Turkish academic leaving as ‘scholar at risk’


A liberal scholar known for his activism in favour of a referendum change in 2010 is planning to leave Turkey for a position at Oxford University aided by a fund for scholars at risk, left-nationalist Aydınlık newspaper said .

“Murat Belge too is joining the caravan of liberal writers leaving Turkey,” the newspaper said, adding that anti-government academics were upset that a figure they saw as having been close to the government until recently should apply for funding to escape the consequences of its policies.

Belge had a long record of espousing liberal causes in Turkey and narrowly avoided a prison sentence in 2005 for hosting a conference on the Armenian genocide at Istanbul’s Bilgi University.

He was among the founders and active members of the human rights group Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, later renamed Citizens’ Assembly, which became a target of the Turkish press after two of its employees were among 10 rights activists detained on accusations of planning to overthrow the government.

Belge was also prominent in the run-up to the 2010 referendum on changing Turkey’s constitution, in which he urged a “yes but not enough” vote in favour of what he saw as a broadly positive set of changes to the military-instituted 1982 constitution.

Opponents to the measure said that liberals were being manipulated by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and that while the package included wide-ranging reforms, it would also increase the power of the executive over the judiciary.