These accusations provided an excuse for a religiously oriented government to arrest a wide swath of intellectuals, university presidents, women’s rights advocates, journalists and writers who were critics of AKP policies. Many of them were advocates for maintaining a secular, or at least tolerant, Turkey, and have languished in prison for years without trial.
“They charged me with being a member of a secret terrorist organization, which I never heard of before, including some guys I’ve been opposed to,” Guruz told me. “This is like a nightmare.” The nightmare was destined to get much worse.
In June 2012, while on a cruise, Guruz received word that he was wanted for questioning about his alleged involvement with the Turkish military in the 1997 “coup.” He immediately returned to Ankara to deny the allegations, but was arrested and put in a maximum-security prison. He has been held without trial as a flight risk — even though he had voluntarily returned from abroad.
Guruz believes the government’s real grievances against him revolve around steps he took as head of YOK that were legal but anathema to Islamist officials: enforcing constitutional policy on banning girls in head scarves from university campuses, and helping design a new university admissions policy (without any military input) that was disliked by officials from Muslim schools.
This stellar educator, highly respected in the West, faces a possible life sentence in solitary confinement. His trial may be held soon; a judge could dismiss the paper-thin case, but the government may not want to lose face.
As thousands of young people continue to demonstrate against the government, the outcome of Guruz’s case will symbolize the direction this Turkish government intends to take.
There are two options: On the one hand, Erdogan takes a hard line, dismissing the demonstrators as terrorists. He still says Gezi Park will be razed and a mosque built nearby. On the other hand, President Abdullah Gul, also an AKP leader, insists all Turkish views (secular or religious) should be freely expressed and considered by the government.
If Gul’s outlook prevails, the demonstrations will likely cool and the politicized charges against Guruz should be dropped soon. If Guruz is convicted, it will signal to Turkey’s citizens and allies that its democracy faces very rough times.