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Advocacy Briefs: AHA Protests Academic Freedom Violations in Turkey, Possible Museum Closure

AHA Staff, March 2016

In February, AHA president Patrick Manning signed a letter to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey expressing deep concern over reports of violations of academic freedom and freedom of expression in his country. The AHA urged the Turkish government to abandon any punitive measures against or investigations of academics who recently signed a petition critical of the Turkish government. The statement echoes a joint letter released by the Scholars at Risk network in January. 

In another letter sent to the French ministre de la Culture et de la Communication, the AHA protested the possible closing of the Musée des Tissus of the city of Lyon. Founded in 1864, the Musée des Tissus holds one of the largest collections of textiles in the world, representing over 4,500 years of human history. The letter urges the French government to make all efforts necessary to keep the museum open. 

Letter Protesting the Persecution of Turkish Scholars

February 4, 2016

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Cumhurbaşkanı
Cumhurbaşkanlığı Külliyesi
06560 Beştepe
Ankara, Turkey
Via e-mail

Your Excellency:

The American Historical Association expresses alarm and deep concern regarding reports of punitive measures and criminal investigations taken against Turkish academics who recently signed a petition addressing Turkish government policies in southeastern Turkey.

The AHA is a scholarly association that represents approximately 14,000 US and internationally based professors, secondary teachers, advanced students, and public historians, who conduct professional historical activities for all fields of the past and all periods. Our membership includes historians within Turkey and scholars of Turkish and Ottoman history. In concert with many other scholarly societies, we are committed to the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression for scholars wherever their research and teaching take them. We thus strongly support the right of historians in Turkey to explore the past and teach about it freely. We fear that the current campaign against signers of a petition will undermine the ability of historians to fulfill their mission.

We are aware of widespread reports that university employees in the field of history face investigations under article 301 of the Penal Code. We hope this is not the case. Dismissals, detentions, and criminal investigations that constitute retaliation against scholars for nonviolent exercise of academic freedom and free expression would violate international standards including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, both of which Turkey has ratified, similarly require the government to uphold citizens’ freedom of expression, as does Turkey’s own constitution. When respect for such international protocols is not observed, historians and other scholars are unable to conduct their work. We respectfully urge the Government of Turkey to take all steps to fulfill its duties to protect free expression and academic freedom, and to abandon any disciplinary investigations of those who signed the recent petition. By doing so, the government will ensure that historians can freely engage in the important work we do to preserve and illuminate the past.

Sincerely,
Patrick Manning
AHA President, 2016

Letter Protesting Potential Closure of Musée des Tissus

February 5, 2016
Madame Fleur Pellerin
Ministre de la Culture et de la Communication 
3, rue de Valois
75001 Paris

Dear Madame Pellerin,

I am writing, in the name of the American Historical Association, of which I am president, to express the Association’s concern about the possible closing of the Musée des Tissus of the city of Lyon. Our organization, which numbers 13,500 members, is the principal professional organization of historians in the United States, and includes many specialists in the history of France and the history of textiles, seen both as commodity and decorative art. The Association would regret the closing of the Musée des Tissus, which would greatly impair the ability of the historical profession and the general public alike to study and learn from its exceptional and monumental collections.

Many of our members have benefited from the work of the Musée des Tissus, which, as you know, since its founding in 1864 has assembled one of the world’s largest and best organized collections of textiles, drawn from every continent and over 4,500 years of human history. The American Historical Association maintains close contacts with the historical profession in France and supports its efforts to study and defend France’s cultural patrimony. We therefore hope that the French government, and its Ministry of Culture, can take the necessary steps to keep it open.

Sincerely yours,
Patrick Manning
AHA President, 2016


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