SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: December 15, 2016

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):Çukurova University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On December 15, 2016, Çukurova University reportedly terminated its contract with Mehmet Fatih Traş in apparent retaliation for his endorsement of a petition calling on the Turkish government to end its crackdowns targeting Kurdish rebels in the southeastern part of the country.

Following the publication of the petition (known as the “Peace Petition”) in January 2016, Turkish state and higher education authorities began taking sweeping actions against its signatories. All 1,128 signatories were immediately placed under investigation, with many later suffering professional retaliation, detentions, arrests, prosecutions, travel restrictions, and other threats in connection with their endorsement of the Peace Petition.

On June 23, 2017, Mr. Traş defended his dissertation in econometrics at Çukurova University, where he was both a doctoral student and a research assistant. Immediately after receiving his doctorate, the university declined to renew Traş’ research assistantship contract for unknown reasons; however, he was engaged to teach some courses during the fall 2016 semester.

On December 10, 2016, after a Kurdish group launched a suicide attack in a stadium outside Istanbul, a professor at the university accused Mr. Traş of being a terrorist, apparently citing his endorsement of the Peace Petition and his alleged affiliation with the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish opposition party. Shortly after these accusations spread, Çukurova University dismissed him from all teaching positions without providing him an opportunity to appeal. 

Mr. Traş attempted to find a position at other universities after his dismissal from Çukurova University. He was almost hired twice, by Mardin Artuklu University and Istanbul Aydin University. Both universities rescinded their offers at the last minute, with Istanbul Adyin University citing reasons “independent of the will of the university.” Mr. Traş committed suicide on February 25, 2017.

Scholars at Risk offers condolences to Mr. Traş’ family for their loss and express concern over the dismissal of a scholar in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, and academic freedom, conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Turkey is a party. State and university authorities have an obligation to comply with internationally recognized standards of academic freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom of association.