Turkey is always fun unless one has to live there. Academia, for instance, is shockingly becoming solely "his master's voice."
There are more than 200 universities in Turkey, most of which are run by the state. There are, however, only 10 Turkish universities featured in the World University Rankings 2019, a list of top 1,018 institutions, according to Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), the world's leading provider of services, analytics and insight to the higher education sector.
Turkey, with a population of 83 million and two Nobel Prizes, ranks 62nd on the list of countries by Nobel laureates per capita. This score is worse than that of the Azerbaijan, Algeria, Yemen, Ghana, Bulgaria, Guatemala, Morocco, the Palestinian territories and Iraq.
In an iron-fist response to a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan purged 15,200 Education Ministry officials along with 21,000 private school teachers. The Council of Higher Education asked the deans of the country's state and private universities -- all 1,577 of them -- to resign. A total of 626 educational institutions, mostly private, were shut.
Although the effect of the Islamist pill on Turkish academics that the Turks have voluntarily been swallowing since 2002 has been destructive, some universities, Turkey's own "Ivy League," have managed to remain relatively independent of the autocracy of a regime where the president of the country appoints all university rectors.
Apparently, not anymore.
Amir Hetsroni, a controversial academic figure, is an Israeli professor of media studies. Hetsroni was fired from Ariel University, Israel, in 2014 after criticizing its role in Israel's "occupation of the West Bank," although the university has insisted "that he was fired for posting comments on Facebook that questioned the university's process for handling complaints of sexual harassment. The university maintains that his comments... were insulting to women and inappropriate for a professor."
Professor Hetsroni, a vegan, has also expressed, on his Instagram profile, his shock at Islamic animal slaughtering practices. "It's very clear what I think about Islam," he said, calling it a "very aggressive religion."
In May 2020, as part of the Switzerland International Film Festival (SIFF) official competition, a feature-length documentary, "Amir Hetsroni: Case Study," made by the Swiss-Israeli psychologist and film director Giuseppe (Yossi) Strenger, was screened. The film, shot in late 2016, the month following David Hetsroni's -- Amir's father -- death, unfolds Amir's mourning process and his relationship with Shirin Noufi, his partner at the time. The film won first place in the festival's "Best Documentary" category. Later on that year, "Amir Hetsroni: Case Study" was also selected for Out of The Can Film Festival in England, and the Austria International Film Festival, where it won the prize for "Best Editing."
After his departure from Ariel and a brief stint in China, Hetsroni signed a contract with Koç University in Istanbul, one of Turkey's elite higher education institutions, owned by the country's biggest industrial conglomerate, Koç Holding. In the Times Higher Education's World University Rankings 2021, Koç is listed in the 401-500th bracket.
Although Hetsroni just agreed to a new three-year contract a month ago, Koç University dismissed him in June for "conduct unbecoming to a member of Koç University faculty," according to his termination notice. The reasons the university administration set out -- including "inappropriate behaviour" -- are vague, except for an accusation that he caused "significant damage to his faculty apartment by leaving its windows open."
"It's a feeling of a third world banana republic," Hetsroni said. "I was fired on the spot without any advance warning for voicing criticism of Turkey and the university in private Whatsapp conversations that were leaked by a third party to the university management."
"Obviously, " Hetsroni said, "my criticism of Turkey has nothing to do with my teaching level, research output, or service quality. If this is enough to get fired today in Turkey, I don't even want to think about the fate of a professor who would dare say these things in class."
Umran İnan, Koç's president, confirmed the termination of Hetsroni's contract but said he could not share the reasons behind it. Mysterious? Not in Erdoğan's Turkey.
Hetsroni thinks that the spark for his dismissal could have been private conversations he had had with students, in which he urged them not just to study temporarily in Western Europe but to flee Turkey permanently. "If I were you," he told them, "I would stay there all my life. That is my opinion." He also told his journalism students that they should "take into consideration that in this country you might get arrested."
In a way, Hetsroni is lucky because he no longer lives in Turkey and the regime's capability to hurt him is limited to removing him from the workforce.
His dismissal from an elite, secular Turkish university, however, apparently under government pressure, is evidence that no institution in Turkey is immune to Erdoğan's Islamist autocracy.
Burak Bekdil is an Ankara-based political analyst and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.