According to Turkey's Ministry of National Education, approximately 100 schools were partially or fully damaged in the southeastern part of the country and some teachers were reportedly abducted. More than 300 higher education personnel were detained, and several dozen protesting students and educators were arrested or injured. Several schools in the southeast of the country were reportedly used for weapons storage.


Violence intensified in the southeast of Turkey after peace negotiations between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which sought greater autonomy in Turkey, broke down in 2015.[2344] The Turkish government also detained or arrested journalists and academics for alleged affiliations to the PKK and other terrorist organizations.[2345] Most of those arrested were accused of being supporters of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, whose movement was termed a terrorist organization referred to as the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization, or FETÖ.[2346] The government and the courts accused Gülen and his followers of being responsible for an attempted coup on July 15, 2016.[2347]

Media and NGO reports indicated that around 5,300 academics were suspended, another 2,300 were fired, and 15 private universities affiliated with the Gülen movement were closed as of September 2016. Many academics reportedly fled from Turkey due to a lack of employment or the perceived risks in staying.[2348] Among the academics affected were hundreds dismissed by universities after they signed a January 2016 declaration condemning the government's security operations in cities of the southeast.[2349] At the trials of those detained, which began in December 2017, more than 100 were charged with spreading terrorist propaganda.[2350] OHCHR found that more than 40,000 education personnel from the Ministry of National Education, most of them teachers, were dismissed or suspended, including 9,000 teachers working in Kurdish-speaking parts of the southeast, who were reportedly suspended due to their suspected ties to the PKK. 2351 The majority of the latter were later reinstated in their jobs.[2352]

Attacks on education were more common and were increasingly reported throughout the current reporting period than in the period covered by Education under Attack 2014.

Attacks on schools

According to Turkey's minister of education, the PKK bombed or set fire to more than 100 schools.[2353] These numbers indicated an uptick in reported attacks on schools over the period covered in Education under Attack 2014. GCPEA identified between 5 and 15 reports of attacks on schools annually from 2014 through 2016, and one in 2017.

Media sources reported at least 10 attacks on schools in 2014, including a series of coordinated arson attacks reportedly perpetrated by the PKK on primary and secondary schools in September. During these attacks, assailants reportedly threw incendiary devices into seven schools in Cizre district, Şırnak province, and three schools in Yüksekova district, Hakkâri province, on September 16 and 17, 2014. These attacks damaged school infrastructure but did not cause any injuries.[2354]

There were at least 13 attacks on schools in 2015, as documented in media reports collated by GCPEA.[2355] For example:

  • On September 26, 2015, assailants believed to be members of the PKK fired rockets and firearms at a gendarmerie station in Güce district, Giresun province. They reportedly struck a nearby school in the attack, killing four civilians.[2356]

  • Media sources reported that on September 30, 2015, the PKK damaged the windows and gates of seven primary and middle schools in the Bulanık district, Mus province. The damage was reported to be retaliation for the educational institutions' refusal to comply with the PKK's demand that schools refrain from opening at the beginning of the academic year. There were no reported casualties in these incidents.[2357]

  • An IED reportedly exploded outside a school in Silvan district, Diyarbakır province, on October 8, 2015, killing one child and injuring three.[2358]

GCPEA identified 12 attacks on schools in 2016, including incidents in which the PKK planted bombs in schoolyards and set schools on fire, as well as one rocket launched from Syria that struck a school in Turkey. These included:

  • The PKK reportedly set fire to eight schools and a dormitory in İdil district, Şırnak province, on January 14, 2016.[2359]

  • On January 18, 2016, a rocket from an unknown source in Syria struck a school in Turkey's southern Kilis province, killing a female janitor and injuring a female student.[2360]

  • Also on January 18, 2016, five children were reportedly wounded in a bomb attack that took place near an elementary school in Diyarbakır province, as they were playing in the schoolyard.[2361]

  • On January 19, 2016, the PKK reportedly launched Molotov cocktails at two secondary schools in Van province.[2362]

  • On June 19, 2016, the PKK reportedly detonated an IED at a nursery school in Van province, destroying most of it.[2363]

At least one school was reported to be targeted in 2017. On October 3, 2017, Turkish security forces defused an IED at Şair Cahin Sıtkı Tarancı Elementary School in Yenişehir district, Diyarbakır province. Anadolu Agency attributed the attack to the PKK.[2364]

Attacks on school students, teachers, and other education personnel

Beginning in 2015, police detained, arrested, or harmed more than 50 secondary school students and teachers in the context of protests at schools, including against the government's education policies, such as those on compulsory religion classes and the transformation of some secondary schools into religious vocational imam hatip schools.[2365] Both secondary students and university students participated in protests, but reports on the events did not always distinguish between the two groups, making it difficult to determine how many affected students were at the secondary or the university level. In multiple cases, teachers were arrested for alleged affiliation with the PKK, FETÖ, or groups designated as terrorist organizations by the Turkish government.[2366] There also were reports that a subgroup of the PKK was responsible for kidnapping almost two dozen teachers in 2015 and for killing one.[2367]

The arrest of students and teachers was reported more commonly than in the period covered in Education under Attack 2014. Reports of abductions occurred at rates similar to those documented in Education under Attack 2014.

Attacks on students and educators were sporadic in 2015, and included the following:

  • In February 2015, police allegedly fired water cannons to disperse teachers, students, parents, and others who were demonstrating against government education policies.[2368]

  • The Public Affairs Section of the US Consulate in Adana, Turkey, reported that a subgroup of the PKK abducted 23 teachers on October 7, 2015. These abductions occurred during attacks on four schools in the Silopi district, Şırnak province. The teachers were released after several hours.[2369]

During the last two years of the reporting period there were numerous reports of teachers arrested, and often dismissed from their jobs, for reasons related to their activism and alleged links with the FETÖ.[2370] For example:

  • Human Rights Watch received reports that a 40-year-old male school teacher was detained by police in August 2016 and held in prison for at least a year, where he was reportedly threatened and beaten.[2371]

  • According to the US State Department, on September 23, 2016, police broke up a teacher protest and detained 17 suspended teachers who were demonstrating in front of the Ministry of National Education provincial office in Diyarbakır city. The teachers had been protesting the mass suspension and dismissal of teachers after the coup attempt.[2372]

  • A Turkish teacher and a Turkish academic were reportedly renditioned from Malaysia to Turkey in 2017, and upon their arrival in Turkey they were detained on charges of being FETÖ members, according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.[2373]

  • Human Rights Watch reported that, in April 2017, unidentified perpetrators likely to have been state agents abducted a former teacher who had been dismissed from his job under an emergency decree in Ankara, forcing him into a van. As of May 17, 2017, he was in detention pending trial on charges of being a member of FETÖ.[2374]

  • On May 22, 2017, Semih Özakça, a primary school teacher, and Nuriye Gülmen, a professor of literature, were arrested for their alleged membership in a terrorist group.[2375] Özakça had joined Gülmen in a long-term hunger strike and sit-in in central Ankara, protesting their dismissal from their jobs. Their trial began in September 2017.[2376] Özakça was released in October, and Gülmen was released in December. They ended their hunger strike in January 2018, but had not been reinstated to their jobs.[2377]

  • The PKK confirmed media reports that in June 2017 it had abducted and killed a 23-year-old teacher, Necmettin Yılmaz, in Zaxge village, Tunceli province.[2378] The full circumstances of his death remained unexplained.

Military use of schools

There was some evidence of the Turkish army's presence inside schools in 2015 and 2016, as the government conducted security operations in the southeast of the country. These reports were new, as GCPEA did not identify any military use of educational institutions in Education under Attack 2014.

According to reports received by OHCHR, the government deployed heavy armored vehicles in and around schools, such as Suleyman Nazif School in Diyarbakır province, between July 2015 and December 2016.[2379] Al Jazeera reported that a school used by Turkish security forces in Cizre town, Şırnak province, was destroyed in March 2016.[2380]

Child recruitment at, or en route to or from, school

There were anecdotal reports that the PKK was responsible for recruiting children during the current reporting period. GCPEA did not find reports of child recruitment from schools or along school routes during the previous reporting period, from 2009 through mid-2013.

In May 2015, the human rights group Mazlum Der reported cases of recruitment of children from southeastern Turkey into the PKK.[2381] According to the Turkish Ministry of Interior, the PKK reportedly recruited a 15-year-old girl while she was on her way to school in Van. The girl said that when she saw a PKK member creating propaganda for the organization, he threatened to harm her family unless she joined the group. She joined the PKK that evening.[2382]

Attacks on higher education

Student and academic protests were common throughout the reporting period, and rights groups and media sources reported that police used excessive force to disperse demonstrations against national higher education policies and minority student rights. 'IS' was responsible for a particularly deadly attack on higher education that occurred in 2015. Largely because of the arrests that occurred in 2016 and 2017, incidents related to higher education occurred with significantly higher frequency than was reported in Education under Attack 2014.

Between 2013 and 2015, there were reports that police sporadically used force against university student protesters and injured them. Reported incidents included the following:

  • Scholars at Risk reported that on three occasions – October 18, 21, and 26, 2013 – riot police used teargas, stun grenades, and water cannons to disperse student protests at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, injuring several students.[2383]

  • Scholars at Risk reported a series of incidents affecting minority university students that began on January 16, 2014, when an ultra-nationalist group physically assaulted a group of seven mainly leftist and Kurdish students on the Marmara University campus in Göztepe, Istanbul. Following the attack, students held a peaceful protest demanding stronger security on campus. According to Scholars at Risk, police fired water cannons, teargas, and plastic bullets at the protesters.[2384]

  • According to Scholars at Risk, a lecturer at Gazi University and the general secretary of the Association of Academic Staff (TÜMÖD) was arrested for insulting President Erdoğan during a TÜMÖD-organized panel discussion on May 23, 2015, in İzmir. He was sentenced on February 3, 2017, to serve nearly one year in prison.[2385]

The deadliest attack against university students occurred on July 20, 2015, when a suspected 'IS' suicide bomber killed at least 30 people, according to Human Rights Watch and media sources. The attack occurred while student activists were gathered in Suruç city to make a press statement about a development assistance project.[2386]

Arrests of academics became more common in 2016. In January, more than 1,100 scholars signed an Academics for Peace petition denouncing military operations in the southeast of Turkey.[2387] Several academic signatories reported receiving threats via social media, telephone, or at their universities, according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.[2388] Scholars at Risk and media sources stated that dozens of other academics who signed the petition were arrested, charged with terrorism-related crimes, and required to resign from their positions. Government security forces also raided their homes.[2389]

In mid-2016, the Turkish government began detaining and arresting academics, many of whom were accused of having connections to the Gülen movement.[2390] As of December 2016, the government had arrested 37,000 individuals, including soldiers, police officers, judges, prosecutors, academics, teachers, and other civil servants, for their suspected ties.[2391] Many of the government's actions did not constitute attacks on higher education as defined by GCPEA, but they did create an environment of fear. Scholars at Risk reported that throughout the rest of the year the government detained, arrested, dismissed, or banned from travel hundreds of higher education personnel.[2392] For instance, on July 19, 2016, government officials reportedly demanded the resignation of 1,577 deans from all universities in Turkey. Additionally, 19,828 academics were dismissed, suspended from their teaching positions, or forced into unemployment because their universities closed in the wake of the coup attempt, according to media reports.[2393]

Actions that met GCPEA's definition of attacks on higher education were in the form of arrests and detentions. For example:

  • On September 2, 2016, security forces arrested 15 academics and university personnel from Mustafa Kemal University on suspicion of connections to terrorist organizations, such as FETÖ, according to University World News.[2394]

  • Scholars at Risk reported that, in late December 2016, 17 higher education personnel from Gediz University and Uşak University were arrested and detained alleged involvement in the coup attempt. At least one professor's notes and scholarly writing were used as evidence against her.[2395]

Arrests and detention of academics became even more common in 2017, according to information collected by GCPEA. In September 2017, University World News reported that Scholars at Risk had documented 49 incidents of detention, arrest, warrants issued, or wrongful prosecution of scholars, university personnel, or students. These incidents reportedly affected 1,308 people.[2396] Most were arrested in connection with on-campus activism or for alleged connections to terrorist groups or the Gülen movement during 2017. Incidents documented by Scholars at Risk or media sources included the following:

  • According to Scholars at Risk, on January 4, 2017, private security forces beat seven students from Dokuz Eylül University after they publicly read a statement in response to the New Year's Eve attack on an Istanbul nightclub, for which 'IS' claimed responsibility. Afterward, police reportedly arrested and detained the seven students for one day.[2397]

  • On March 30, 2017, police detained 37 students from İstanbul University who had participated in a peaceful demonstration commemorating the 45th anniversary of the 1972 Kızıldere Massacre, according to Scholars at Risk. They had gathered to remember the student leaders who were killed by the military on that day in 1972. The memorialized students were killed after they had taken foreigners hostage in an alleged attempt to pressure the government to halt the executions of some imprisoned student leaders.[2398]

  • On May 1, 2017, the government reportedly detained and raided the homes and offices of 16 academic personnel from Dicle University, Diyarbakır, all of whom had signed the 2016 Academics for Peace petition.[2399]

  • In July 2017, the government reportedly detained 20 academic and administrative personnel from Selçuk University and Necmettin Erbakan University, as well as 42 personnel from Boğaziçi University and İstanbul Medeniyet University, for their alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement.[2400] Similar arrests took place throughout the year.

  • On November 17, 2017, Turkish authorities issued warrants for the detention of 42 current and former academics and administrative personnel of Marmara University because of alleged connections to the Gülen movement. Twenty-two of them were detained that day.[2401]

  • On November 27, 2017, Turkish police briefly detained Fikret Baskaya, a professor of economic development and international relations and raided his home because of allegations that he provided support to the PKK. Scholars at Risk reported that, according to Baskaya's lawyer, the reason for Baskaya's arrest was an article he wrote in November 2016 entitled, "The Real Terror Is State Terrorism." Baskaya had previously written several controversial books on socialism, politics, and corruption in Turkey.[2402]

Hurriyet Daily News reported that one attack by the PKK affected higher education in 2017. On January 16, 2017, the PKK reportedly targeted an armored police vehicle in Sur district, Diyarbakır province, which was near an excavation site on the Dicle University campus. The explosion killed four police officers and injured two more, but it was not reported to have harmed any students or education personnel.[2403]

2344 "'Alarming' reports of major violations in south-east Turkey-UN rights chief," UN News Centre, May 10, 2016. ICG, The Human Cost of the PKK Conflict in Turkey: The Case of Sur (Diyarbakır/Istanbul/Brussels: ICG, March 17, 2016), Crisis Group Europe Briefing No. 80, March 17, 2016.

2345 See, for example, "Turkey: Academics on Trial for Signing Petition," Human Rights Watch news release, December 5, 2017. Human Rights Watch, In Custody: Police Torture and Abductions in Turkey (New York: Human Rights Watch, October 2017).

2346 O'Malley, "Higher education."

2347 Amana Fontanella-Khan, "Fethullah Gülen: Turkey coup may have been 'staged' by Erdoğan regime," Guardian, July 16, 2016. Robert Siegel, "Cleric Accused Of Plotting Turkish Coup Attempt: 'I Have Stood Against All Coups,'" WBUR, July 11, 2017.

2348 OHCHR, "Report on the human rights situation in South-East Turkey: July 2015 to December 2016," February 2017, para. 66. Jack Grove, Scholars at Risk Network, Free to Think 2016: Report of the Scholars at Risk Academic Freedom Monitoring Project (New York: Scholars at Risk Network, 2016), p. 11.

2349 "Turkey: Academics on Trial for Signing Petition."

2350 Human Rights Watch, "Turkey: Academics on Trial for Signing Petition," Human Rights Watch news release, December 5, 2017.

2351 OHCHR, "Report: July 2015 to December 2016," para. 75.

2352 AFP, "Turkey reinstates over 6,000 teachers suspended after coup," Yahoo News, November 25, 2016. "Over 3,500 teachers suspended in FETÖ probe reinstated: education ministry," Daily Sabah, December 2, 2016.

2353 "More than 100 schools damaged by PKK, education minister says," Daily Sabah, June 27, 2016.

2354 "Turkish paper says Kurdish rebels raid, damage schools," BBC Monitoring Europe Political Supplied by BBC Worldwide Monitoring, September 25, 2014," as cited in START, GTD 201409170094. "PKK supporters set 7 schools ablaze in retaliation in Turkey," Xinhua, September 17, 2014," as cited in START, GTD 201409170109. "Masked group sets schools alight to protest closed Kurdish education school," Hurriyet Daily News, September 17, 2014.

2355 A full list of references can be found on GCPEA's website,….

2356 "Major killed in PKK attack laid to rest in Ankara," Hurriyet Daily News, September 28, 2015. "PKK terrorist attack injures 4 civilians in Turkey's northeastern Giresun province," Daily Sabah, September 27, 2015.

2357 "PKK terrorists attack schools over boycott in Turkey's eastern Mus province," Daily Sabah, October 1, 2015. "Schools attacked over boycott says Turkish governor," Andalou Agency, October 1, 2015.

2358 "Turkey: Bomb blast outside school kills child, injures three more," International Business Times India, October 8, 2015. "Bomb Kills 1 Child, Wounds 3 in Southeastern Turkey," Latin American Herald Tribune, October 8, 2015.

2359 "More than 100 schools."

2360 "Turkish military responds after rocket kills woman in city bordering Syria," Hurriyet Daily News, January 18, 2016. Tulay Karadeniz, "One killed as rocket hits Turkish school near Syrian border," Reuters, January 18, 2016. "Rocket 'fired from Syria' killed school worker in Turkey," ITV News, January 18, 2016. "Rockets strike Turkish school near Syria border," Al Jazeera, January 18, 2016.

2361 "Report: 4 injured in blast at Turkish school near Syria," Business Insider, January 18, 2016. Associated Press, "Explosion at Turkish school injures 5 students," CTV News, January 22, 2016.

2362 "More than 100 schools."

2363 Cemal Asan and Mesut Varol, "PKK terrorist attack damages nursery in eastern Turkey," Anadolu Agency, June 20, 2016.

2364 "Security forces disarm explosives left by PKK in school yard," Hurriyet Daily News, October 3, 2017.

2365 "Dozens detained around Turkey in school boycott," Hurriyet Daily News, February 13, 2015, as cited in Xanthe Ackerman and Ekin Calisir, "Erdogan's Assault on Education," Foreign Affairs, December 23, 2015.

2366 Human Rights Watch, In Custody.

2367 "State PAS: Southeast Turkey Press Summary 8 October 2015," Adana US Consulate Public Affairs Section, October 8, 2015," as cited in START, GTD 201510070063.

2368 "Dozens detained around Turkey in school boycott."

2369 "State PAS: Southeast Turkey Press Summary 8 October 2015," Adana US Consulate Public Affairs Section, October 8, 2015," as cited in START, GTD 201510070063.

2370 A full list of references can be found on GCPEA's website,…."

2371 Human Rights Watch, In Custody, p. 21.

2372 United Kingdom: Home Office, "Country Policy and Information Note-Turkey: Human rights defenders," June 2017, p. 20.

2373 "Malaysia: Extradition puts three Turkish men at risk of torture," Amnesty International news release, May 12, 2017. "Malaysia: Longtime Turkish Residents Detained," Human Rights Watch news release, May 5, 2017. "U.N. expresses grave concern over Myanmar, Thai deportation of Turkish national," Reuters, May 27, 2017.

2374 "Turkey: Investigate Ankara Abductions, Disappearances," Human Rights Watch news release, August 3, 2017.

2375 Scholars at Risk Network, Academic Freedom Monitor, Selçuk University, May 22, 2017. Brendan O'Malley, "Professor, teacher arrested on day 75 of hunger strike," University World News, May 26, 2017. Kareem Shaheen, "Two Turkish teachers on 75-day hunger strike detained by police," Guardian, May 22, 2017. Human Rights Watch, World Report 2017, Turkey chapter.

2376 "Trial of two Turkish teachers on hunger strike starts amid protests and tear gas," Deutsche Welle, September 14, 2017.

2377 "Turkish educators Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça end hunger strikes after 324 days," Hurriyet Daily News, January 26, 2018.

2378 "Teacher kidnapped by PKK in eastern Turkey found dead," Anadolu Agency, July 15, 2017. "PKK terrorists kidnap, murder young teacher in eastern Turkey," Daily Sabah, June 21, 2017.

2379 OHCHR, "Report: July 2015 to December 2016," para. 19.

2380 "Cizre in ruins as Turkey lifts curfew on Kurdish towns," Al Jazeera, March 13, 2016.

2381 Mazlum Der Diyarbakır branch, "The PKK must send back child recruits" ("PKK çocuk katılımcıları geri göndermeli"), May 9, 2015.

2382 Republic of Turkey Ministry of Interior (Türkiye Cumhuriyeti İçişleri Bakanlığı), Exploitation of Children and Women by PKK/KCK Terorist Organization (PKK/KCK Terör Örgütünün Çocukları ve Kadınları Istismarı) (Ankara: Republic of Turkey Ministry of Interior, 2017), p. 47.

2383 Scholars at Risk, Academic Freedom Monitor, Middle East Technical University Odtü, October 26, 2013. "Turkey police fire tear gas at student demo," Yahoo News, October 20, 2013.

2384 Scholars at Risk Network, Academic Freedom Monitor, Marmara University, January 16, 2014.

2385 Scholars at Risk Network, Academic Freedom Monitor, Gazi University, February 3, 2017.

2386 Human Rights Watch, World Report 2016, Turkey chapter. Reuters, "Students killed in suspected Islamic State attack in Turkey," Irish Times, July 21, 2015. "Turkey: teacher union condemns the latest suicide bomb against education workers," Education International, July 21, 2015.

2387 Elizabeth Redden, "Turkish Academe Under Attack," Inside Higher Ed, February 12, 2016. Raziye Akkoc, "Where did it all go wrong for Turkey?" Telegraph, March 17, 2016. Matthew Weaver, "Turkey rounds up academics who signed petition denouncing attacks on Kurds," Guardian, January 16, 2016.

2388 "Detention of Academics in Turkey Intensifies Crackdown on Freedom of Expression," Amnesty International news release, January 15, 2016. "Turkey: Academics Jailed."

2389 For example, see Scholars at Risk Network, Academic Freedom Monitor, Various Institutions, January 11, 2016. "Global higher ed networks stand with scholars in Turkey," Scholars at Risk, January 21, 2016. Scholars at Risk Network, Academic Freedom Monitor, Abant Izzet Baysal University, January 15, 2016.

2390 Scholars at Risk Network, Free to Think 2017, p. 12.

2391 Human Rights Watch, Silencing Turkey's Media: The Government's Deepening Assault on Critical Journalism (New York: Human Rights Watch, December 15, 2016), p. 14.

2392 Scholars at Risk Network, Academic Freedom Monitor, Turkish Higher Education institutions, July 20, 2016.

2393 "BBC: Some 20,000 academics purged since July 15 coup attempt," Turkish Minute, November 27, 2016. "Turkey's education board demands 1,577 university deans resign," Reuters, July 19, 2016.

2394 O'Malley, "Higher education."

2395 Scholars at Risk Network, Academic Freedom Monitor, Gediz University, December 20, 2016. "Professor Istar Gozaydin's 100th day of incarceration displays deteriorating conditions for freedom of speech in Turkey," Scholars at Risk, March 28, 2017. David Matthews, "Jailed Turkish academic İştar Gözaydın released," Times Higher Education, April 7, 2017. Scholars at Risk Network, Academic Freedom Monitor, Fak University, December 22, 2016.

2396 O'Malley, "Higher education."

2397 Scholars at Risk Network, Academic Freedom Monitor, Dokuz Eylül University, January 4, 2017.

2398 Scholars at Risk Network, Academic Freedom Monitor, Istanbul University, March 30, 2017

2399 Scholars at Risk Network, Academic Freedom Monitor, Dicle University, May 1, 2017,

2400 Scholars at Risk Network, Academic Freedom Monitor, Necmettin Erbakan University, July 6, 2017. Scholars at Risk Network, Academic Freedom Monitor, Boğaziçi University/İstanbul Medeniyet University, July 10, 2017.

2401 Scholars at Risk Network, Academic Freedom Monitor, Marmara University, November 17, 2017.

2402 Scholars at Risk Network, Academic Freedom Monitor, Özgür University, November 27, 2017.

2403 "Four police officers killed in PKK bomb attack in Turkey's Diyarbakır," Hurriyet Daily News, January 16, 2017.


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