Summary and Current Status
Kemal Gürüz is a Turkish chemical engineer, education administrator, retired professor, and former university rector who has held leadership roles in national higher education organizations in Turkey. In late June 2012, while traveling outside of Turkey, Professor Gürüz was informed that the police wanted to interrogate him. He returned to Turkey immediately and, on June 25, appeared at the Ankara Courthouse, where he testified for three hours.
According to the Turkish pro-government newspaper, Today’s Zaman, the court ruled in favor of Professor Gürüz’s arrest pending trial and ordered him to be remanded to jail for his alleged role in the 1997 collapse of Turkey’s first Islamic-led government. The “Postmodern Coup” investigation took many months and included the arrest of dozens of people. Professor Gürüz was held in Sincan prison in Ankara, a maximum security prison. He was permitted one family visit per week, during which his visitor had to speak by phone, separated by a glass screen, and was permitted one “open” visit per month. On June 14, 2013, the CHR was informed that Professor Gürüz had been transferred to the hospital in Sincan High Security Prison after attempting suicide in his cell earlier that day. He was demoralized to learn, yet again, that other defendants in the case had been released pending trial but he had not.
Previous to his June 2012 arrest, Professor Gürüz had been interrogated for several days regarding the “Ergenekon” investigation. On January 7, 2009, 15 policemen came to his apartment in Ankara, searched it for five hours, and confiscated the hard drive of his computer, his cell phone, a camera, documents, tapes and CDs. Professor Gürüz was then flown to Istanbul where he was taken to the organized crimes division of Istanbul Police Headquarters and interrogated for four days. The interrogation lasted 11 hours and was conducted in the presence of his lawyer. Professor Gürüz was released on January 11, 2009, pending trial. He was charged with “forming and leading an alleged illegal armed terrorist organization [known as Ergenekon] and obtaining secret documents related to state security” and was subsequently brought to trial. The Ergenekon trial, which took several years and included several hundred defendants, finally ended in August 2013. On August 5, Professor Gürüz was convicted in the Ergenekon trial and sentenced to 13 years and 11 months in prison. Although he was not ordered to be imprisoned pending appeal, Professor Gürüz was forced to remain in Silivri prison pending the Postmodern Coup trial.
The Postmodern Coup trial began in early September 2013 at which time Professor Gürüz was released from prison pending the outcome of the trial. He was released along with eight other defendants; 26 of the 108 defendants remain incarcerated.
The CHR visited Professor Gürüz in Silivri prison during its mission to Turkey in February 2013. It has been in regular contact with him and his wife since his initial detention in June 2012. At the CHR’s fall 2013 meeting, Professor Gürüz and his wife, Güniz, gave heartfelt thanks to the CHR for its efforts in helping to gain his release from prison.
Kemal Gürüz is a retired professor of chemical engineering at Middle East Technical University. Previously, he was president for eight years of Turkey’s Council of Higher Education (YÖK), a national board of governors for all institutions of higher education, and the Turkish Scientific and Technical Research Council (TÜBITAK). Other positions Professor Gürüz has held include that of rector of Karadeniz Technical University in Trabzon from 1985 to 1990 and fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University and the State University of New York from 2004 to 2005. He has also published a number of books and articles about higher education governance, including the recent article, “Turkey: Obstacles to and examples of curriculum reform,” published in Confronting challenges to the liberal arts curriculum: Perspectives of developing and transitional countries in 2012.
The Turkish government’s “Ergenekon” investigation began in June 2007 when 27 hand grenades and explosives were discovered in the Istanbul home of a retired noncommissioned Turkish military officer. According to Human Rights Watch, “The investigation that followed uncovered evidence pointing to a much larger conspiracy, including evidence of plans to assassinate the prime minister, the former chief of staff, several members of Parliament from the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, the writer Orhan Pamuk, and others.” Ergenekon—which, in a legend about the genesis of the Turkish people, refers to the Turks’ mythical homeland—is the name given to an alleged illegal ultranationalist group consisting of former military and police officers, politicians, journalists, and some intellectuals.
Over the past four years several hundred people have been detained in connection with the “Ergenekon” investigation. The first group of defendants—consisting of 86 people, primarily senior military officers, alleged members of organized crime, leading figures from the media, and some civil society activists—were brought to trial on October 20, 2008. A second group of 56 people was indicted in March 2009, and a third group of 52—which included Professor Gürüz, as well as a number of other academics—was indicted in August 2009. (A significant number of those arrested in 2009, such as Professor Gürüz, are intellectuals who support a secularist civil society and had been outspoken in opposing recent attempts to desecularize the country’s universities.)
The second Ergenekon trial, in which Professor Gürüz and 51 others were co-defendants, began on September 7, 2009. It was anticipated that the trial would continue for an extended period because the Istanbul 13th High Court merged two indictments—the one that included Professor Gürüz and the “second group” of 56 defendants arrested earlier. The trial then proceeded with a total of 108 co-defendants. Of this group, 55 co-defendants were released on bail pending the outcome of the trial. Months later, another large-scale trial and 16 smaller groups were each separately brought to trial in connection with the Ergenekon case. In early 2012 all 18 Ergenekon-related cases were merged in a new trial with a total of about 275 defendants. In late November 2012, lawyers of some of the defendants were quoted in the press as saying that the prosecution had finished presenting its case, in which it had called 159 witnesses. The lawyers reportedly complained that the defense had been instructed that the defendants would be permitted only 15 minutes each to provide their defense before the court. To the best of our knowledge no credible evidence was presented to support the serious charges brought against Professor Gürüz. The Ergenekon trial finally came to a close in early August 2013. On August 5, Professor Gürüz was convicted and sentenced to 13 years and 11 months in prison. Although he was not ordered to be imprisoned pending appeal, Professor Gürüz was forced to remain in Silivri prison pending the Postmodern Coup trial.
As noted in the Summary section, Professor Gürüz’s most recent arrest, on June 25, 2012, was connected to the government’s investigation of the downfall of the 1997 government (referred to as the “post-modern coup” or “unarmed coup”), which began in April 2012, when police raided the homes of 29 individuals accused by the Public Prosecutor’s Office of “attempting to overthrow the government” and arrested them. This crackdown against individuals alleged to have been involved in the “post-modern coup” began a week after the two surviving members of the 1980 military junta were brought to trial for their alleged roles in the September 1980 military coup.
The background to these latest arrests reportedly is as follows. During a nine-hour meeting on February 28, 1997, the military-dominated National Security Council (MGK) reportedly pressured then-Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan to implement 18 measures aimed at curbing certain practices allowed by the Islamist government that the Council perceived as a growing threat against secularism in the country. Subsequently, additional pressure, using the media and other avenues, reportedly was intensified against Erbakan’s government. In June 1997, when a senior MP left the government’s party, then-Prime Minister Erbakan lost, by one, a Parliamentary confidence vote and resigned. He had served only one year as head of the government. Speaking on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the “post-modern coup,” current Prime Ministe of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was quoted in the Turkish newspaper, Hurriyet, as saying that the organizers and supporters of the “February 28 Process” would never be forgiven “even if 1,000 years went by”. He reportedly also recently supported a controversial education reform bill on the grounds that it would remove the last traces of the “February 28 Process,” including the law that mandated a compulsory eight-year primary education for all Turkish citizens.
The Postmodern Coup trial began in early September 2013 at which time Professor Gürüz was released from prison pending the outcome of the trial.
For suggestions of possible actions on this case, please contact the CHR at email@example.com or 202-334-3043.
Updated December 11, 2013