Relocating IPSA 2016 from Istanbul: one right, two wrongs and many traitors

Blue Mosque through a window on the second floor of Hagia Sophia. Flickr/Mehran Heidarzadeh. Some rights reserved. The World Congress of Political Science, organised
by the International Political Science Association (IPSA), is one of the high prestige settings
for any social science researcher eager to present their research, expand their
networks, attend fruitful scholarly discussions and have the opportunity to detect
new approaches in their specific fields. It is also a challenge for host
countries to show their organisational abilities. In 2016, for the first time, İstanbul
was appointed host for the 24th World Congress of Political Science.
Now it has lost its chance.

The association
announced that the congress will be relocated from İstanbul to a new host city in Europe due the
deterioration of security in Turkey. According
to the association, the decision was made on February 25 by the IPSA Executive
Committee in coordination with the Turkish Political Science Association and
the local organizing committee in Turkey. A 
new host city will be announced by March 25. The announcement noted that
the organisers feel they cannot guarantee the safety of all participants and
provide an environment favourable to the exchange of intellectual ideas. Meanwhile,
IPSA remains firm in its commitment to the Turkish political science community.

At the
first glance, the issue seems crystal clear. But there are some points that should
be clarified given the rumours busily circulating in both Turkish and
international academic environments.

One thing is correct

It is obvious that
Turkey is not an absolutely safe country. In less than a year,
Turkey has seen five terrorist attacks. The first took place on June 5 at a
rally of People's Democratic Party (HDP) in Diyarbakir right before the June 7,
2015 elections. This claimed two lives and injured more than 100 people. The second targeted young
activists gathered at a cultural centre in the predominately Kurdish south
eastern town of Suruç who were preparing to deliver aid to the previously
besieged Syrian city of Kobane on July 20, 2015. This blast claimed 32 lives
and injured over 100 people. The third, the bloodiest
terrorist attack in the history of modern Turkey, occurred during a rally
organised by Kurdish and left wing political parties, trade unions, and civil
society organisations in Ankara on October 10. This incident killed 102
and wounded hundreds of people. Fourth, Istanbul's historic peninsula, its
skyline dotted with Ottoman and Byzantine architecture including both the Blue
Mosque and Hagia Sophia, was shaken on January 12 by a heinous terrorist attack. In this attack, unfortunately 10 people lost
their lives. At least 28 people have been killed and at least 60 were
injured in a rush-hour car bombing targeting military personnel in the heart of
the Turkish capital. To crown all this, on February 29, the Interior Minister
of Turkey announced that Turkish police have prevented 18 suicide attacks since
the beginning of 2016.

So Turkey is clearly
not safe enough to host more than three thousand scholars for over a week.

Two miscalculations

But the attitude
of indifference implicit in the associations’s declaration with regard both to
Turkish colleges and citizens rather resembles a classic orientalist approach to
‘unsafe third world countries’. The declaration leaves Turkey alone with its
knotty problem, putting it into the same basket with all the other countries unsafe
from a western perspective.

Secondly, as we
know from the inside gossip, one of the underlying reasons for relocation is the
prosecution, unjustified investigation and other forms of pressure on academics
who signed the famous petition denouncing military
operations against Kurdish civilians in the south-east of the country. Although
IPSA’s President published a statement calling for collaboration between scholars in emerging
and established democracies to support the academic freedom needed for social
sciences to flourish, it was too little too
late.

Many traitors?

There
are many issues which have made the ruling cadres unhappy with this affair. Pro-government
newspapers and GONGO spokespeople have singled out Turkish Political Science
Association (TPSA) board members working in close coordination with IPSA, as scapegoats
for a public lynching. They have begun to announce their names over portrait photos
under the heading “villains”. They claim that the TPSA’s board members have turned
the IPSA committee against the Turkish government and politicised the issues.
It is true that the members of the board could not in all conscience give an
absolute guarantee for conditions of total safety, but how does this amount to
treachery? Some pro-government scholars accuse them of politicising of the
issues. But it should be noted that it is extremely easy to find yourself
accused of being a traitor if you are doing anything that is seen as against
the interests of the AKP and President Erdoğan.

All
in all, at the end of the day, it seems that even if the 24th IPSA World Congress of
Political Science is held in a ‘safe’ country, Turkey will maintain its controversial
status in most of the various sessions of the congress.

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