Associated Press
Dec 31 2006

Academic in Trouble for Ataturk Speech


By SUZAN FRASER
Associated Press Writer

When political science professor Atilla Yayla questioned the legacy
of the revered founder of modern Turkey, nationalists called him a
traitor and his university suspended him.

Yayla said he was punished for shattering a taboo: daring to
criticize Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a leader so idolized that his
portrait hangs in all government offices, life stops for a minute
every year on the anniversary of his death 68 years ago, and his
ideas are still the republic's most sacred principles.

"There was a lynching campaign against me," Yayla recalled recently
in his office surrounded by books on liberal thought.

In a Nov. 18 speech, Yayla said that the era of one-party rule under
Ataturk, from 1925 to 1945, was not as progressive as the official
ideology would have Turks believe but was "regressive in some
respects."

The uproar that ensued shows how Turkish universities, most of them
state-controlled, are not always places where ideas float freely.
Anyone deviating from the set of principles inspired by Ataturk and
closely guarded by the military, bureaucracy and judiciary, is
chastised and, in some cases, fired.

Ataturk was a soldier and statesman who founded secular and
Westward-looking Turkey from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire in 1923.

He set about on a series of secular reforms that imposed Western
laws, replaced Arabic script with the Latin alphabet, banned Islamic
dress and granted women the right to vote. The country he founded is
frequently held up as an example that democracy can exist in a
predominantly Muslim country.

"As an academic, I must be free to think, to search and share
findings," Yayla, 50, said in an interview at the Ankara-based
Association for Liberal Thinking, an organization he co-founded in
1994. "If Turkey wants to be a civilized country, academics must be
able to scientifically criticize and evaluate Ataturk's ideas."

Yayla's ordeal is a reminder of how Turkey is still grappling with
ensuring basic freedoms - one of the main problems it must address if
it wants to realize its ambition of joining the European Union.

Many European observers think academic and artistic freedoms still
clash too often with patriotic rhetoric. Novelist Orhan Pamuk, before
winning the 2006 Nobel Prize for literature, stood trial for
"insulting Turkishness" after telling a Swiss newspaper that 1
million Armenians were killed on Turkish territory in the early 20th
century. Turkish authorities say the number is greatly inflated and
often cited out of the context of the violence surrounding the fall
of the Ottoman Empire.

The trial, like many of its kind, was dismissed on a technicality.

Another writer was recently charged with insulting Ataturk because he
wrote that the leader fled an assassination attempt dressed in
women's clothing.

Yayla has insisted he was not insulting Ataturk but questioning the
rigid way some followers interpret his principles.

"Some people have created a cult of Ataturk, but by doing this, what
they want to do is not to revere Ataturk but rather to ... give
themselves an undisputed position in political life," he said. "That
is what I cannot accept."

Gazi University's chancellor, Kadri Yamac, bowed to public pressure
and temporarily removed Yayla from his teaching post pending the
outcome of an investigation, saying a professor "does not have to
like Ataturk but I cannot allow a person who is opposed to the
republic's main principles to educate students."

The professor also has his supporters. Academics have signed a
petition to have him reinstated. A group of protesters wearing masks
bearing Yayla's image sent the university chancellor a parcel
containing sticky tape - to "gag professors."

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress