SCHOLARS AT RISK (SAR) Student Advocacy Seminar Report WS 2017-18

Scholars at Risk Advocacy Seminar at HWR

End of Term Report


(from left to right) Bruno, Kay, Olivia, Clara, Frank



Academic Freedom in Turkey

A Summary of Previous Turkish Coups

The Coup of 2016

Sedat Laçiner

Our Advocacy for Sedat

  • Visual Campaign
  • Migration Conference
  • Facebook Page
  • UN Human Rights Day




History of Turkish Coups
Before examining the events of the 2016 coup attempt, which has contributed to the loss of academic freedom in Turkey, we decided to study the history of Turkey. From the conception of the Republic of Turkey in 1923 up until the present day, the country has faced coup d’état attempts by the military, intervening in the government, on four occasions.

This section will look to explain the details of these 20th century coup attempts and provide the historical context we need in understanding the significance of the 2016 coup attempt.

1923 – Formation of the Republic of Turkey
Kemal Atatürk, an army officer turned revolutionary, becomes the first president of the Republic of Turkey. Atatürk gained power after the triumph of the Turkish national movement, a war of independence against foreign occupation resulting from the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
Atatürk initiated a rigorous program of political, economic and cultural reform to create a staunchly secular nation-state. For example, Turkish women received equal rights in Atatürk’s presidency ahead of many Western countries. Following his movement’s military and democratic victory, the military has always been the self-declared ‘Guardians of Turkish democracy’, especially regarding anti-secular (religious/conservative) governments.


The ruling Democratic party headed by prime minster Adnan Menderes and president Celal Bayar began to loosen the toughest Atatürk secular rules regarding religion, such as re-opening mosques and legalizing Arabic call to prayer. They also began alienating opposition of the government with new restrictive press laws. Growing tension early 1960 in the country caused the army to step in and arrest the leading members of government on the accusation of treason with Menderes executed. General Gursel took on the role of both PM and president, starting five years of military control over the political realm.


TIME Magazine reported at the time –
“The Turkish army has long scrupulously observed the admonition of the late great Kemal Atatürk that the army should stay out of partisan politics. But it also remembered that Atatürk charged it with guarding the constitution.”

Economic stagnation in the late 1960’s and recession lead to large national unrest, such as worker demonstrations and violence of right-wing groups. Annual inflation reached nearly 80%. To ‘restore order’ in March 1971 the military again intervened in the government, accusing Suleyman Demirel’s government of leading the country into anarchy, and demanded for the formation of a “strong and credible government… inspired by Atatürk’s views.” PM Demirel resigned hours later, but the military did not assume direct control in this period, with several caretaker governments formed until 1973 when retired naval officer Fahri Koruturk became president.


Despite the 1971 coup, the 70’s saw a continuation of domestic instability in Turkey with further economic stagnation, left and right violent protests and clashes and thousands of assassinations. 11 prime ministerial changes in the 1970’s took place. September 1980 saw a long discussed and delayed coup launched with martial law and the dissolving of the government announced by officers on state television. Naval officer Bulent Ulusu became Prime Minister, bringing years of stabilizing military rule with thousands of arrests and a new constitution in 1982. Tugurt Ozal’s election in 1983 was significant to the stabilizing of the country, with economic reform like widespread privatization.


1997– ‘Post-Modern Coup’
The 1995 election led to huge gains for the conservative Islamist Welfare party, with them taking power as the head of a coalition in 1996. In 1997 the military forced several secular recommendations on the government, with the PM Necmettin Erbakan agreeing to education reform preventing pupils enrolling in religious schools, a headscarf ban at universities and was eventually forced to resign. The Islamist Welfare party, the largest in parliament was shut down in 1998 with Erbakan banned from politics for five years. Some former Islamist Welfare party members, including current President Recep Erdoğan, would go onto found the Justice and Development party (AK Parti), which holds power in Turkey today.


Summary and implications

The combination of economic and social unrest, with tension between the army and conservative, anti-secular governments is the running theme throughout 20th century Turkish coup attempts.  The Turkish army, under Ataturk, positioned itself as protectors of democracy and continues to do so. However, controversially this also included the tactical removal of anti-secular governments, which the army subjectively interpret as a threat to democracy, despite these governments democratic election.

The ascension to power in 2002 of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development party (AK Parti), which has been described as an Islamist-party, represents the latest rise in an anti-secular, authoritarian government.  For example, the party has brought about tighter regulations on internet use, abortion and alcohol consumption, having temporarily blocked access to Twitter and YouTube in March 2014. With these political developments and previous historical tendencies, a new coup attempt seems like it must have been an inevitability waiting to erupt.

Coup of July 2016


The coup started in the evening of the 15.07.2016 when some rebelling parts of the military were blocking the Bosporus Bridge. Together with that they also announced a curfew and the material law. As a reaction to that president Erdogan explained, that he is at a save place and the coup attempt was just an action by a minority of the military. He also invites the population as a contrast to the rebels to go out on the streets and demonstrating against them. In the night from the 15th to the 16th battles in Istanbul and the capital city Ankara started.
In a speech via smartphone through CNN Türk Erdogan instantly blamed his rival Gülen and his movement for the coup. He talked about a treason and a cleaning of the army in the future as a consequence. On Saturday (16th) morning he continued to invite the population to stay outside, while the putschists wanted them to stay in their houses. With more passing time the government troops took over more areas from the rebels including the headquarter of the military. Until Saturday evening the government had 90% of the situation under control. The result at that point were 265 dead, 1440 injured, 2839 by the military arrested rebels and 2745 judges deposed.
As an international reaction for e.g. USA and Germany condemned the coup.
At the same day a special meeting in the Turkish Parliament was called, where all the four parties were on Erdogan’s site. He still blamed Gülen, who lives currently in the USA, for the coup and wanted them to hand him Gülen out, which was declined after.

Consequences This coup had big influences on Turkey and their population. Since that day the state of emergency got extended repeatedly and Erdogan is ruling by decree.
Also 140.000 state officials were dismissed and about 50.000 people arrested.

The cause for such a coup was a combination of a few causes. In general, the Turkish army sees itself as the guardian of the division of power and the Islamization of the state doesn’t conform their principles too. During his government period Erdogan does the opposite. These differences divide Turkey. Especially the elites don’t like Erdogan’s policy, for e.g. renewing the conflict with the Kurds in the east of Turkey for no reason. Erdogan tries to arrest his critics for insults or similar crime, that creates excitements too.


Sedat Laçiner
After choosing to investigate the loss of academic freedom in Turkey we decided to focus our campaign on the academic Sedat Laçiner. We originally set out to campaign for both him and his brother Vedat, but information on Vedat is very limited and due to the small nature of our team we decided it would be a better use of our time to concentrate on one person.


Sedat is an author, academic and columnist who writes on Turkish foreign policy and the Middle East. He has written 26 books and numerous scientific articles on international security and the fight against terrorism and criticised the government’s move to break off from the West and follow a more Islamic line. Sedat was arrested in July 2016 when the government cracked down on dissenting opinions following a military coup, although he claims he had no involvement in it and the Turkish government have provided no substantial evidence against him (O’Malley, 2017). He has not been told for what actions he has been imprisoned and has not been allowed to speak to a lawyer or given a trial or hearing. (Project, 2017) This breaks the universal agreement of human rights.



The voice project received this letter:

From: Sedat Laçiner
Date: Mon, Jan 2, 2017 at 3:35 PM
Subject: letter from Turkish prison

Dear Sir/ Madam,

I’m one of the jailed academics and writers in Turkey. I’ve been in a Turkish prison (Canakkale) for more than 5 months without an indictment. More than 40 thousands of people, including academics, judges, lawyers, journalists, teachers and the members of Turkish Supreme Court were arrested after the 15 July Coup Attempt. All these jailed people are accused of supporting the coup-attempt. More than 100 thousands of civil servants were fired without any proof and legal process.

The coup attempt has been abused by Erdoğan rule in order to curtail the authoritarian essence.

Similarly I was accused of supporting the coup without any evidence and I was arrested on 20 July 2016 in Canakkale. I cannot reach my lawyer and I have been under dreadful prison conditions.

The Turkish Attorney declared my file “secret” and refuses to give any details of the accusations as it is the case in thousands of files after 15 July 2016.

My only fault is my opinions. I opposed the Syrian and the Kurdish policies of the Erdoğan rule. I’ve also strongly criticized the government’s authoritarian and Islamist policies. Turkey has always been part of Europe and it should be a true member of Europe. I’m afraid the government has making efforts to deviate Turkey’s western direction.

I’ve never been part of any illegal organization or network. I am a professor of International politics and an expert on combatting terrorism. I am author of 26 books and numerous articles. I graduated from Sheffield University (UK) with a MA degree and King’s College London with a PhD degree. I wrote for daily Star (Istanbul), Internethaber and Haberdar news sites.

I have no idea when I could see a judge. My life and my family are under deathly risks and we need your support. Please help us.


Prof. Dr. Sedat Laçiner
Canakkale E Type Closed Prison
Canakkale – Turkey

(Project, 2017)

Renowned author Noam Chomsky has also called for Laçiner’s release, he joined the campaign by sending a letter of protest to President Erdogan. (O’Malley, 2017)

Advocacy for Sedat


Visual Campaign

To start off our advocacy for Sedat we designed a poster that could be used as a visual aid for any upcoming campaigns and on our Facebook page:


Migration Conference

After this we were asked to provide catering for a conference on migration that was held at our university. We used this as an opportunity to raise awareness on Sedat and to collect some donations to help further our campaign. We managed to raise 250 euros which will be used to help support the advocacy course at HWR in the future.


Facebook Page

Bruno made a Facebook page for our advocacy seminar in order to help raise the awareness and spread the word about our upcoming event for the UN Human Rights Day. Raising awareness through social media turned out to be a much bigger challenge than expected. In order to have the audience focused and not wide-spread across various social media platforms, Facebook turned out to be the most efficient one.

After a small discussion, everyone agreed „Scholars at Risk / HWR Berlin / Turkey“ was the perfect name to put the Student Advocacy Seminar in a nutshell. Unfortunately, social media takes time to turn a page into something people really want to engage in. Nevertheless, it has 11 likes and the interview about the UN-Human Rights Day was watched by 105 people. Additionally, the page has collected 22 previews just over the last month.


UN Human Rights Day

On December 8th, 2017, the student advocacy seminar prepared an information stand in regards to the UN-Human Rights Day on December 10th. Together with Cynthia, Frank, Kay and Bruno provided interesting facts about the history of the most recent coup attempt in Turkey and its aftermaths.

Fellow students were invited to watch a short introduction video before answering a quiz on a computer. All answers were portrayed on a pinboard, ready for the students to find.

Sylke Schumann, who is responsible for the press at the HWR as well as for the social media of the Studium Generale, visited us on campus. She filmed the whole set-up and interviewed Cynthia and Bruno. This video was uploaded to our Facebook page „Scholars at Risk / HWR Berlin / Turkey“ and to the HWR Facebook page „HWR Berlin Studium Generale“, which increased the amount of views substantially.

The project had many objectives like raising awareness about the Human Rights, the crisis in Turkey, Sedat Laçiner, and illustrating what the advocacy seminar is all about.

In order to help explain the situation in Turkey, Olivia made a map that highlighted killings, violence, disappearances, imprisonments, prosecutions, losses of positions and travel restrictions that happened after the coup:

A pilot programme

The Human Rights Advocacy Seminar with Scholars at Risk was the first of its kind at HWR Berlin. Students with different majors showed interest and were first introduced to human rights. How many are there? How many do you know? Have you ever stood up for someone who’s rights were infringed? Not only students from Germany but also from the United Kingdom like Clara and Frank exchanged their thoughts.

It seemed like a decent size for a group to work on a big research and awareness project. However, a lot of people lost interest over the next coming weeks. Additionally, most of them decided to choose only one of the two seminars, in which case they preferred Service Learning. Both of them were conducted by Cynthia Tilden-Machleidt.

In the end, only five people were left: Clara, Frank, Kay, Olivia and Bruno. Nevertheless, all of us were contributing to achieve the course’s goal, publishing a report on Sedat Laçiner, the background in Turkey and the Advocacy Seminar with Scholars at Risk.


Next Steps

We want to be a part of the seminar as long as we can, and are optimistic that we as a team can reach many more people. We started off this semester with a very motivating attitude, but as the term progressed, motivation and effort decreased.

For the year 2018, we hope our team will be a little bigger so that it‘s possible to make a bigger difference. Expectations are high, and a more efficient distribution of motivation is appropriate. Ideas like a Twitter account, flyers and stickers, and more interviews to achieve greater awareness are about to come. Please also see this report on our SAR HWR blog at:


Olivia Kaut

Francis Mably

Bruno Schubert

Kay Schütt

Clara Toellner



O’Malley, B., 2017. University World News. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 21 01 2018].

Project, V., 2017. Voice Project. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 21 01 2018]

Al Jazeera, 2016. [Online]

Available at:
[Accessed 23 01 2018].

BBC, 2017. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 23 01 2018]


TIME, 2016. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 23 01 2018]

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