Solidarity Academies: Making A Virtue of Necessity?

Yazar / Referans: 
Aslı Odman, Jadaliyya

Whatever the circumstances that gave rise to the “Academics for Peace Petition,” today there are important aspects of that statement and the process it unleashed that we must not lose.[1] Beyond the conjunctural reasons that the petition has been the subject of relentless attack as a useful target for the highest levels of the Turkish regime, there are also other reasons it has proven to be such a focal point.

As one example of what is distinctive, the language of the petition goes beyond the habitual framing of “intellectual manifestos,” defining itself not above and outside of the politics it engages but as a partisan declaration. The petitioners—speaking as citizens, not nationals—address the state as a “lion’s den.” Even the fact that the petition describes a crime as a crime under the current legal system sets it apart. Those who were drawn to sign the petition did so without knowing who else was signing, and yet a review of the profiles of those signatories reveals that they constitute a group with its own identity. These are academics acting not out of a generic concern with public welfare or the defense of freedom of expression, but rather acting to transform themselves and their society.

Both the costs and the solidarity of the Peace Petition are borne by academics who are committed to praxis (research in action) in the fields of urban policy, environment, food, gender, labor, children’s rights, human rights, and public health. Is it not possible that this group, which came together to oppose military incursions and intervene in the ongoing Kurdish question, has the potential to address these problems and fields together? Could the burning need for solutions become a virtue, the obstacles turn into possibilities? And might these possibilities generate their own tangible spaces? 

Profiles of the Signatories

These researchers defend freedom of expression as a means to address social problems, not to generate divisions. Indeed, we can read the petition as an online extension of the energy and spontaneous momentum of so many of the movements and organizations that preceded it and were extinguished by ambushes, bombings, and canceled elections—Gezi, the forums, the public gatherings before and after the 7 June 2015 elections. What will we do with this energy? This raises a broader question than the petition itself, requiring a consideration of the profiles of the signatories and their experiences with group solidarity.

The petition’s 2212 signatories belong to over 400 different universities; of these signatories, we know that only a quarter work or study at Turkish universities.[2] Clearly, this is a function of the presence of a large “Turkish academic diaspora,” which is also implicated in the dynamic of accelerating academic exile that followed. The extent to which this diaspora is part of a social transformation rather than just a witness to it is an important issue to monitor in terms of the new relations that are being forged.

When we consider the departments to which petition signatories belong at over one hundred universities in Turkey, we see that they include the humanities and social sciences in the broadest sense (political science, economics, sociology, communications, philosophy, languages) and the medical field. In this period, when globally the higher education sector has taken a pragmatic and neoliberal turn, particularly at top tier universities, the fields represented in the petition are specifically those that have been treated like precarious stepchildren under pressure to demonstrate their productivity and legitimize themselves through the embrace of quantitative methods. 

The petition also makes clear the degree to which there is a well-developed field of “social and humanist medicine” in Turkey that is an enormously important “local value” reflected in the Turkish Association of Doctors. By contrast, the relative absence of engineers among petition signatories may reflect the fact that (neo)liberal technocrats in Turkey are largely drawn from this field, as they are in much of the world.[3]

Women and the Precarious

Of the petition signatories, fifty-six percent are women. Women’s participation in the petition campaign exceeds their presence in the academic workforce, which remains roughly fifty percent. Likewise, despite facing significant risks and structural job insecurity, the youngest and most precarious group within academia constitute more than half of the signatories.

The precarity of the majority of signatories spans a plethora of insecure statuses afforded by Turkish academia. The large majority—sixty percent—of first and second wave petition signatories consists of graduate students, “mere” doctoral candidates, research assistants in positions without job security, and PhDs who work as part-time, adjunct, or contract teaching staff with positions that are renewed on a discretionary, untenured basis. Indeed, the world over, efforts to organize the academy have fallen largely on the shoulders of this new generation of precarious academics.[4]

As a result of the purges that followed, the petition revealed the presence and work of academics who are considered “neither local nor national” at the universities that have mushroomed across the provinces of Turkey over the last fifteen years.[5] The geographic distribution of such critical academics beyond the metropolitan universities to the new provincial academic labor force had been largely overlooked until it was rendered visible by the purges.

The association referred to as “Academics for Peace” is in many ways an entity that does not exist. Precisely for this reason, this project has become a conduit bringing new energy to the search for concrete alternatives by operating as a network, as a web. The effect of the petition has been to undermine the aura around the academy—as somehow constituting a distinctive labor force or a cadre of the enlightened. Moreover, the petition crisis has also made it clear that academics cannot be at the service of the state but must rather produce scholarship that generates social resources in the service of and in conversation with the public.

Academic Peace Petitioners: Web, Conduit, or Impossible Dream?[6]

This period of purges and devastation has been marked by sustained efforts to make a virtue of necessity. The first steps of generating Solidarity Academies were taken in Eskisehir with courses in solidarity and in Istanbul by those organized as “the campus-less.” In September 2016, Kocaeli Solidarity Academy established the first Solidarity Academy. Today, Solidarity Academies continue their activities in Ankara, Antalya, Eskisehir, Istanbul, Izmir, Kocaeli, Mersin, and Urfa. The initiative launched by the Academics for Peace in Berlin became institutionalized and started “broadcasting” in October 2017. The Berlin team is working on generating a digital commons and creating ways to offer opportunities for purged and displaced teachers and learners with digital technology and online courses.

Collective work in Kocaeli, Mersin, Ankara, Izmir, Istanbul, and Eskisehir offer the first experiments in hopeful collaboration. Some have taken an institutional form within existing legal structures. Some have taken the form of legal associations (like Kocaeli Solidarity Academy and the online university initiative——launched in Berlin). Others are organized as formal cooperatives (like Ankara Solidarity Academy and “the campus-less”). Still others have formed cultural-commercial limited corporations (Mersin Culture House). Whatever we were doing as academics in universities, and however we were doing it, these groups have gone beyond simply exporting those practices beyond the campus. They are also centering their work on questions of alternative pedagogy, taking the local and national agenda as an object of study, and scrutinizing both the resources and production of knowledge. These scholarly enterprises of alternative knowledge production should be followed closely!

Following weekly seminars, summer schools, and organization meetings, Kocaeli Solidarity Academy officially became an association in December 2017. On 3 January 2018, it organized a workshop and announced that a School of Life Sciences would be launched in February 2018. On 12 February 2018 they launched their emancipatory education project with twenty-two courses and workshops over the course of an entire semester. A brief overview of the titles of these workshops and courses is enough to demonstrate how the organizers transcended the binary of local/global by actively linking urban concerns to universal issues: Worker Welfare and Labor Security; Urban Transformation of Kocaeli; Cultural Heritage and Right to the City; Labor History of Kocaeli; Computer Games and Democratic Education; 2+1 Living Space: Philosophy, Literature, Medicine[7]; Medical Profession as a Social Responsibility; Gender and Female Labor; Music Map of Kocaeli; Outdoor Sports and the Person; Critical Media Literacy, etc.

Opened in June 2017, Mersin Culture House is one of the most lively—open seven days a week!—public library and cultural centers of the city. Beyond its offerings in the academic and cultural fields, it also organizes different activities inspired by solidarity economies.

Istanbul’s “campus-less” group offers shadow advising to undergraduate students. This group also establishes course partnerships to go beyond interdisciplinary courses and turn teacher-student relationships into learner-learner relationships. They also work on the relationality of knowledge and organize workshops on the subject. 

The Ankara Solidarity Academy is institutionalized as an education cooperative within the city where the largest mass of purges took place. This Academy managed to carry the university curriculum outside of campus. In addition, Street Academies continue in Ankara.

Izmir Solidarity Academy organized an Immigration School. The school deployed the networks of the Bridge Between Peoples Association and benefited from the fact that Izmir is a refugee city. Mobilizing the organic relationships between scholars who have long been working on human rights in the city, Izmir Solidarity also launched a comprehensive mapping project documenting the cost of purges in Turkey’s academia for the public.

The Eskisehir School established a choir named “Tunes for Peace.” Liberated from the disciplinary and other constraints of the university, this school incorporates academic curricula and more in its activities. 

Similar to the other solidarity academies, Antalya, Urfa, and Ankara Street Academies offer public debate platforms to their cities via seminars. The Istanbul Solidarity Academy, which was founded in June 2017, has been slowed and diverted from its academic project as a result of the epic coordination work it has been forced to undertake to facilitate the legal representation of targeted dissident academics in the indictments that were issued by Istanbul prosecutors. Precarious young scholars continue their efforts to establish a research coop in Istanbul.

Since March 2017, a coordinating committee has sought to organize the Solidarity Academies. They regularly hold coordination meetings and have organized thematic workshops in Istanbul in March 2017, in Izmir in September 2017, and in November 2017 in Eskisehir, each of which focused on alternative pedagogies and organizational challenges. As modest as these initiatives might appear when considered against the vast abyss that they are facing, they are extremely valuable and constructive collective experiences in advocacy and solidarity.

Concrete questions concerning experiences with solidarity economies have become central to our research agenda in the academic production of knowledge.[8] Moreover, this interest is not informed by the necessity to publish in internationally indexed journals. The question is rather: How might we configure an agile and egalitarian model of organization that avoids reproducing the same hierarchies and corrupt systems? Given the meta economy of contemporary capitalism, how can relationships be organized? How can public resources be developed? How can relationships be formed around a project economy? Which legal and economic forms are available for realizing such projects? How are data/information, income, and opportunities to be generated and distributed?

In addition, several questions regarding academic production remain unanswered; our careers in the neoliberal university, with its metrics of individual performance, forced us to set these critical questions aside. Issues of knowledge production could not be translated into the logic of viable individual research projects to be appraised through impact measurements and citation counts. We already experienced these contradictions between our tools and conditions of production before the mass purges. How do we now understand these contradictions and, more importantly, how should we address them? 

What kind of a relationship will academia establish with the burning social issues of the day? What will be its agenda and focus, and what kinds of problems will it engage? How will the field and the laboratory be defined? What do we draw on to produce “theory”? What are the dynamics of this borrowing and drawing from, what purpose does it serve, what does it make more visible, and what does it obscure? How is academia, divided into a multitude of fields and areas of specialization, going to speak to the whole and across disciplinary divides?

How do we represent data, knowledge, information, and science in the digital era, and how do we deploy them to generate a commons that belongs to the public, and render it participatory, transformative, and regenerative? Which techniques, tools, and methods signal particular philosophies of knowledge and being? Where do we turn, if we are no longer going to teach in the unidirectional manner that we are most familiar with, that is in monologues and via a pedagogy that has not been problematized? These questions become especially urgent if we are looking for ways to turn online education into a form of digital commons.

Are we only going to produce research and courses? To what extent should we be also concerned with generating common economies of our own spheres of life (food, housing, child and elderly care, transport, etc)? Can we mourn for the privileges and status that accompanied our positions as faculty that were lost as we rid ourselves of our elite aura? The world that depends on recognition, meaning, and significance earned in careers and jobs is changing drastically—what should we do with the intellectual labor that remains without falling into nostalgia or fetishizing voluntarism?

The Peace Petition experience has placed on our agenda no less than the question of how to organize to find a new purpose for our profession and identity, in order to use life knowledge to defend life in an era of corporate autocracy. This question preoccupied many of us before: at cocktail conversations after big conferences that made little sense, following a class that did not satisfy us, or during furtive corridor conversations. And now, the question forces itself upon us, as we are increasingly being taken away physically and psychologically from the places where we could hang on. How much can we accommodate these questions in our usual habits? What is to be done? Our roles as defendants, as the purged, and as eyewitness in the Çağlayan Courthouse are important and bear eloquent testimony to these urgent questions.[9]


[1] EDITORS’ NOTE: This petition, which circulated in December 2015 and January 2016, came to be known as the “Academics for Peace Petition.” In the remainder of the text, it is referred to as the Peace Petition or the petition. However, as this article makes clear, “Academics for Peace” is not an institutionalized group, but is rather composed of signatories who found the Turkish government’s brutal counterinsurgency campaign unacceptable for different reasons.

[2] The most systematic examination of the question “Who are the Signatories” can be found in this piece written early in the process by Efe Kerem Sözeri, “Evrensel Değerler ve Milli Yalnızlık: İki Bildiri”, p24, 28 January 2016. The scattered data collected by the Academic Peace Petitioners solidarity group has yet to be fully explored.

[3] Nilüfer Göle, Mühendisler ve İdeoloji: Öncü Devrimcilerden Yenilikçi Seçkinlere, (Metis, 1986). I am indebted to Ali Rıza Taşkale for pointing me to a more global and recent reference on the subject; David A. Banks, “Engineered for Dystopia”, 24 January 2018. 

[4] This can be seen in the largely US-based organizations whose social media footprint reveals that activists are largely doctoral candidates and recent PhDs. See, for example: Edufactory, @PrecariousFac, @AdjunctAction, @NewFacMajority, @PrecariCorps, @UAChicago United Academics, @AdjunctNation. 

[5] EDITORS’ NOTE: The quoted phrase—“yerli ve milli olmayan” (those who are neither local nor national)—is the negation of an expression often used by President Erdogan to attribute a positive virtue to an individual, a group, or an institution, emphasizing that these constituencies are rooted, authentic, and possess attributes of national dignity. The suggestion is that those who do not have these characteristics are inauthentic, having been brainwashed by foreign values or even mobilized by foreign powers. 

[6] EDITORS’ NOTE: In the original Turkish version of this article, the expression “yeast in the lake”—a Turkish colloquialism—is used. “Yeast in the lake” would roughly translate as an impossible dream. It derives from a folktale in which a wise man was seen pouring yogurt culture (yeast) into a lake; when asked what he was doing, he replied that he was trying to turn the lake to yogurt. When told this would never produce a yogurt lake, he responded: “Yes, but what if it did?” 

[7] EDITORS’ NOTE: The title of the course is literally “2+1 Apartment: Philosophy, Literature, Medicine,” which is a reference to a common real estate advert in Turkey for 2+1 housing: two bedrooms and a living room. 

[8] Various experiments in forming cooperatives or solidarity economies in different arenas of life and labor are brought together in Ulus Atayurt Express magazine as well as in Mike Neary & Josh Winn, Beyond Public and Private: A Framework for Cooperative Higher Education (University of Lincoln, 2016). 

[9] To follow the ongoing processes at the Çağlayan Courthouse where Petition signatories are being prosecuted, please check:, and For the legal dimensions of the cases, visit 

For more on the subject by Aslı Odman in Turkish, please see:


*Photo of author, taken by Diana Näcke.