University of Florida and the failed coup in Turkey


Date posted: July 27, 2016

On July 15 in Istanbul, Turkey, soldiers closed the two bridges across the Bosphorus, the first indication that elements of the army were planning to remove the government of President Recip Tayyip Erdogan. In Ankara, the national capital, other soldiers took control of television stations and shelled the parliament building. President Erdogan had to use social media to rally his supporters. But by morning it was all over with Erdogan in full control.

A short-lived effort at regime change in a faraway country can’t affect us, but the government response has an impact on our campus and many others.

Academics are forbidden to leave the country, and any currently abroad are required to return. The day before the coup, 25 faculty from Gazi University in Ankara arrived in Gainesville, several with their families, to begin an intensive program in the UF English Language Institute. They have been informed that administrators at their university have “resigned,” and they await an order to return home immediately. A friend at a university in Virginia reported a Turkish colleague on a one year exchange has been ordered back to Turkey “to be investigated.”

Turkey’s Ministry of National Education has summarily dismissed thousands of educators, from research professors to primary school teachers, from their jobs. Since UF has long welcomed large numbers of Turkish students, UF alumni are certainly among them. If they are found to have ties to the Gulen movement, they will never be able to teach in Turkey again and unable to take posts abroad.

Erdogan has taken the excuse of a failed coup to launch a full-scale purge of suspected members of the Gulen movement from the military, the judiciary and education. Although Gulenists were his staunch allies in his rise to power, he broke with them and now wants to eliminate their influence altogether.

Who are the Gulenists? A movement grown around Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim religious scholar, that spread within Turkey and around the world. Its members everywhere promote interfaith dialogue and understanding, operating a network of charities and secular schools, encouraging good relations with Israel and opposing hardline groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, as well as all violence in the name of religion. To President Erdogan, its continued existence makes it “a state within a state,” and a rival to his own government and the Islamist party he heads.

In the 1930s, American universities stood up for scholars who were excluded from academic positions because of race, religion or political opinions and sponsored many of them who came to this country. The current situation may or may not be as dire, but every institution of higher learning ought to do everything possible to assist former students, classmates and colleagues who are caught in this government crackdown. Will UF lead the way?


Richard K. MacMaster is a retired UF professor of history.

Source: Alligator , July 25, 2016


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