On March 28, 2017, Işık University terminated the contracts of Professors Sinan Birdal and Neşe Yıldıran in apparent retaliation for their refusal to withdraw their signatures from a petition calling on the Turkish government to end its crackdowns targeting Kurdish rebels in the southeastern part of the country.
Professor Birdal, a scholar of international relations, and Professor Yıldıran, a scholar of art history, are among 1,128 original signatories to the “Peace Petition” who were placed under investigation by state and university authorities immediately following the petition’s January 2016 publication. Hundreds of signatories have since faced dismissals, suspensions, travel restrictions, detentions, arrests, prosecutions and other threats in connection with the petition
Sources indicate that Işık University’s Board of Trustees had demanded that both Professors Birdal and Yıldıran withdraw their signatures from the Peace Petition. After the two professors reportedly refused to comply, the university terminated their contracts.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about professional retaliation against scholars in response to the nonviolent exercise of the rights to academic freedom, free expression, and free association — 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. Where they are a part of a widespread pattern, such incidents have a profoundly chilling effect on academic freedom, undermine democratic society generally, and may represent a grave threat to higher education on a national scale. State and university authorities have an obligation to comply with internationally recognized standards of academic freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom of association, as well as due process and fair trial.