CDPR was founded in 2017 in London as a charity by academics who live in the UK and directly or indirectly affected by the changes in Turkey. The catalyst of forming the charity was the intensified pressure of the government on 2,212 academics who signed the petition of “We will not be a part of this crime!” dated January 16th, 2016 that condemns government’s role in using excessive force against civilians during 2015 – 2016 curfews in several Kurdish cities and towns. As of today, 549 academics who signed the petition were removed, banned or dismissed from universities and blacklisted to have any public occupation in Turkey. 706 were put on trial, all accused of engaging with terrorist propaganda. This process deepened the atmosphere of fear not only in academia, but throughout the human rights field in Turkey.
Through the relations that we have established since we set up CDPR, in a very short time, we were able to connect with a network of people and organizations both in the UK and Turkey. We have observed that in a time and in a geography in which civil society is shrinking and basic rights are under threat, it is essential to support alternative knowledge production and facilitate critical thinking, which is the common reason states find to suppress alternative voices, and criticism of structures that produce inequalities within a society. As human rights defenders are concentrating their efforts and limited resources in a paradigm where they need to reinvent their tactics, our approach provides a unique form of support. We work with groups that can be defined as human rights from below, and consider critical intervention production of these groups as fundamental to human rights struggles. Our work to support knowledge production and academic freedom, is also a prerequisite for other human rights organizations to be fed from these alternative resources. In this respect, our approach and the unique area of operation with already implemented programs, complements the existing human rights field. We aim to support; individuals, such as academics who face with government crackdown because of content of their research; ideas, such as academic production that interrogates the given norms and structures; initiatives, that aims alternative ways of knowledge production and relating to others; advocacy work that stands for academic freedom in law-making and legal processes.
Since the traditional structures such as universities and the media find it difficult to engage themselves with the rights based issues in countries like Turkey because of layers of oppression, there is a growing field of knowledge production outside of these traditional structures. A new ilk of activists that has been forced to leave academia brings new methods of critical knowledge production and resistant practices to established but shrinking civil society organizations of Turkey, however, they need new skills, new alliances, support systems and networks to sustain what they aim. We aim to support these activist, and convert what we learn from this experience to a deliverable, for other similar situations around the world. Our work simultaneously supports critical knowledge that is being produced outside of universities, and university scholars whose academic freedom of speech, research and teaching are under pressure within and beyond Turkey.