Blue Mosque through a window on the second floor of Hagia Sophia. Flickr/Mehran Heidarzadeh. Some rights reserved. The World Congress of Political Science, organised by the International Political Science Association (IPSA), is one of the high prestige settings for any social science researcher eager to present their research, expand their networks, attend fruitful scholarly discussions and have the opportunity to detect new approaches in their specific fields. It is also a challenge for host countries to show their organisational abilities. In 2016, for the first time, İstanbul was appointed host for the 24th World Congress of Political Science. Now it has lost its chance.
The association announced that the congress will be relocated from İstanbul to a new host city in Europe due the deterioration of security in Turkey. According to the association, the decision was made on February 25 by the IPSA Executive Committee in coordination with the Turkish Political Science Association and the local organizing committee in Turkey. A new host city will be announced by March 25. The announcement noted that the organisers feel they cannot guarantee the safety of all participants and provide an environment favourable to the exchange of intellectual ideas. Meanwhile, IPSA remains firm in its commitment to the Turkish political science community.
At the first glance, the issue seems crystal clear. But there are some points that should be clarified given the rumours busily circulating in both Turkish and international academic environments.
One thing is correct
It is obvious that Turkey is not an absolutely safe country. In less than a year, Turkey has seen five terrorist attacks. The first took place on June 5 at a rally of People's Democratic Party (HDP) in Diyarbakir right before the June 7, 2015 elections. This claimed two lives and injured more than 100 people. The second targeted young activists gathered at a cultural centre in the predominately Kurdish south eastern town of Suruç who were preparing to deliver aid to the previously besieged Syrian city of Kobane on July 20, 2015. This blast claimed 32 lives and injured over 100 people. The third, the bloodiest terrorist attack in the history of modern Turkey, occurred during a rally organised by Kurdish and left wing political parties, trade unions, and civil society organisations in Ankara on October 10. This incident killed 102 and wounded hundreds of people. Fourth, Istanbul's historic peninsula, its skyline dotted with Ottoman and Byzantine architecture including both the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, was shaken on January 12 by a heinous terrorist attack. In this attack, unfortunately 10 people lost their lives. At least 28 people have been killed and at least 60 were injured in a rush-hour car bombing targeting military personnel in the heart of the Turkish capital. To crown all this, on February 29, the Interior Minister of Turkey announced that Turkish police have prevented 18 suicide attacks since the beginning of 2016.
So Turkey is clearly not safe enough to host more than three thousand scholars for over a week.
But the attitude of indifference implicit in the associations’s declaration with regard both to Turkish colleges and citizens rather resembles a classic orientalist approach to ‘unsafe third world countries’. The declaration leaves Turkey alone with its knotty problem, putting it into the same basket with all the other countries unsafe from a western perspective.
Secondly, as we know from the inside gossip, one of the underlying reasons for relocation is the prosecution, unjustified investigation and other forms of pressure on academics who signed the famous petition denouncing military operations against Kurdish civilians in the south-east of the country. Although IPSA’s President published a statement calling for collaboration between scholars in emerging and established democracies to support the academic freedom needed for social sciences to flourish, it was too little too late.
There are many issues which have made the ruling cadres unhappy with this affair. Pro-government newspapers and GONGO spokespeople have singled out Turkish Political Science Association (TPSA) board members working in close coordination with IPSA, as scapegoats for a public lynching. They have begun to announce their names over portrait photos under the heading “villains”. They claim that the TPSA’s board members have turned the IPSA committee against the Turkish government and politicised the issues. It is true that the members of the board could not in all conscience give an absolute guarantee for conditions of total safety, but how does this amount to treachery? Some pro-government scholars accuse them of politicising of the issues. But it should be noted that it is extremely easy to find yourself accused of being a traitor if you are doing anything that is seen as against the interests of the AKP and President Erdoğan.
All in all, at the end of the day, it seems that even if the 24th IPSA World Congress of Political Science is held in a ‘safe’ country, Turkey will maintain its controversial status in most of the various sessions of the congress.