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Professor faces workplace sanctions, criminal charges, possible imprisonment for comments on Ataturk

(DSKG/IFEX) - Professor Atilla Yayla has faced workplace sanctions and harassment in the press, and now faces criminal charges for comments made on Turkish history in a panel discussion.

On 18 November 2006, Yayla participated in a panel discussion along with Ali Bulaç, a journalist with the "Zaman" daily newspaper, and Zekeriye Akçam, an MP with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The event was organised by the AKP's Izmir City Youth Group. The discussion topic was "social reflections on the EU process". Yayla spoke of the history of civilisation and its founding principles, values and institutions. He argued that the history of Turkey after 1923 could be divided into to phases using those concepts, the first phase being 1923-45 and the second beginning after 1950. He argued that the first phase could not be considered as a success in terms of those values and principles, and thus "Kemalism" could not be considered a civilising process, but rather should be seen as a regression.

Following the discussion a piece was published in the newspaper "Yeni Asir" declaring Yayla to be a "traitor", and focusing on two sentences he used. The first was his referral to Ataturk as "this man" (a transcription of the voice recordings of the meeting later proved that he did not used that phrase); the other was that he said that "'Kemalism' was reactionary". (Mustafa Kemal, known as "Ataturk" or "Father Turk", founded the modern Turkish Republic.)

In the wake of press reports, the rector of Gazi University, Dr. Kadri Yamaç, stated suspended Yayla from his post at the university. The Head of Higher Education Board argued that Yayla's words could not be accepted as an expression of scientific opinion.

Following an investigation into Yayla's comments, he was reinstated to his post but condemned for his words.

Meanwhile, a criminal case has been opened against Yayla on the charge of "insulting Ataturk and his memory". The penalty sought is four-and-a-half years' imprisonment. The indictment prepared by Izmir Public Prosecutor Ahmet Güven claims that Yayla insulted Ataturk by referring to him as "this man". Yayla's case, under articles one and two of the Statue on Crimes against Ataturk, will continue on 16 October.

Yayla's comments at the panel discussion were as follows: "If the EU process moves forward despite all these problems, we will have to discuss these matters freely in coming years. They will ask us, 'Why is it that there are Ataturk's statues everywhere?'. 'Why is the same picture hung on every office wall?' They will ask these things. They will say: 'Kemalism is the problem of Turkey' and such things . . . Our compatriots will react negatively to this; but sooner or later we will have to discuss these issues . . . We will either become politically what the Netherlands are over time, or we will say 'I am not a member of this club; I am a Middle Eastern country.' We might say that we are more like Jordan or Syria. My desire is that such things be discussed without rancor. A moderate discussion. Solving the problems without humiliating or aggravating anyone. I am a university lecturer I have to spend time on such things. I have to convey these to people. I would like to hear the counter ideas . . . "

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