Ismet Akça had been an associate professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Yıldız in Istanbul for 15 years. He has also been a member of the Executive of the university branch of the Eğitim-Sen for many years.
On 9 February, he received a letter telling him he had been dismissed. Significantly, of the 330 academics dismissed in February, 134, including Ismet, were signatories to a petition raised by Academics for Peace. Overall, more than 7000 academics across the country have been accused of “supporting a terrorist organization”.
In Ismet’s case, the petition he signed had been drafted in January 2016 - six months before the coup attempt - by Turkish intellectuals denouncing human rights violations in the south-east of the country following the resumption of armed clashes. “We are the victims of a political situation,” explains Ismet. “In Turkey, there are some matters, starting with the Kurdish question, which should not be tackled if you don’t want any problems.”
As well as losing his job, Ismet is more or less under house arrest. “They have cancelled my passport,” he says. “I am not allowed to leave the country, a country in which I am also not allowed to work."
This situation is even more difficult because, as a researcher, Ismet can no longer apply for any research grants. "I was to prepare a report on the Balkan region. But to do this, I needed to make numerous return trips. I have been unable to carry out this work."
Despite everything, Ismet considers himself lucky: with the backing of his professional network and his fluency in three languages, he is occasionally able to get translation work. He also helps foreign journalists who come to work for short periods in Turkey.
Financially, he survives thanks to the monthly salary paid to him by Eğitim-Sen and support from friends. ''In the initial months [after dismissal], I received TRY2,000 (€500) from the union, but with the dismissals increasing across the country, the amounts are getting smaller. I am grateful for the assistance that Eğitim-Sen gives us.” However, he – and everyone else – knows that this necessary financial help will not last. “Our situation will not be sorted out quickly. It will continue for some years. In spite of its efforts, the union will not be able to subsidise everybody’s needs indefinitely. We will have to find new jobs.”
As with other dismissed academics, Ismet deplores the social isolation and psychological torture caused by this situation. “Our lives are built around our work. It is as if we have had a leg cut off.”
Ismet tells his story as he would teach a class at the university. He weighs his words, with ideas organised point by point, as if chapters. However, he never stops smiling as he tells this burdensome tale. It is undoubtedly the mask which enables him to save face. This is also the mask of a father who has to explain his situation to his nine-year-old son “using simple words and sound teaching”.
Even now, the union remains present. Meetings with psychologists will be organised during the summer followed by psychological support for those families needing it. “Our strength lies in our political and union solidarity,”concludes Ismet.