Turkey’s President cracks down on Kurdish teachers

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On September 8 reports emerged from Turkey that President Erdogan had fired almost 12 000 teachers, mostly Kurds working in the eastern part of the country, for alleged links to Kurdish separatist terrorists. My friend and fellow LGBTory Yusuf Cheliyan has a sister and brother-in-law in Turkey who were high-school teachers there. They were both fired and now have no means to support their family. Their story resonated with me; I am a former high-school teacher who recently retired after a thirty-year career teaching in Eastern Ontario. I wrote the following letter to Paul Elliott, the president of my former union the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, urging them to do something. Please contact your MP and ask them to pressure the Government of Canada to condemn the undemocratic and autocratic actions of President Erdogan and to stand up for the oppressed people of Turkey.

Dear Paul:

I am a recently-retired Ontario high-school teacher who has retired after a thirty-year career as a member of the OSSTF teaching in Eastern Ontario. I am writing to you to add my voice to those of the many Canadian teachers who are concerned about the repressive and undemocratic actions taken by the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, against that country’s teachers. I urge you and the OSSTF to publicly condemn what is going on in Turkey and to work with the Canadian government and the international community to stop this persecution of our Turkish colleagues.

On September 8 2016 President Erdogan fired 11 500 teachers in Turkey. This was the second wave of firings – the first action earlier this summer saw the layoffs and arrests of some 15 000 teachers and the forced resignations and licence revocations of thousands more.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan © AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda

TURKEY’S PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN © AP PHOTO/VADIM GHIRDA

A friend of mine, Yusuf Cheliyan, has spoken to me about the dire situation for Turkey’s teachers. He is a Kurdish immigrant to Canada from Turkey, now living in Ottawa, and his sister Hanim and her husband are high school teachers still living in eastern Turkey. They have two young children. A few days ago both of them were fired by President Erdogan. They now have no means to support their family and travel restrictions have been placed on them and the other fired teachers so they cannot leave their home towns. They are currently trying to sell their homes and other property so they can look after their children.

Yusuf’s sister and brother-in-law were fired for belonging to Egitem-Sen, one of Turkey’s three teachers’ unions. The reason this union was targeted was because its members had signed a petition pleading with the government for peace in the region and had also organized a brief strike protesting a new law giving school principals the right to fire teachers without cause and without a hearing. The members of Egitem-Sen are also mostly Kurdish, and Erdogan has accused the union unjustly of supporting Kurdish separatist terrorists. His actions are consistent with his heavy-handed crackdown on the Kurdish people since the attempted coup earlier this year. There are approximately 15 million Kurds in Turkey’s population of 72 million.

Hanim and her husband have not only been left without paycheques but they have also been stripped of their accumulated pension benefits. A number of recent retirees belonging to Egitem-Sen have also been stripped of their pensions, many after thirty years or more of service. The Turkish government threatens anyone who hires people who have been fired under these circumstances, so it is impossible for them to continue to earn a living.

After the first round of firings earlier this summer, thousands of teachers were arrested and imprisoned. Stories soon emerged that they had been tortured and raped in prison. Hanim and her husband are terrified that this fate awaits them, all just for being teachers and belonging to a union that the government has targeted.

The OSSTF has always had a strong focus on social justice. Our colleagues in Turkey are being subjected right now to unprecedented abuse from their own government because they are teachers and belong to an ethnic minority that the government perceives as a threat.

It is time that Canadian teachers spoke up and took action. Please speak out against this on behalf of all current and former members of the OSSTF and push for action against President Ergogan and his increasingly autocratic regime.

Thank you

Eric Lorenzen
Hastings County, Ontario

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