Transregional Center for Democratic Studies

The School of Human Rights in Turkey: An Alternative Space under Authoritarianism

by Elçin Aktoprak, Project Coordinator, The School of Human Rights

Initiated by the Peace Petitioner scholars who were dismissed from universities by the Turkish government, the overall goal of the School of Human Rights (SHR) project is to contribute to the promotion and protection of academic freedom to establish a free, critical and an autonomous academic sphere in Turkey. This grim situation requires a strong relation between human rights, civil society, and academia. Our project aims to fill the gap between them by providing an alternative and critical space for human rights studies.

To realize these aims, the project has two components. The first component is titled “The Promotion of Academic Freedom as a Human Right.” The specific objective of it is to introduce and enhance academic freedom as an integral part of human rights. Recognition of academic freedom as an integral part of human rights will change the approach of  members of the academic community and human rights defenders for future violations and give them a new ground to defend their rights and victims’ rights. The results of two field surveys we conducted will serve as initial tools to disseminate this idea. 

The second component is titled “Enhancing the Bridge: The School of Human Rights (free and critical education space).” The specific objectives of this component are the following: providing an alternative institutional academic environment to revive individual academic freedom; creating free and critical academic space and providing human rights expertise to civil society to fill the gap caused by the state of emergency measures; and human rights without borders. We have an online human rights education module including 20 courses and serving more than 300 participants. 

With the recent crisis of COVID-19, we have also taken some proactive steps such as online broadcasting called “Human Rights under Quarantine,” on vital human rights issues during the pandemic. This proved to be effective as we received positive reactions online. We are about to initiate a blog on our website to solicit expert opinions about the current human rights violations. These efforts will enhance our outreach strategies as we capitalize on the  increasing demand for online content due to the lockdown.

Elçin Aktoprak was Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences, Ankara University, Turkey, until she was dismissed as per the emergency decree in February 2017. Her research interests are theories of nationalism, minority issues in Europe, the Kurdish question, conflict resolution and peace studies. Recently she is the project coordinator of an EU funded project called the School of Human Rights.

This piece was a contribution to the Democracy & the Pandemic Mini-Conference of the Democracy Seminar held on May 20-21, 2020.

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