On August 17, 2016, it was reported that Caucasus University in Azerbaijan had terminated 50 professors, in an apparent effort to purge the university of scholars connected to a movement led by Fetullah Gülen, the exiled Turkish cleric whom Turkish authorities have alleged was behind a July 15 coup attempt.
The university had reportedly been taken over by a local Azerbaijani institution one month earlier, following the July 15 coup attempt in Turkey. At that time, the university’s rector, a Turkish citizen, left office.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of mass terminations of scholars, apparently based solely on suspicion of association with a particular organization. While state and university authorities have a right to maintain order and respond to legitimate security concerns, such actions must comply with States’ human rights obligations, including those relating to freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of association, due process, and academic freedom, which are protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Azerbaijan is a party. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and university autonomy, and undermine democratic society generally.