UC Davis professor arrested in Turkey

UC Davis professor arrested in Turkey

Photo Credits: UC DAVIS / COURTESY

Professor arrested after signing petition critical of Turkish government’s actions toward Kurdish residents

Baki Tezcan, an associate professor of history at UC Davis, was arrested in Istanbul, Turkey on June 26 for having signed a petition critical of the Turkish government three years ago. Tezcan has since been released and is awaiting his trial, which will take place on July 18.

Tezcan, who was traveling to Istanbul to conduct research, was one of 2,000 academics who signed a petition objecting to the Turkish government’s attacks on Kurdish settlements. 

“The Turkish state has effectively condemned its citizens […] in the Kurdish provinces to hunger through its use of curfews that have been ongoing for weeks,” the petition said. “It has attacked these settlements with heavy weapons and equipment that would only be mobilized in wartime.” 

The petition further alleged that the government of Turkey participated in a “deliberate and planned massacre” of Kurdish residents. The Turkish government said the petition was propaganda from a Kurdish terrorist organization. They apparently requested that the U.S. Department of Justice question Tezcan, but it refused.

The UC Davis professor was taken aside for questioning immediately upon arriving at the airport in Istanbul, according to The Sacramento Bee. He had received his indictment in May of 2018, but believed that the government would initially focus on prosecuting signatories living in Europe or Turkey. 

Tezcan may be the first Turkish American charged. Academics for Peace, the group that helped organize the petition, said 765 signatories were charged as of July 4. Tezcan plans to continue his research despite this. 

“I really appreciate all the messages of support I received from the UC Davis community since my brief arrest […] and am looking forward to [being] back on campus in August after my research trip,” Tezcan said via email.

In the interim, the university acknowledges the situation Tezcan faces.

“We will support our colleague and hope for a swift and positive resolution,” said Chancellor Gary May in an email to The California Aggie.

Tezcan’s arrest comes at a time of increased political dissent in Turkey. According to the BBC, the Turkish government has purged “soldiers, police, and academics” from the professional sphere following a military faction’s failed coup d’état in July 2016. Longtime President Recip Tayyip Erdogan has put approximately 160,000 people in jail. 

The recent election of Istanbul’s new mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu, is a challenge to Erdogan’s power, according to the New York Times. Imamoglu plans to push against Erdogan’s “authoritarianism” and bring “democracy and fairness” to Turkey. The U.S. State Department currently advises visitors to “reconsider trips to Turkey due to terrorism and arbitrary detentions.” 

Written by: Rebecca Bihn-Wallace — campus@theaggie.org