013; and “Three students injured in high school blast in south eastern Turkey,” IPP, 4 January 2013.
1681 “Police intervene against fresh protest in Ankara’s ODTU campus,” Hurriyet Daily News, 19 September 2013; and “Turkey police fire tear gas at student demo,” AFP, 20 October 2013.
1682 “Scientists Should Push for Fair Treatment of Turkish Academics Arrested on Little Evidence,” Nature, 23 February 2011; International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), “TURKEY: Judicial Harassment of Pinar Selek Continues as Istanbul Heavy Penal Court Decides to Amend Her Acquittal and Request Her Conviction,”27 November 2012; World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), “Turkey: Continued Judicial Harassment Faced by Ms. Pinar Selek,” 21 January 2013; and PEN International, “News: Turkey – PEN International Concerned About Pinar Selek Trial,” 12 December 2012.
1683 Carol Corillon, Peter Diam, and Hans-Peter Zenner, Scientists, Engineers and Doctors in Turkey: a Human Rights Mission – Prepublication Copy (International Human Rights Network of Academics and Scholarly Societies, accessed August 2013), 16-17.