Meldungen aus der UDE
Interview with Dr. Mehmet Rauf Kesici
Mr. Kesici, you fled your native country Turkey. Why and when did you flee?
Shortly after the electoral success of the pro-Kurdish party in June 2015 elections, Turkish security forces initiated a large-scale and indiscriminate violence in Turkey’s Kurdistan. In January 2016, I, along with 2,218 scholars from Turkey, I signed a petition titled “We will not be a party to this crime,” also known as the Peace Petition. We criticized the government of conducting large-scale massacres in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey and wanted to attract local and international media attention to the state-violence against Kurds in Turkey. As a result hundreds of petitioners lost their jobs and passports. I and all other peace signatories from Kocaeli University were also dismissed. I came to Germany, where my partner resides, right after our dismissal.
You were dismissed from Kocaeli University in September 2016. What happened?
In September 1, 2016, the Turkish government issued a state of emergency decree. As a result of this decree, 50.000 civil servants, including 2346 academics, were removed from their positions due to their alleged connections to terrorist organizations. Among these academics there were also Academics for Peace. As the signatories from Kocaeli University, we have been permanently dismissed from our positions. Dismissed under the conditions of state of emergency, we will neither be able to appeal the decision nor work in public sector for a lifetime.
Was your freedom of research curtailed before you were dismissed? Were you under pressure?
Actually the pressure started long before our dismissal. After we signed the petition, we faced a number of difficulties, which does not only threaten our academic career but also our personal safety in Kocaeli, Turkey. Immediately after the first press release of the Academics for Peace, the Senate of Kocaeli University issued a contemptuous condemnation of the signatories accusing us of supporting “terrorism”. The rector tweeted that he does not “want separationist terrorist organization and their supporters in the university.”
The next day, on January 15, 2016, I, among with the other signatories from Kocaeli University, was taken into custody by three police officers, who came to my apartment at 6 am. The police body-searched me in front of my building before they took me into their car. This put me in a suspicious position in the eyes of my neighbours. My signatory colleagues and I were taken into custody and spent the day in the jail on January 15, 2016. The Chief prosecutor of Kocaeli accused us of spreading terrorist propaganda and “insulting the moral integrity of the state.” Kocaeli University’s senate’s declaration about us and the prosecutor’s accusation turned us into a target in Kocaeli, a relatively small town. To make things worse, Kocaeli major declared in a press release that signatories of the peace petition are collaborating with “terror” and that we should be punished accordingly. In addition, Kocaeli’s local newspapers’ publishing our names and photos, accused us of being supporters of “terrorists” and “traitors.”
The process started after the public release of the peace petition also directly affected our academic career. In January 18, 2016, the director of Faculty of Maritime Business Management told me that I was dismissed from my administrative post as the assistant director of Faculty of Maritime Business Management. Furthermore, in February 2016, the University started an administrative investigation for all of the signatories, including me. The investigation call letter written and signed by the investigation committee claimed that we were supporting “terror ” and demanded our dismissal.
In May 13, 2016, I applied for a conference travel fund from Kocaeli University to participate in the 4th Turkish Migration Conference held in Vienna. Normally and legally, this fund is available for all faculty members. Yet, my application was declined. When I requested an explanation from the university, I was informed that my application was declined due the peace petition I signed.
What’s your opinion on President Erdogan?
I am aware that Erdoğan occupies some space in German media nowadays. Yet, I wish Germany and European media carried Erdoğan, hence state-violence in Turkey, to their news programs and political debates when Turkish security forces were conducting massacres in the Kurdish provinces and demolishing Kurdish town and neighbourhoods. There is, of course, a lot to say about Erdoğan but there is also a lot to say about the European countries’ arms trade with Erdoğan government.
Do your family and friends still live in Turkey? Is it possible for you to keep the connections? Are they in danger because you left the country or are they safe?
My family and many of my friends still live in Turkey. They are not in danger because of my situation. But, they are in danger because of the war between Turkish army and Kurdish guerrillas. We keep the connections with them. However, my partner and I cannot go to Turkey. Because our passports were cancelled in September 1, 2016 via the cabinet decree.
Can you keep in touch with your former colleagues from Kocaeli University? What happened to them?
Yes, we can keep in touch with each other. After our dismissal, we formed an alternative academy, titled Kocaeli Academy for Solidarity - KODA, in Kocaeli. Most of colleagues decided not to leave Kocaeli and keep up their academic works and continue what they have been doing so far-only outside the university. First of all, we organized a critical seminar series. It was started and then continued in the office of Eğitim-Sen (Education and Science Workers' Union) Kocaeli Branch on every Wednesday. I contributed to the seminar series via Skype. For instance, in January 25, 2017 I gave a seminar about labour markets and employment polices in Turkey via Skype.
Could you have ever imagined what Turkey become and how your country is developing a few years ago?
Well, there was a peace process between the Turkish State and the Kurdish Liberation Movement between 2013-2015. We were hoping that Turkey would be a more democratic place during the peace process. However, things turned upside down.
Why did you want to particularly come to Germany and how did you get here?
There a couple of reasons that made me decide to come to Germany. First of all, my partner was an Alexander von Humboldt post-doctoral fellow in Germany. After my partner and I learned the cabinet decree that requires our dismissal, we thought that I should immediately leave Turkey before the passports cancellation processed. I already had the visa to come to Schengen Area, so I left Turkey within a day and came to Germany.
Where there any connections to Germany or the Ruhr Area before?
My wife and Professor Kader Konuk knew each other. They are also peace signatories and they were then, already, trying to help the peace petitioners who lost their jobs before us.
How did you get in touch with the UDE? How were you accepted at our university?
Shortly after my arrival to Germany, I met with Professor Konuk and got in touch with the UDE through her. Between 2014-2015, I conducted a research on London’s immigrant workers from Turkey at Regents University London. I have written articles and a co-wrote a book related to that research. Professor s Konuk and I thought that I could conduct a similar research in the Ruhr area. So we prepared a research proposal about the positions of the Turkish and Kurdish residents of the Ruhr Area in the labour market and applied for the Philipp Schwartz Initiative.
Do you know the Philipp Schwartz Initiative before? How were you introduced to it?
I had heard the PSI but I did not know very well it. After I was dismissed, my partner and I looked at opportunities to continue my academic life and I learned about the PSI.
Your main research focus is on Political Economy, Social Policy and Industrial Organization. In which projects are you involved? What are your next steps?
My research interests are in the areas of economy of Turkey, labour economics, European labour markets, migrant labour and migration of labour. My most recent research focuses on the immigrant workers, experiences in the European labour markets. Between 2014 and 2015, I conducted an extensive fieldwork in London on London’s immigrant community from Turkey.
My main aim is to conduct a similar research on the Kurdish and Turkish workers in the Ruhr Region. The history of migration to Germany, especially to the Ruhr Region, from Turkey is different than that of Britain. In addition, Germany’s labour laws and regulations are different than Britain’s. Besides, the employment opportunities for migrant workers were different in these two places. While in London, the migrant workers were mostly employed textile and garment industry, the Ruhr region offered employment in steel mills and coalmines. Yet, in both places, the immigrant workers from Turkey experienced a shift from a regular wage based labour to self-employment and irregular and informal employment. I believe that a comparative study of these two countries and regions will help us to analyse experiences of the immigrant workers in relation to two different social, economic and legal contexts in Europe. The study will not only help us to understand the immigrant community from Turkey in two different countries. It will also help us to analyse the operations of the labour markets of Germany and Britain and provide insight about the economies of these two countries by focusing on the experiences of the immigrant workers.
What do you think about Science and research in Germany?
I am still new in here I am still trying to learn about science and research in Germany. I must say that people are really helpful.
Can you imagine going back to Turkey? What conditions should be given?
Under these circumstances, as a Kurdish citizen of Turkey and a critical scholar I cannot imagine going back to Turkey. If the war between Turkish army and Kurdish guerrillas stops, the political and cultural rights of Kurds and other ethnic groups are ensured, democracy and the right to freedom of speech are provided and our dismissals are cancelled in Turkey, then I may consider going back to Turkey.