The Real Academy in Exile

Image: Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus, J. M. W. Turner (1829)

The Real Academy in Exile

by David Selim Sayers (Paris, France)1

For Talât Halman

The Lost Professorship

Ortada bir gerçek var
Gerçeği gören de var

– Duman

AT some point between March and April 2021, Kader Konuk, Director of the world’s largest Turkish Studies institute outside of Turkey itself, was quietly stripped of her title. There was no announcement from Konuk or her university. There was no statement—in protest, support, or otherwise—from any of the academic associations in which Konuk plays a leading role. There was not even a modification to Konuk’s duties as listed on her faculty web page, or to her online CV. Save for two tiny details—the web page now listed her as “Deputy Director” rather than “Director,”2 and the title of “Director” vanished from the footer of her e-mails—it seemed as if nothing had changed at all. To those who could hear it, the silence was deafening.

That silence is why I am writing today. After half a year of patience, I have come to the realization that no one will talk about the reasons for Konuk’s demotion, or even the fact of her demotion, if I don’t do it myself. And perhaps that shouldn’t surprise me: it was I, after all, who got her demoted.

It all began in August 2019, when the University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE), Konuk’s German home institution, announced it would be hiring an Associate Professor3 in Turkish Studies. The requirements were stringent and manifold: they were looking for someone whose teaching spanned the entire breadth of the field; whose research ranged across multiple epochs and disciplines; who had a special interest in Gender Studies; had studied and taught in various countries; had published prominently; and had excellent German, Turkish, and English skills.

From the moment I laid eyes on the job, I knew we were meant for each other: I had grown up a native speaker of all three languages; learned and practiced my trade at top institutions in the UK, US, Turkey, Germany, Austria, and France; designed and taught courses on every conceivable aspect of Turkish Studies from art to urbanization; and written my articles and books, many with a focus on gender and stretching from the Ottoman Empire to Turkey, for well-respected publishers and journals.

The one thing giving me pause was the location of Essen, a backwater compared to the cities my work had taken me so far, from San Francisco to Vienna, from Paris to Istanbul. But alas, an academic—especially in a field as quaint as Turkish Studies—is not a chef, a technician, or a hair stylist, people whose skills are always in ample demand and who can theoretically find work wherever they want to live. Academic jobs, particularly in small fields, are few and far in between. A suitable professorship may well appear only once every couple of years, and landing or missing that job could easily make or break a career. Since getting my Ph.D., I’d bounced around from freelance teaching gig to visiting professorship for more than half a decade, and, backwater or not, Essen felt like my big break.

Readers wise to the clichés of narrative structure—or, for that matter, of academic life—already know what happened next: I didn’t get the job. I was invited for an interview in June 2020 and felt pretty pleased with how I comported myself. I nourished my hopes through fall and winter, blaming the lack of good news from Essen on the glacial pace of Teutonic bureaucracy. In January 2021, my wife—a fellow academic with a much less rose-tinted view of the trade—convinced me to pull my head out of the sand and drop Konuk, the chair of the hiring committee, a line. I got no reply. A week later, I wrote again, this time copying her secretary and her assistant to embarrass her into an answer. I received a generic message thanking me for applying, regretfully informing me that my candidature had not been passed on to the university senate, and wishing me the best of luck in my future endeavors.

That would have been all she wrote, save for, once again, a tiny little detail: I knew the other candidates. See, I had put my name on the institute’s mailing list about a year before and had been duly informed when the upcoming job talks were announced. There were four interviewees besides myself, and when I looked up what Konuk meant by the senate, I found out that § 38 of the Higher Education Act of North Rhine-Westphalia, the German federal state which runs UDE, obliges academic search committees to pass on three candidate names to the university senate for a final decision. This meant that not only had I not gotten the job; I hadn’t even made it into the top three out of five.

Now, that didn’t feel quite kosher to me. I wrote to Konuk again, asking her whom I should contact to find out the reasons for my elimination. I got no reply. So I sat down, scoured the internet for every crumb of information I could find about the careers of my co-applicants, made a list of the specific job requirements on the call for applications, and squared all five of us off against each other point by painstaking point. The picture that emerged was nothing short of stunning: not only had I been the candidate with the most advanced language skills, the most international experience, and so on—I had been, in fact, the only candidate with any degrees or teaching posts in Turkish Studies at all. The others, for the most part, were trained sociologists and political scientists who just happened to be from Turkey.

Within three days of receiving Konuk’s message, I wrote up my findings in an eleven-page report and e-mailed them to the president, chancellor, and legal department of UDE.4 I cited the German constitution (article 33, paragraph 2) that states eligibility for public office must be determined according to “aptitude, qualifications and professional achievements.”5 I demanded an investigation into the ongoing hiring process—the outcome was still pending—not because I wanted the job for myself, but because an objective comparison of the five candidatures failed to reveal why mine was excluded from the top three. Something seemed to be afoot, something that was not merely illegal, but unconstitutional.

I did not insult their intelligence by spelling out the obvious conclusion: the hiring process had been a scam. Konuk had rigged it from the start in order to appoint an unqualified crony. And she had concealed my file from the senate out of fear they would take one look at it and send her favorite packing. I merely pointed out that if an investigation did not take place, I would invoke § 76 of the Higher Education Act of North Rhine-Westphalia and petition the Ministry for Culture and Science to intervene. Finally, perhaps a tad too carried away by the intricacies of German law I’d researched for the occasion, I closed by saying that if all else failed, I, for my part, would not fail to take the matter to court.

Turns out Teutonic bureaucracy is not so glacial after all. In February 2021, about a month after my e-mail, I received a one-page letter (who knew that was still a thing?) from university president Ulrich Radtke.6 He let me know that the hiring process would go through a routine examination regardless of my inquiry, that no further investigation was planned until after the process was concluded, and that legal measures could only take hold at that point. Once that point was reached, he wrote, I could take another look and see if legal action on my part still seemed appropriate.

That point never came. In May 2021, I received another letter (good thing Germany is so thickly forested), this time from Dirk Hartmann, Dean of the Humanities at UDE and Konuk’s immediate boss.7 He informed me that, due to the detection of serious procedural violations,8 the hiring process had been discontinued altogether. Should the position be re-advertised at some point in the future, I was welcome to resubmit my application. I replied with a brief e-mail to Radtke and Hartmann, expressing my relief that, at the very least, they had saved their institution some face, but kindly excusing myself from a potential next round since I would find it intolerable to even be in the same room as the Erzscharlatane9 from UDE Turkish Studies, leave alone dignify them with the word colleagues.

It was my mother-in-law, of all people, who brought up the elephant in the room: this was all well and good, she said, but what about Konuk? Was she to emerge unscathed from the whole affair? I went back to the institute’s web site and discovered that, lo and behold, Konuk’s title had already been changed to Deputy Director. An e-mail I’d received some time ago through the institute’s mailing list (yes, that pesky list again—wonder how much longer I’ll be on it?) revealed that by April 15, the title of Director was gone from her footer. And a search on the Wayback Machine revealed that her successor’s page had last been captured before her promotion on February 28.10 Ergo, Konuk’s demotion appeared to have happened between March 1 and April 15, that is, mere weeks after president Radtke had written to me.

The Peace Petition

Valla hakim bey, bizim köyde göte göt derler
– Can Yücel

This brings us to the end of Act One in our sordid little tale, because, for better or worse, we’re just getting started. As the research on my four co-applicants revealed, their utter lack of credentials for the job was not the only thing to unite them. Three of them—precisely as many, believe it or not, as it takes to make a top three—shared a prior tie to Konuk. They were all involved in a curious outfit that Konuk had founded in 2017: Academy in Exile (AiE). One of them, Nil Mutluer by name, was a co-founder of AiE.11 Another, Hilal Alkan, had served on AiE’s original Board of Advisors.12 And Nazan Üstündağ, yet a third applicant, had been an AiE Fellow.13

AiE is a fundraising vehicle inspired by the 2015 Flüchtlingswelle, in which over a million migrants and refugees arrived in Germany, most of them fleeing the ongoing war in Syria. Among the resources mobilized by the German state to address the Flüchtlingswelle were various programs enabling scholars under threat in their home countries to continue their work in Germany, most prominently the Philipp Schwartz Initiative, established in 2015 by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the leading German public institution for the promotion of research. However, it soon emerged that the overwhelming beneficiary of these programs weren’t scholars from war-torn countries such as Syria or Afghanistan, but those from the relatively stable and peaceful Turkey.14

There is no obvious reason to assume that academics from Turkey are either more at risk, or otherwise more entitled to German funding, than their counterparts from Syria or Afghanistan. But Germany has long been home to a sizeable population of Turkish origin, one that today numbers in the millions and constitutes by far the largest minority in the country. As a result, Germany and Turkey, including German and Turkish academia, are tightly networked with each other. It is conceivable, then, if in somewhat questionable taste, that these academic networks would be able to appropriate a lion’s share of German state resources primarily meant for other groups—groups that may face higher risk but lack the know-how and connections needed to access said resources.

From their very inception, Konuk was capturing such grants to transfer individual scholars from Turkey to Germany.15 But what if, rather than tiresomely apply to the German state for each separate fellowship, a way could be found to ship Turkish scholars to Germany en masse? And what if, rather than leave funding and fellow selection in the hands of others, a way could be found to get one’s hands on one’s own funding, to be spent and dispensed at will?

As fate would have it, a way was found rather soon. In January 2016, Academics for Peace, a Turkey-based activist group to which Mutluer and Üstündağ have belonged since at least 2013,16 issued a petition entitled “We will not be a party to this crime!,” accusing the Turkish state of a “deliberate and planned massacre” against “Kurdish and other peoples” in the southeastern regions of Turkey and calling on the state to end this “serious violation of Turkey’s own laws and international treaties to which Turkey is a party.”17 Published simultaneously in Turkish, Kurmanji, English, French, German, Spanish, Arabic, and Greek, the petition was signed by 1128 people including Mutluer, Üstündağ, Alkan, and Konuk. (Full disclosure: I am also among the signatories of the petition and remain in agreement with its contents to this day.)

The reaction of the Turkish state was predictable. Mere days after the petition went public, none other than Turkish President Erdoğan weighed in, announcing his confidence that the “relevant institutions will do their constitutional and legal duty against this treason that amounts to a flagrant crime according to our constitution and our laws.”18 Over the following three years, the Turkish state proceeded to persecute the signatories, albeit in a highly scattershot manner. Over 800 were put on trial. Over 500 lost their university positions. Around 200 were sentenced to prison time. Four were arrested and detained between 22 and 40 days.19 And one was actually imprisoned for 76 days. Then, in July 2019, the Constitutional Court, Turkey’s highest legal body, ruled the indictments violated the right to freedom of expression. What followed was a series of acquittals that continues to this day, in as inconsistent a fashion as the trials themselves, with close to 500 signatories acquitted and the remaining 300 still awaiting their acquittal as of mid-2020.20 (Full disclosure: my own signature has not resulted in any noticeable persecution by the Turkish state.)

But whatever its impact—or lack thereof—on the lives of its signatories, and regardless of its patent failure to mark any improvement whatsoever to the plight of minorities in Turkey, the petition succeeded in one thing: it turned Academics for Peace itself into a cause célèbre. The usual suspects of global do-goodery such as Judith Butler and Noam Chomsky added their names to the petition, the signatories received awards from international associations, and the issue even made a blip in Western media. All this mattered little to those who, like myself, simply signed the petition for its contents and had nothing further to do with Academics for Peace. But those who were actively involved with the organization—a group of people whose names are not part of the public record—suddenly found themselves sitting on a highly monetizable brand.21

This did not escape Konuk’s attention. By the end of 2016, she had gathered ten Academics for Peace around her dinner table in Germany and was discussing ways to raise funds.22 A prize opportunity soon presented itself: the Volkswagen Foundation, Germany’s largest private research funding body, had decided the same year to follow the German state’s lead and establish its own grant for refugee scholars, expressly intended for “academics who have fled their home countries in recent years as part of the Flüchtlingswelle.”23 With the help of UDE colleague and VW Foundation insider Volker Heins, who had secured no less than three VW grants for his own previous projects,24 Konuk convinced the Foundation to siphon €900,000 in refugee funds into a project exclusively geared towards scholars from Turkey, and Academy in Exile was born.25

How exactly things run at AiE is somewhat unclear, but abundantly clear is that Konuk runs the show. She combines, in personalis unio, the roles of AiE Director, AiE Council Member, and AiE Selection Committee Member—or, in other words, pulls AiE’s executive, legislative, and judiciary strings alike. The initial five-person Council, charged with “steering” AiE,26 comprised the core team of Konuk, her rainmaker Heins, and Georges Khalil, an old Konuk associate based in Berlin. Also included, pro forma, were Heins’ and Khalil’s superiors, namely Claus Leggewie at the Essen Institute for Advanced Study and Friederike Pannewick at the Berlin Forum Transregional Studies. Once they had served their purpose, these two were cycled out of the Council; who was brought in to replace them is a plot twist I daren’t spoil just yet.

Besides its Director and Council, the fledgling AiE also had an “independent collegium,”27 or Selection Committee, whose ten members were supposed to review and rate fellowship applications.28 I must confess this Collegium mystifies me to this day. I can’t fathom its composition—different sources put it at 4 scholars from Turkey, 4 at German universities, and 2 at US institutions; and at 5 scholars from Turkey and 5 at US and German institutions.29 I don’t know who was on it—apart from Alkan and Konuk, who put it on their CVs.30 And I can’t tell, for the life of me, who or what it was “independent” from, since Konuk, the AiE Director, was herself a member. I can guess that its four, or five, or six “Turkey” members (including Konuk) were Academics for Peace from around Konuk’s dinner table. I am relatively sure the Collegium was ditched by 2019, when it made its final, spectral appearance on a conference slide by Konuk, with Konuk herself skipping over it in silence.31 And I know for certain that, by 2020 at the latest, the AiE Council had shed all pretense of independent oversight and openly taken the selection of fellows into its own hands.32

AiE issued its first call for applications in October 2017, advertising six fellowships for 24 months each. No call being open to the whole wide world, this one also came with certain preconditions: applicants had to be in Turkey, or in “exile” from Turkey for no more than three years; they had to be at “risk” on account of their academic work or civic engagement; and they had to be in the humanities, law, economics, or social sciences.33 Still, preconditions notwithstanding, one might have expected such a call to be announced publicly so that anyone who met the criteria could apply. Not in this case: the call only went out, in Konuk’s own words, to “the Peace Academics networks and a few others that we knew that were like-minded.”34 In other words, if you met all the criteria but had no connection to Academics for Peace, you were still eligible to answer the call—you just never heard it.

At the same time, the call contained two key ambiguities ensuring Konuk would be able to take her pick of applicants regardless of any actual danger to which they may or may not have been exposed. The first ambiguity rested in the word “exile,” chosen in conscious contradistinction to “refugee.” For while “refugee” may denote an official status with defined legal parameters, “exile” is a multifaceted concept that can apply to many situations unrelated to state persecution or threat to body and life. Nil Mutluer said it best when, in a 2017 interview, she described her own situation with a perfect blend of accuracy and arrogance: “I am not a refugee. I am a scholar in exile.”35

The second ambiguity rested in the word “risk.” The call made clear that applicants had to present “no proof” whatsoever of their “risk and/or exile status.”36 Now, it is true that some risks may be very real but not very easy to prove, so it makes sense to show a certain leeway in this regard. But that doesn’t mean we need to abandon proof altogether. The Philipp Schwartz Initiative, for instance, requires applicants either to be officially seeking asylum in the EU or to submit a threat assessment by a recognized organization.37 But at AiE, the concept of risk is defined rather more loosely. Here’s how Konuk puts it herself: “We do not rate the risk. We just say ‘yes at risk’ or ‘no at risk.’ It doesn’t matter if somebody is threatened with a jail sentence or somebody might have had some intimidating encounter on their campus.”38 In other words, whether I’ve actually been arrested by the Turkish police, or whether I simply claim that some students got vocal with me after class, to AiE, I am equally “yes at risk.” And I really don’t need to worry whether, to the rest of the world, I might actually be “no at risk,” because no one will ever find out: AiE—for reasons of safety, no doubt—does not disclose the identities of its fellows.39

The six initial fellowships were soon extended to nine when Konuk succeeded in securing even more funding: €140,000 from the Freudenberg Foundation, a charitable trust operated by the conglomerate that owns the Vileda brand of cleaning products, and €60,000 from the “Scholar Rescue Fund” set up by a US non-profit, the Institute of International Education.40 At that point, then, AiE had already raised at least €1,100,000, somehow to be distributed among nine anonymous fellows, picked according to criteria so precise—and yet so vague—they allowed Konuk to bankroll exactly who or what she wanted.

But Konuk, as it turned out, was only just warming up. In December 2018, she announced that Freie Universität Berlin (FU—their abbreviation, not mine), would provide AiE with eight new fellowship posts and one for an administrator, to create a residency program devoted to “Critical Thinking.”41 By posts, she meant FU would provide the physical space where the fellows would work and, more importantly, the legitimacy of a university affiliation. But of course, that kind of legitimacy doesn’t come for free. No, it has to be earned—with cold, hard cash, in this case supplied by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, where Konuk raised $500,000, and, somewhat more obscurely, by George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, which forked over $200,000.42

This time, Konuk didn’t even bother to pretend that anyone not preselected by her could luck into one of the posts. There was no call for applications—in fact, there was not a single public word on the selection, duration, remuneration, or any other condition of the fellowships. The appointment of the eight fellows and the administrator, Achim Rohde, was entirely an inside job with no publicity, no accountability, and, subsequently, not an ounce of credibility to its name.

But let’s dwell on the Soros connection for a minute or two, and not just because everyone likes a little conspiracy theory. Konuk has plugged the work of Soros—particularly Open Society and Soros’ Central European University (CEU)—in every AiE-related talk she has given since 2017. By 2018, when she received her first Soros grant, she was even trying to pronounce his name correctly. And by 2019, she had become so passionate about all things Soros that she was indiscriminately labeling criticism of Open Society as “anti-semitic.”43 Given such heights of enthusiasm, it might come as a surprise that Soros’ funding of AiE is something of an open secret. Konuk has only mentioned it twice: in an offhand comment during a talk, and on her CV, which she uses as a billboard to advertise just how much cash she has raised from whom. But Open Society is not listed as a sponsor in a single official AiE source. Instead, it is referred to as “anonymous donors” or, at best, an “anonymous foundation.”

Now, the obvious reason for Open Society to want to stay anonymous would be that in November 2018, just two weeks before Konuk publicly outed it as a sponsor, it announced that it would cease operations in Turkey due to hostility from the Turkish state.44 But there just might be a little something else as well. When we look at known affiliates of AiE and Soros’ CEU, we notice a conspicuous bit of overlap, especially in the field of Gender Studies. Nil Mutluer, co-founder of AiE, got her Ph.D. in Gender Studies from CEU.45 Anikó Gregor, AiE Fellow at FU Berlin, received her M.A. in Gender Studies from CEU.46 Judit Takács, another AiE Fellow, spent ten months at the CEU Program for Gender and Culture.47 And Andrea Pető, a speaker at the 2020 AiE workshop on “Gender Studies in Exile,” is a Gender Studies professor at CEU.48

As Konuk never tires of reminding her audiences, CEU, founded by Soros in 1991, has been having a hard time as of late—in December 2018, a week after Open Society announced its pullout from Turkey, CEU announced its own pullout, proclaiming that it would relocate in its entirety from Budapest to Vienna—due to hostility from the Hungarian state.49 To sum up, then, AiE started funding CEU affiliates just as Open Society started funding AiE, and this round robin of funding took place just as CEU’s own continued existence seemed in doubt. It would be nice to believe that Soros funded AiE out of the kindness of his heart. But sadly, it does look like he was just paying Konuk for a few black market tickets on the AiE train to Germany. This kind of backroom dealing is enough for even the most well-intentioned philanthropic effort to shoot itself in the foot. Who needs enemies like Orbán or Erdoğan when you have friends like Konuk?

In April 2019, Konuk declared that AiE had funded a total of 27 scholars to date, “mainly Peace Academics.”50 These 27 included the nine recruited from the first call, the eight that were furtively shipped to Berlin, and a number of others brought in under conditions as obscure as the Berlin operation. At least eight of them had received “emergency stipends.” The only thing we know about these stipends is that they were funded via the initial VW grant and given out for three months each. How people could apply for one, how recipients were selected, how much funding they got, whether they could get it more than once, whether they were subject to any kind of institutional supervision or just received cash in hand, and all other details remain unknown.

Finally, Konuk had also somehow managed to place an AiE “visiting professor” at a German university. Now, it is one thing to appoint a crony to a relatively trivial position such as a research fellowship. But a professorship is quite another matter. Professorship is not only the top job in academia; it is the foundation on which the entire legitimacy and prestige of the academic world rests. As UDE showed when it stopped Konuk from appointing an AiE crony to the Turkish Studies professorship following my intervention, universities tend to take these posts quite seriously. Nonetheless, as I write this, AiE has placed not just the one, but two visiting professors at German institutions—one for 12 months, the other for 24 extended to 36; one who remains unknown to me, the other who bears a suspicious resemblance to Meltem Gürle, current visiting professor in Konuk’s own department at UDE.51 Were these “professors” any more qualified for their posts than Konuk’s trashcanned AiE candidates for the defunct Turkish Studies professorship? Or is AiE basically able to buy not only fellowship posts, but also professorships at German universities? And if so, just how much is a professorship worth?

In closing out this chapter, I can’t think of a better way to summarize AiE’s morals and methods than to recap its connection to the Turkish activist group, Academics for Peace. AiE was conceived as a fundraising project by Academics for Peace, in response to a crisis/opportunity created, again, by Academics for Peace. AiE’s first call for applications went out exclusively to Academics for Peace and related networks. The committee selecting the fellows was staffed by Academics for Peace. And the fellowship recipients, whether from the first call, the unadvertised second cohort, the emergency stipend contingent, or the visiting professorship, were “mostly” Academics for Peace.

None of this would be anybody’s business if Konuk had set up AiE as a private think tank and used private money to fill it with whoever she wanted. But that’s not what happened. Konuk acted in the name of a public institution (UDE) to secure public funding and create public positions, both of which she went on to distribute among an anonymous interest group with little to no transparency or accountability. I can’t really speak to Konuk’s gifts as an educator, but if her intention was to offer an object lesson in nepotism and graft, she could hardly have been more instructive.

The Family Affair

Ya olduğun gibi görün
Ya da göründüğün gibi ol

– Mevlana

Our third chapter takes us from the sleepy backwater of Essen to the fabled metropolis of Berlin, for this is where AiE’s center of gravity shifted as soon as FU Berlin jumped on board. FU brought Konuk more manpower, more funds, and more prestige, but in return, they wanted a seat at that dinner table. At a talk in April 2019, Konuk ticked the number of AiE Council members upwards from five to six.52 The new mystery Council member, never named by AiE, was a certain Florian Kohstall, coordinator of the “Welcome@FUBerlin” refugee program established in 2015.53 Why Kohstall’s involvement was so furtive is not clear—perhaps AiE violated some previous grant protocol by adding a sixth Council seat. In any case, FU soon became an official “partner” in AiE, and the only partner besides UDE with any weight to throw around.54

And throw it around they did. AiE rediscovered calls for applications, issuing its second one in April 2019. But this call, advertising five renewable 12-month fellowships, was quite different from the first. The Academics for Peace-staffed Selection Committee had vanished without a trace, and applications were now open to scholars from all around the world.55 In other words, with FU at the helm, AiE started leaving the safe haven of Turkey and setting sail towards uncharted territories.

It looks to me like this would have been the perfect time for Konuk to cash in and leave the table—either the UDE table in Essen or the AiE table in Berlin. For, as we all know, it’s hard to have your cake and eat it too. As long as AiE focused on scholars from Turkey, and as long as Konuk could fool UDE that “from Turkey” equaled “Turkish Studies” (which she did until my intervention), she could prop up AiE with grants obtained in the name of UDE and other UDE resources, including her own administrative labor. But with more and more non-Turkish fellows in Berlin, sooner or later, someone at UDE was bound to ask themselves what any of this had to do with the job for which Konuk had been hired: run an institute of Turkish Studies in Essen.

But instead of giving up either Essen or Berlin, Konuk took a rather curious third option: she kept her post in Essen, made a copy of herself, and gave it a post in Berlin. And thus it was that a certain Vanessa Agnew joined AiE, not only as Council member, but also as Director of the Critical Thinking program at FU Berlin.56 Agnew’s credentials hardly make her an obvious pick for the job(s). Her previous research betrays no specific interest in human rights, refugee issues, or global crisis hotspots such as Syria. Instead, she boasts a Bachelor of Music from the University of Queensland in her native Australia, an M.A. in German Studies at NYU, a Ph.D. thesis devoted to “Red Feathers, White Paper, Blueprint: Exchange and Informal Empire in Georg Forster’s Voyage Round the World,” and a book called Enlightenment Orpheus: The Power of Music in Other Worlds.57

No, in order to understand what made Agnew so suitable for AiE, we should not turn to her studies or research, but to her history of academic appointments. Agnew got her first university post as Assistant Professor of German Studies at the University of Michigan, a position she assumed in 2001,58 the same year that Konuk got her first university post as well—also at Michigan, also in German Studies. Konuk came in as Visiting Assistant Professor,59 so if we assume the two were already a package deal, she was probably Agnew’s spousal hire—a common recruitment tactic in which universities try to attract certain scholars by offering (somewhat inferior) posts to their spouses as well.

At first, Agnew was the senior partner—she was promoted to Associate Professorship in 2008, a title for which Konuk had to wait until two years later. But when Konuk was offered the UDE job around 2013, it was Agnew’s turn to play spousal hire. And so it came that two German Studies professors from Ann Arbor found themselves in Essen, one in Turkish Studies, the other in Anglophone Studies.60 Note to aspiring scholars of literature: be like Konuk and Agnew. Always include some cross-cultural, comparative references in your work, whether you really know what you’re talking about or not. Who knows when which university in what country will want to hire you for which department? Best not be pinned down by something as narrow-minded as an actual specialization.

Only a few years later, Konuk installed Agnew at AiE, proving once again that the only real qualification for a job in Konuk’s proximity is proximity to Konuk herself. But, I hear you ask, wouldn’t she be splitting up the family by shipping Agnew to Berlin? Yes, she would indeed, but only if the family weren’t already in Berlin. As a matter of fact, even as Konuk and Agnew were drawing their paychecks from Essen, they had enrolled their daughter Sefa at the Gymnasium zum Grauen Kloster, one of the oldest and most prestigious high schools in Germany.61 Want to guess where that is? Clue: it’s not Essen.

However, even I must concede that by now, Agnew has grown into her new positions, throwing herself with gusto into refugee-themed projects. With Konuk, she has acted as co-editor of the 2020 AiE publication, Refugee Routes: Telling, Looking, Protesting, Redressing. And she has even struck out on her own: she is currently preparing a children’s book on refugee issues, to appear from the boutique publishing house Sefa Verlag, entitled It’s Not That Bad.62 Whether that title refers to Agnew’s expert opinion on the quality of refugee life, or whether it amounts to an understated compliment on her own refugee-related feats—such as using refugee funds to raise her own daughter in privilege while using a publisher named after said daughter to console refugee kids with a book—remains to be seen.

Whatever its bearing on Konuk’s family affairs, the FU connection certainly didn’t hurt fundraising efforts. Around October 2019, AiE obtained its second grants from Open Society and Mellon: $400,000 from the former, doubling the initial grant, and $1,500,000 from the latter, triple the first amount.63 The only applicants, and therefore beneficiaries, of these grants were Konuk herself, Agnew, and Verena Blechinger-Talcott, vice president of FU Berlin.64 Blechinger-Talcott also replaced Kohstall as the FU member on the AiE Council, which was restabilized at 5 members with Agnew and the original trio of Konuk, Heins, and Khalil.

Florian Kohstall may not have stayed on the AiE Council for long,65 but he stayed long enough to pick up the tricks of the fundraising trade. By November 2019, he had secured €600,000 in German state funding for a new FU project called “Academics in Solidarity,” aiming to “support at-risk and refugee researchers.”66 And by September 2020, he was coordinating yet another new project, called “Academic Freedom Network,” jointly funded by FU and the Humboldt University Berlin with the goal of “establishing a network among scholars at risk and larger [sic] academic community.”67 Neither of these projects is formally affiliated with AiE in any way; they are not even listed among AiE’s network of partner initiatives.

A naïve observer might ask why FU would spawn all these AiE copycats when they seem to be duplicating AiE’s job—pretending, of course, for the sake of argument, that AiE is actually doing its job. Wouldn’t it make more sense to gather all scholar-at-risk efforts under the AiE umbrella, thereby creating a single pool of funds, manpower, and expertise which could be allocated efficiently through a centralized administration with a coherent vision?

That would make more sense indeed—if, indeed, the primary goal of such initiatives were to help “scholars at risk.” Sadly, however, that is not the case. No one put it better than the anonymous author of a 2018 AiE conference report published by the Freudenberg Foundation: “We can already observe a trend of universities instrumentalizing the inclusion of ‘scholars at risk’ as a criterion for successful third-party funding applications.”68 With enviable syntactic precision, the author here pinpoints exactly who is instrumentalizing whom for what. To wit, universities are not instrumentalizing third-party funding to help scholars at risk. They are instrumentalizing scholars at risk to get their hands on third-party funding. From this perspective, then, it makes perfect sense for different fundraising actors—such as FU and AiE—to duplicate each other competing over crumbs of the same refugee pie.

Whether crumbs are an adequate metaphor for the funding gathered by AiE over its four years of existence will depend on each reader’s perspective. So, to enable that perspective, let’s put things in euros instead. My tally of available sources puts AiE at having obtained €1,712,000 from Mellon (2 grants),69 €900,000 from VW,70 €513,000 from Open Society (2 grants),71 €140,000 from Freudenberg,72 €60,000 from the Institute of International Education,73 and €5,000 from the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung.74 In addition, AiE obtained a second VW grant in late 202075 and another Freudenberg grant by March 2021.76 The amounts of these two are unknown, but let’s conservatively estimate VW at €900,00077 and Freudenberg at €70,000.78 Not including the workspace and personnel support AiE receives from the likes of UDE and FU, the total amount raised by AiE between July 2017 and March 2021 comes to at least €4,300,000.

And where did all this money go? By October 2021, AiE claimed to have distributed 39 fellowships of 12-24 months, 11 fellowships of 3 months, and 2 visiting professorships of 12 and 36 months respectively.79 Let’s be generous and assume 39 fellowships of 24 months at €3,000 per month.80 That gives us €2,808,000. Now, let’s add 11 fellowships of 3 months at the same rate.81 The amount rises to €2,907,000. Finally, let’s assign the visiting professors a monthly salary of €6,300,82 multiply by 12+36 months, and add it to our amount. This brings us to a total of €3,209,400. In other words, AiE has used over 3 million euros in public funds to finance “scholars at risk” whose “risk status” is defined according to the most arbitrary criteria imaginable. And that still leaves us short by over 1 million euros—more than a quarter of AiE’s entire fundraising income. What happened to this money? And exactly how much of it was divvied up between Konuk, Agnew, and their handlers at UDE and FU? 

The Gingerbread House

Çete çeteye çatmış
Çete çete içinde
Battık buruna kadar
Cafer getir peçete

– Cem Karaca

However titillating these questions may be, dear reader, we must now put them aside, for the crumbs that Konuk left us across Berlin have finally led to her very own gingerbread house. In a February 2020 interview, Konuk mentioned that AiE had its eye on “a house in the middle of Berlin that is currently being renovated.”83 Doesn’t sound too impressive? Then let me unpack it for you: The “house” Konuk was talking about is the Palais am Festungsgraben, an actual palace built from 1751 to 1753 by Johann Gottfried Donner, valet of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia.84

In April 2017, the federal state of Berlin launched a so-called Interessenbekundungsverfahren, a tender for projects to open up the Palais to public use (the tender itself was not public). Following a planned renovation to the tune of 15-22 million euros, the state would rent out 4,500 m2 of the 7,000-m2-palace to the winning project at cost, with no expectation of profit. The submission deadline was 6 October 2017, by which time 9 projects had come in, one of them featuring AiE as a stakeholder.85

Those who haven’t lost track of our timeline will remember 2017 as the year that AiE was founded. Now, let’s peek into that timeline a little more closely. Konuk first spoke to the press about her plans to found AiE in April 2017—that is, the same month the Palais tender was launched. And she officially founded AiE (in Berlin, not in Essen) the last week of September 2017—that is, one week before the Palais tender concluded.86 So, did Konuk somehow just happen to come up with a project for a state tender worth at least 15 million euros within a week of founding AiE? Or did she, in fact, found AiE to provide herself, her family, and her cronies not only with academic posts and public money, but also with the keys to a historic palace in the heart of Berlin?

In early 2018, a few months after the tender deadline, reports on three shortlisted projects started appearing in Der Tagesspiegel, a Berlin daily newspaper. The first, leaked in February, was a project by Humboldt University Berlin, entitled “Henriette-Herz-Haus” and casting the Palais as the new home of Humboldt’s various religion departments as well as a public forum for interreligious dialogue.87 The next project leaked in March and came from Berlinovo, a real estate company owned by the state of Berlin, which basically aimed to milk the Palais for rent income from event spaces, a restaurant and a bar, offices, and apartments.88 And finally, two days after the Berlinovo leak, Der Tagesspiegel reported on a project entitled “Das Deutsche Haus,” developed by the state-owned Maxim Gorki Theatre and various other initiatives with the goal of creating “a space of exile in Berlin for persecuted and threatened people working in the field of culture.” The project smelled of AiE all the way to the kitchen, including a planned restaurant called “Exile.”89

In October 2018, the Berlin House of Deputies confirmed the three shortlisted projects. The Senate Department for Finance, it stated, was currently in talks with all three applicants to determine if the projects were compatible and could be merged.90 And nearly a year later, in July 2019, the House announced that the tender committee had concluded its work, favoring a project entitled “Das Deutsche Haus im Palais am Festungsgraben – als Ort der Künste und Wissenschaften im Exil” (The German House in the Palais am Festungsgraben – as Space for the Arts and Sciences in Exile). The project was billed as a joint venture between Humboldt University and an entity called “Stiftung Palais am Festungsgraben e.V.” (Registered Association of the Foundation Palais am Festungsgraben). Berlinovo was out, the Gorki Theatre went unmentioned, and AiE involvement was, for the first time, officially confirmed.91

But what was the deal with the rather mysterious “Foundation” that seemed to have won the tender together with Humboldt? Apparently, I wasn’t the only one intrigued by this question, and so it came that in September 2019, it was put to the Berlin House by a Deputy called Stefan Evers (CDU). Evers, in fact, could find out so little about the “Foundation” that he felt compelled to ask the House not only since when it had existed, but also, in his exact words, “who is concealing themselves behind it.”92 The House provided him with a founding date—2017—and three names: Esra Kücük, Jürgen Mayer, and André Schmitz.93

A closer look at these three names brings the Gorki Theatre back into the picture. Jürgen Mayer is described by the House itself as the former managing director of the theatre.94 The House mentions no connection between Kücük and the theatre, but a scan of her career reveals that she served on the theatre’s Board of Directors for three years; initiated the theatre’s public lecture program; and still serves as Co-director of the theatre’s membership program, which she leads together with the final name on the House’s list, André Schmitz.95

Schmitz, also known as André Schmitz-Schwarzkopf, is a disgraced German politician whose achievements include getting himself adopted as an adult by Pauline Schwarzkopf, widow of haircare heir Heinz Schwarzkopf; serving from 2006 to 2014 as Berlin’s State Secretary for Culture; and being dismissed from this post when it was discovered that he had concealed close to half a million euros from the German tax authorities.96 As with Kücük, the House is silent about the connection between the Gorki Theatre and Schmitz who, as Secretary of Culture, also appointed Shermin Langhoff, the theatre’s current Artistic Director, accused in April 2021 of verbal and physical abuse by 15 of her Gorki co-workers.97

To complete the circle, the connection between the Gorki Theatre and AiE is, as so often the case with Konuk, public and private at once. Both Kücük and Langhoff serve on AiE’s Advisory Board;98 AiE co-founder Nil Mutluer has her own page on the Gorki Theatre site as a member of the company;99 and even Sefa Agnew who, in addition to being Konuk and Agnew’s daughter, is also an aspiring thespian, lists herself as a former actress at the Gorki Theatre.100

We can summarize, then, that the “Foundation” winning the Palais tender was launched in the same year as AiE with the express purpose of bidding for the palace; that its central premise of “exile” is derived from AiE; and that all its known spokespeople are firmly linked to a major AiE stakeholder: the Maxim Gorki Theatre. So it looks like both AiE and the “Foundation” were created, at least partially, to act as placeholders for the Gorki Theatre in bidding for the Palais. But why didn’t the Gorki Theatre just apply for the tender directly? Why go so far as to “conceal” itself, in Evers’ words, behind a smokescreen so obscure that it took a parliamentary inquiry to even partially pierce it?

The answer is simple, sobering, and frankly quite anticlimactic. For all intents and purposes, Humboldt and Gorki had won the Palais tender even before it began. Both institutions are next-door neighbors of the Palais, separated from it by a mere stone’s throw. Both institutions were already renting extensive spaces in the Palais before the tender: Gorki since at least September 2016, and Humboldt since January 2017. And both institutions’ hold on the Palais was already so strong that most previous renters were given notice by the state at their demand.101

The sole voice of dissent against this curious arrangement came from a certain Rolf Kriebich, chairman of a competing project to turn the Palais into a center for the United Nations. As early as November 2016, Kriebich protested against the use of the Palais as an “interim storage space for the Humboldt University and the Gorki Theatre.”102 But a few years later, when the state tender with nine projects vying for the Palais miraculously resulted in victory for the only two applicants who were already in the Palais, and his own United Nations project was kicked to the curb, Kriebich was silent—as silent as the Gorki Theatre was about the extent of its involvement in the tender-winning “Foundation.” The reason, then, that the Gorki Theatre “concealed” itself behind the “Foundation” was to make the whole tender seem like less of a complete sham.

To lend the proceedings an added air of legitimacy, a bunch of other entities were brought in as window dressing. This is where AiE and the “exile” concept come in—but not only AiE. Other partners in “Das Deutsche Haus” besides Gorki, AiE, and Humboldt include Kiron, an NGO providing “online learning opportunities to refugees and underserved communities”;103 Junge Islam Konferenz, a forum for migration issues and interreligious dialogue; the Leibniz Zentrum Moderner Orient, a research center focused on the Middle East; and the Berlin Institute for Integration and Migration Research.104

Sounds like a varied and credible bunch, surely only united by its shared passion for refugee issues, migration, and global crisis hotspots. Well, not quite. In fact, there is one more thing these organizations have in common: their people. Hilal Alkan, former AiE Selection Committee member, is currently Research Fellow at the Leibniz Zentrum Moderner Orient.105 Naika Foroutan, current AiE Advisory Board member, is Director of the Berlin Institute for Integration and Migration Research, which itself turns out to be a branch of Humboldt University.106 She is also the direct superior of AiE co-founder and Gorki Theatre company member Nil Mutluer, who serves as “Einstein Foundation Senior Scholar” at the institute.107 (Alkan and Mutluer, of course, are Konuk’s usual suspects, already familiar to us from the UDE Turkish Studies professorship search that I managed to arrest.)

But the undisputed champion of this bizarre hat-wearing tournament is the one, the only Esra Kücük. Kücük is not just the Chairwoman of the tender-winning “Foundation,” Director of the Gorki Theatre’s membership program, and member of the AiE Advisory Board. Oh no. Kücük is also a former affiliate of Humboldt University. Kücük is also former Chairwoman of Kiron’s Advisory Board. Kücük is also Founding Director of Junge Islam Konferenz—an outfit run, by the way, by the Pauline-Schwarzkopf-Stiftung, a foundation launched by the adoptive mother of Kücük’s Gorki partner André Schmitz. Kücük is also in charge of two foundations by the German insurance firm Allianz, namely Allianz Umweltstiftung and Allianz Kulturstiftung—which funds, by the way, “Torschreiber am Pariser Platz,” a “stipend for writers in exile” where Konuk sits on the jury. Finally—and you may want to hold on to your seats for this one—Kücük is also a founding member of Initiative Offene Gesellschaft e.V., the German branch of George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.108

Here, then, is how you build a gingerbread house in the middle of Berlin: you start one initiative that goes for one piece of the pie, and then another initiative that goes for another piece. You grab a seat in a third initiative that goes for a third piece of the pie, and put a stooge in a fourth initiative that goes for a fourth piece. You repeat this process as long as it takes to start, grab a seat, or put a stooge in as many initiatives as there are pieces of pie, and, at the end of the day, you have the entire pie to yourself.

But, as it turns out, there is no honor among thieves. In November 2020, Kücük and Schmitz publicly exposed themselves for the very first time, using the German press to cry foul against Humboldt University, their partner in the Palais tender, and BIM, the state-run real estate company charged with renovating the Palais. BIM, they claimed, had tripled its cost estimate from ca. 20 million euros to a whopping 60 million, which meant that rent “at cost” would now come to more than 12 euros per m2, affordable by Humboldt but out of reach for the “Foundation.” And, to add insult to injury, Humboldt had started giving them the cold shoulder, refusing a “real cooperation” and a “joint trusteeship and management” of the Palais. Their conclusion, not so much subtly stated as bluntly implied, was that Humboldt and BIM were colluding to artificially raise the rent and drive the “Foundation” out of the palace.109

We may pause for a minute to salute the sheer audacity of Konuk & Co. publicly admitting they expected to rent out a literal palace in the heart of a major world capital at 4 euros per m2. We may further pause if informed that the nixed Berlinovo project would have charged renters 12 euros per m2 on average, that Humboldt as a sole tenant may have paid 8 euros per m2, and that both these figures were floated while the renovation was still pegged at 15-22 million euros.110 Finally, then, we may pause to ask how on earth the “Foundation” ever imagined it would be able to rent out the palace, even “at cost.” The answer, pure and simple, is that it never did. From the very beginning, the “Foundation”s plan was to occupy limited space in the palace, sublet the rest Berlinovo-style, and use the sublet money to subsidize itself.111

Humboldt may have felt differently. As a major state institution expecting to pay its own rent in the palace, it may reasonably have told the “Foundation” to either pull its weight or pull out. Kücük and Schmitz responded with a threat to have the whole tender investigated, but this was likely just a rather distasteful bluff to bargain down the rent. Konuk hasn’t publicly come off the fence regarding this petty squabble—and why should she? As we have seen, AiE has infested both sides of the fence in equal measure. As early as December 2018, Konuk was mentioning a group of AiE-affiliated scholars working at Humboldt.112 These scholars may well have been based in the Palais already—there is no reason to assume otherwise—which, if true, would mean that AiE has been enjoying a rather regal residence in “exile” for the past three years.113

The good news is that it’s not too late to drive the rabble out. The Berlin House has made clear that the recommendations of the tender selection committee are not binding, and that it is the Berlin Senate (the equivalent of a Cabinet) that will make the final decision on the Palais.114 As far as I know, that decision is still pending. So why don’t we call Kücük and Schmitz’s bluff and have the tender process independently checked? UDE did it for Konuk’s Turkish Studies professorship search, and look at what they found. My bet is that the Berlin Senate would find pretty much the same, and the whole gingerbread house would come crumbling down.

The Vanishing Field

Ali gider Veli gelir külhana vay
Birbirinden farkı yok

– Âşık Mahzuni Şerif

It is time now to leave Berlin to the Berliners and return to our starting point: the field of Turkish Studies. Despite AiE’s early promise of “vitalizing Turkish Studies in Germany,”115 we have seen that Konuk was never overly concerned with Turkish Studies as such. This could hardly have come as a surprise to anyone involved, though, for Konuk’s connection to Turkish Studies, and even to Turkey itself, is little more than an accident of birth. Konuk has never lived in Turkey except for a brief teaching stint in 1998-1999.116 She hasn’t even set foot in the country since 2014, the year she became Director of Turkish Studies in Essen.117 Her research, such as it is, only tangentially touches the field—her sole publication of any note concerns German scholar Erich Auerbach’s sojourn in Turkey.118 And she never held a Turkish Studies position prior to Essen—in 2010, the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich offered her a post in Comparative Literature, a much better fit that Konuk rejected in favor of a promotion to Associate Professor of German Studies in Michigan.119

How was it, then, that someone so patently unfit to lead the world’s largest Turkish Studies department outside of Turkey itself was brought in, complete with spousal hire, to do that very job? Counterintuitively enough, the answer is that Konuk was hired precisely because she was unqualified. Turkish Studies at UDE was founded in 1995 to serve a very specific purpose: training Turkish language teachers for German high schools.120 In 2014, the year Konuk arrived, it had around 650 students,121 and someone somewhere at UDE must have decided that a department this big should be put to more glamorous use. Enter Konuk, an outsider who would, hopefully, spice things up a bit.

Konuk’s remit was to lead the department beyond the language-teaching ghetto. On paper, this meant opening it up to sexy new topics and methods from Konuk’s native field of Comparative Literature. In reality, as AiE has shown, it meant opening it up to anything that could attract third-party funding.122 Now, this is where we collide with the elephant in our room that we have been brushing up against throughout our inquiry: the hijacking of German (and, by extension, European) scholarly research by the fundraising imperative. This elephant is too large for us to engage directly here, but we can creep up on it, at least, by following its trail in Turkish Studies.

So let’s lift our gaze beyond the peripheral horizons of Essen, where Konuk and UDE were merely applying a blueprint laid out for Turkish Studies in the true centers of the field, Hamburg and Istanbul, by an iconoclast named Raoul Motika. When Motika became Chair of Turkish Studies at the University of Hamburg in 2006, he was already a seasoned rainmaker with two projects under his belt, one funded by Volkswagen and the other by DFG, the German state’s main research funding body.123 In 2008, Motika founded the Türkei Europa Zentrum, a center for promoting and running externally funded projects under the umbrella of his Turkish Studies department. And over the years that followed, so the center’s own web site, “Hamburg established itself as the German university location for contemporary research on Turkey.”124

But this was only the beginning. In 2009, Motika was asked by the Max Weber Stiftung, which runs a number of overseas research centers for the German state, to turn the Istanbul branch of its Beirut center into an independent unit with himself in charge. Motika rose to the challenge, appointed a placeholder named Yavuz Köse in Hamburg, and assumed, in 2010, the directorship of the new center, called the Orient Institut Istanbul.125 From there, one year later, he launched the Society for Turkic, Ottoman, and Turkish Studies (Gesellschaft für Turkologie, Osmanistik und Türkeiforschung—GTOT for short),126 a professional association that, among other things, organizes a conference called “Turkologentag” and publishes the academic journal Diyar. A self-described “special interest group”127 which counted around 200 members in fall 2020,128 GTOT bills itself as “a huge network” that constitutes “the largest European umbrella organisation” in its field.129

By 2020, when he returned from Istanbul to Hamburg, Motika had become the éminence grise of Turkish Studies in Germany. He had attained this status not through any trailblazing research, teaching, publications, or other scholarly accomplishments, but, in essence, by building a “huge network” that spanned from Hamburg to Istanbul and established an ever-tightening grip on the funding sources, research agendas, academic appointments, and scholarly publications in the field.

To create this “huge network,” this “special interest group,” this—let’s not be coy—new academic clique, Motika and his acolytes had to completely remake Turkish Studies in their own image. Using his double platform in Hamburg and Istanbul, Motika ditched the field’s traditional focus on low-profile, low-budget, in-depth research on language, literature, and history as well as its traditional entry requirement of strong philological skills. Instead, fully in tune with the trend to tie scholarly research to third-party funding, he opened up the field to pretty much anything that contained even a fleeting reference to Turkey and was flashy enough to catch the eye of a funding body.130

The idea caught on and spread from campus to campus. Professorships started being awarded not based on a candidate’s competence and contributions, but on their fundraising prospects. Scholars started designing their research not to address genuine issues, but to satisfy fundraising trends. Junior researchers started abandoning their own interests and working on their advisors’ pre-funded projects. The “old guard” of the field, as narrowly specialized as it was highly skilled, never stood a chance. Within a few years, it had been replaced, marginalized, or assimilated by a new breed of bold but unskilled wannabe fundraisers whose tightly-knit clique made sure not a single piece of the funding pie ended up in unanointed hands.131

For an instruction manual on how to join the clique, we can turn, once again, to our trusty friend Konuk. Konuk organized and chaired two separate panels at the GTOT conference, “Turkologentag 2016,” in Hamburg.132 Konuk wrote an article for the first issue of Diyar, the GTOT journal, published in 2020.133 Konuk has been a Board member of GTOT since 2016.134 Konuk has been a Co-publisher of Diyar since 2018.135 Konuk is the only person to be endorsed by name in a public statement by GTOT.136 And in 2017, Konuk was seated next to Motika himself on a GTOT panel discussing academic freedom in Turkey.137 138

Today, if you are not in bed with this clique, it is nigh impossible to find a consequential job in Turkish Studies, be it in Germany or wherever else its reach extends. To demonstrate what happens if you should try anyway, I can think of no better case study than the initial theme of this inquiry, namely my own futile forays into the field’s classified pages.

The first tactic employed is to stonewall your efforts directly, as happened to me at UDE—and also in Hamburg, where I applied for an Assistant Professorship in 2013-2014. Just like at UDE, my application was shortlisted only to be rejected, by a selection committee including Motika himself and his placeholder Yavuz Köse. And just as would have happened at UDE had I not intervened, the post went to an inferior application, by a certain Petr Kučera, who then became Treasurer of GTOT, Co-publisher of Diyar, and co-organizer of the aborted 2020 “Turkologentag” conference in Mainz.139 Currently, Kučera is Associate Professor of Turkish Studies at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, while his boss, Julian Rentzsch, sits on the GTOT Board and serves as yet another Co-publisher of Diyar.140

The next tactic is to dangle a position in front of you, keep you waiting as long as possible, and then make it go up in thin air. I experienced this one in Paris, at the Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales (INaLCO), where I worked as an Adjunct Lecturer from 2018 to 2019, and where Timour Muhidine, Director of Turkish Studies, told me of an upcoming permanent job, promised to let me know when it was advertised, and then waited until the day after the deadline to inform me it was too late. Curiously, the next day, Muhidine reached out again and said that he had extended the deadline at the specific request of Hülya Adak, a personal friend of his, who had asked to apply late.

Adak, whose ties to Motika and Konuk are of equal strength, is anything but a random name in this game. She was a Research Fellow at the Orient Institut Istanbul in 2011,141 joined its Advisory Board in 2017,142 and secured funding for the institute from her main employer, Sabanci University, in 2021. The funding went into a workshop intended to start a long-term cooperation between the Orient Institut Istanbul and SU Gender, a center that Adak directs at Sabanci.143 Adak was also Visiting Professor at FU Berlin from 2018 to 2020,144 supervised the graduate research of Egemen Özbek, AiE Research Coordinator since 2018,145 and shared two panels with Konuk at the 2016 “Turkologentag” conference in Hamburg, chairing one that Konuk organized and speaking on another that Konuk chaired.146

The third tactic, if you’ve somehow managed to luck into a rare offer worth your while, is to toss you a diversion. This is what happened to me at the Justus Liebig University of Giessen, where I worked as a part-time Lecturer and Research Fellow from 2016 to 2017. When I let the department know that I’d been offered a one-term Visiting Professorship at the University of Vienna, Mark Kirchner, Chair of Turkish Studies, and a colleague, Stefan Rohdewald, conjured up a three-year administrative post that could be mine if only I were to give up the professorship. When I asked what would happen to Vienna, Kirchner said that in my place, he could send them Michael Hess, a Research Fellow with whom he’d been working for years. Kirchner is a former Editor of Diyar, while Rohdewald sits on the journal’s extended Editorial Board.147

The fourth tactic, if you already have a foot in the door, is to exploit you as much as possible before replacing you with an insider. I experienced this in Vienna, where, despite Kirchner’s exhortations, I accepted the Visiting Professorship in 2017. At the end of my term, Gisela Prochaska-Eisl, Chair of Near Eastern Studies, told me that if I wanted, I could stay for another one. But there was a catch: I’d have three months’ time—and three months’ pay—to do four months’ work. When I asked why, Prochaska-Eisl told me that if I stayed the full second term on top of my first one, I’d gain certain employment rights that would bar her from kicking me out.148 I closed my eyes and thought of England, and, at the end of my second term, was permanently replaced by GTOT President and Diyar co-founder Yavuz Köse, who was finally reaping his reward for keeping Motika’s chair warm in Hamburg while the latter romped around Istanbul for ten years.149

The fifth tactic is to simply cut off your funding. This happened to me at San Francisco State University, where I was hired to build a Turkish Studies program in 2013. The university had established my post with an external grant from the Institute of Turkish Studies, a now-defunct funding body run by the Turkish state. Not long after Sinan Ciddi, the institute’s Director, had a chance to meet me in person, he discontinued my grant and put my position in peril. From 2004 to 2008, Ciddi worked at Sabanci University, where he moved in the circles of the university’s Istanbul Policy Center, the outfit that funded Hülya Adak’s collaboration with the Orient Institut Istanbul.150

The sixth, and arguably most insidious, tactic is to appropriate your research, assign a junior stooge to produce a bad copy of it, make sure that henceforth everyone cites the copy instead of you, and thus consign you and your work to academic oblivion. I first got a whiff of this one around 2013 when, coinciding with the appearance of Tıfli Hikâyeleri, my seminal book on Ottoman prose literature,151 one İpek Hüner (later jazzed up as Nazlı İpek Hüner-Cora) started to systematically rehash pretty much every research topic I’d addressed in the field. Hüner-Cora’s 2011 M.A. thesis, written at Sabanci University, was advised by Hülya Adak.152

But I witnessed the most egregious example of this tactic in 2021, when I read a review of The Struggle for Modern Turkey, the autobiography of pioneering female Turkish journalist Sabiha Sertel that I co-translated into English and published in 2019.153 In her review, a graduate student named Gabriele Cloeters spends close to three pages plagiarizing my scholarly introduction to the book nearly paragraph by paragraph, all the while taking immense care not to mention my name even once.154 Somewhat predictably at this point, Cloeters is getting her M.A. in Turkish Studies at the University of Hamburg155 and is a former Research Fellow at Sabanci University, specifically the Istanbul Policy Center.156 Her review was published in Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes, the house journal of the Near Eastern Studies Department in Vienna, where Yavuz Köse serves as Editor for Turkish Studies.157

This clique could not survive if it were just confined to academia; it needs to produce its mirror image in the institutional world that provides its funding and the political world that controls those institutions. We can start tracing the institutional connection through figures like Heins and Konuk who are not just funded by bodies like VW but also advise the same bodies on whom to fund.158 And we can start tracing the political connection via figures like André Schmitz who form special interest groups with the same people they appoint to public posts. Once again, here, Raoul Motika is in a league of his own, having arranged, in April 2014, a visit by Johanna Wanka, then German Minister for Education and Culture, to the Orient Institut Istanbul.159

Revealing this racket in its entirety would turn into a full-time job. We have journalists for that, I am told, and I, for my part, already have a job—albeit not in Turkish Studies. But even the sketch I’ve provided above gives a clear enough view of the current course of Turkish Studies, which can be summarized as the death spiral of a vanishing field. Abandoning its focus on the cultivation of rare and specialized skills, a depth of research only attainable through those skills, and the resulting production and transmission of methods, perspectives, and knowledge, the field of Turkish Studies has become an empty signifier, a hollow shell guarded by hollow women and men. Even its sole remaining purpose of attracting more and more funding is doomed to move farther and farther out of reach as the clique trains its next generation not in academic brilliance or even fundraising skills, but in complete, abject dependence on itself in research and funding alike.

Of course, such quasi-feudal, kleptocratic networks do not only exist in Turkish Studies or academia in general. One hardly bats an eyelid when similar arrangements are mentioned in business or finance. But what makes them particularly galling in the present case is the patent hypocrisy involved. Konuk promotes herself as a good Samaritan helping refugees and persecuted scholars. Adak bills herself as a truth-teller on hushed-up issues from gender to genocide.160 Köse casts a counter-cultural image by writing on hippies and the environment.161 And together, they would have us believe that the education of whole generations should be left in their hands. Brokers, at least, don’t try to pretend they are in it for anything but the money. But the hypocrisy of Konuk and her ilk, who trade in values like critical thinking and purchase the voice of the voiceless, only to pervert this voice and these values for the gain of their own, pathetic clique, is not merely astounding but positively breathtaking.

The Real Academy in Exile

Asrın yeni bir umdesi var, hak kapanındır
Söz haykıranın, mantık ise şarlatanındır

– Neyzen Tevfik

In the five years that Konuk has foisted her vision of Academy in Exile onto funders around the world, she has consistently placed the blame for such exile on repressive states and their educational systems. These authoritarian regimes, so Konuk, are the ones that condemn free-thinking, critical, creative minds worldwide to the cruel fate of exile. Her proposed solution are liberated, international networks such as AiE that offer these thinkers the chance to survive and thrive free from censorship and oppression.162 But as we’ve had ample room to observe, Konuk’s networks are not just dependent on funding by a state, but abuse this funding to establish their own systems of oppression. Her intellectual project—should we dignify it with so lofty a term—amounts to little more than complementing state tutelage of scholarship with the tutelage of state-dependent, feudally organized interest groups.

And so we arrive at the title of this piece, namely the Real Academy in Exile. The Real Academy in Exile is not a band of cronies that a learned robber baron has granted refuge in his or her particular fiefdom of academe. The Real Academy in Exile consists of intellectuals who are exiled not just by their states or governments, but by the very networks of graft established by the likes of Konuk. The Real Academy in Exile is made up of individuals whom such networks cannot suffer precisely because they are unique, because their work is authentic, and because their way of seeing the world is not replicable by the next stooge on the list. The Real Academy in Exile knows that it needn’t live in thrall to scholarly gatekeepers, for the only thing they guard is the gate itself, a gate that has no walls on either end. Unlike Kafka’s nameless man who waits a lifetime rather than passing through, all we have to do is walk around the gate, and we will find each other.

My call goes out to the Real Academy in Exile: we have work to do. We must share our stories with the world, shining the spotlight on Konuk and her ilk. Not because it will change the system, for as soon as they are exposed, the system will simply spit them out and replace them. No, we must do it because it will let them know that there is a price to pay for becoming the next Konuk, and that price is living in fear of being found out and living in shame once they are.

I write this piece today to show that it can be done—and, just as importantly, how it can be done. I write it not as someone who was unconstitutionally robbed of a professorship, but as someone who constitutionally overturned a professorship with a single letter. And I write it not because I’m still pining after that post, but because that letter apparently wasn’t enough to relieve Konuk of hers. Konuk needs to go, from every post, every board, every jury she holds, not because she is a specific person but because she is an example, and that is what needs to be made of her.163

Secondly, rather than trying to change the system, we must look beyond it. We must accelerate the death spiral of empty fields such as Turkish Studies by depriving them of any air our contribution would provide. The system of officially sanctioned professorships, grants, associations, and journals no longer serves to enable our work or to help it reach an audience. We must conduct our scholarship outside of it and disseminate our work to the broader public directly.

This piece is an example of how that process can occur. You are reading this piece today not because it was funded by a fellowship, guided by an advisor, approved by peer reviewers, greenlit by an editor, and published in an official review. The only thing that fuelled this piece was my conscience, the only thing that guided it was my intellect, the only people who supported it were friends and colleagues whose integrity I implicitly trust, and the only way it reached your hands was through our concerted efforts.164

Thirdly, then, we must stand in solidarity with each other as we develop, conduct, and disseminate our work. Solidarity can never be found among a band of thieves who have only joined forces for the loot. Solidarity can only be based on our shared ethical values that inform what a scholar, researcher, and public intellectual has to be and do. Let the likes of AiE try to usurp the discourse of critical thinking; all we have to do to take it back is to put it into action.

Our solidarity depends on recognizing the true scholars in our field and holding them up as role models. I am thinking of Edith Ambros who, in the 1970s, was cheated of her rightful professorship at the University of Vienna in favor of her husband, and who still serves as Lecturer while her moral and scholarly inferiors, such as Gisela Prochaska-Eisl and Claudia Römer, have seized professorships. I am thinking of Michael Barry who, in 2016, just two years shy of his retirement from Princeton University, was cheated of his lecturership by his moral and scholarly inferior, Professor Muhammad Qasim Zaman.165

Finally, we must resuscitate, through our solidarity and our work, the very fields that have been sucked dry by parasites like Konuk. For what they don’t understand is that a scholarly field is not made up of grants, posts, and buildings. A scholarly field is made up only of us. In truth, we can never be banished or exiled from our field, for wherever we go, the field comes with us. Let them build gates anywhere they want and claim their domain; all we need to do is to meet and work somewhere else.

Throughout my many ordeals in the field of Turkish Studies, there were countless times when all I wanted was to cast off the onerous label, simply call myself a scholar of literature and history, and demote my specialization to a mere geographical affinity. But I understand now that this will not do. Whether I like it or not, I need to take up the mantle of Turkish Studies, for anything else would mean leaving the field to the Konuks. I have held degrees, fellowships, and professorships in Turkish Studies, but I need none of those things to be a Turkish Studies scholar. And neither do you. You know where to find me. I’ll be waiting for you. And together, we will restitute our field.

UDE Turkish Studies Professorship Call for Applications (26 August 2019)

Letter from David Selim Sayers to UDE (14 January 2021)

Letter from UDE President Ulrich Radtke to David Selim Sayers (22 February 2021)

Letter from UDE Dean of Humanities Dirk Hartmann to David Selim Sayers (14 May 2021)


1. This piece could not have been written without my moral and intellectual companion, Evrim Emir-Sayers. It is composed in the first person singular mainly for narrative purposes.
2. Konuk’s revised title can also be translated as “acting director.“ In the German original, “Stellvertretende Institutsdirektorin“ replaced “Institutsdirektorin.“ The English web page lists Konuk as “Institute’s director” [sic] to this day [17 November 2021].
3. The rough English equivalent of the advertised German academic rank of “W2-Professur.”
4. The call for applications and the report are annexed at the end of this piece.
5. Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, translated by Christian Tomuschat, David P. Currie, Donald P. Kommers, and Raymond Kerr, in cooperation with the Language Service of the German Bundestag [17 November 2021].
6. A scan of Radtke’s letter is annexed at the end of this piece.
7. A scan of Hartmann’s letter is annexed at the end of this piece.
8. The German original reads “aufgrund erheblicher festgestellter Verfahrensmängel.“ A more generous translation of the latter word might render it as “procedural deficiencies.”
9. I owe this Wittgensteinian epithet to Jonathan Rée, who mentioned it in his exquisite podcast interview with Kristof K.P. Vanhoutte, Bookaholics episode 8, “Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus” [17 November 2021].
10. “Prof. Dr. Işıl Uluçam-Wegmann,” Wayback Machine [17 November 2021].
11. Kader Konuk, Laura Batalla, Monika Steinel, and Robert Quinn, “Friends Forever? How to Assist / Continue Working with Scholars & Universities in Turkey,” panel discussion at the Scholars at Risk Network 2018 Global Congress, 28 April 2018 [17 November 2021].
12. Hilal Alkan, CV, March 2019 [17 November 2021].
13. “Nazan Üstündağ,” Forum Transregionale Studien [17 November 2021].
14. To date, the Philipp Schwartz Initiative has funded a total of 280 fellows, 175 of them from Turkey and 65 from Syria. The highest number of fellows from any other country is 6. See Birgit Bujard, Imke Borchers, and Carola Hoffmeister (eds.), “Ein neuer Anfang / A New Beginning: Philipp Schwartz-Initiative für gefährdete Forscher / for Researchers at Risk,” Bonn: Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung, 2020 (?), 6-7 [17 November 2021].
15. Konuk, CV, January 2020 [17 November 2021]. By her own indication, Konuk has secured four Phillip Schwartz Fellowships from 2016, when the first funding round was distributed, to this day.
16. “Barış İçin Akademisyenlerden Çağrı,” Academics for Peace, 2 April 2013 [17 November 2021].
17. “We will not be a party to this crime!,” Academics for Peace, 10 January 2016 [17 November 2021].
18. “Erdoğan, Akademisyenlere Karşı İlgili Kurumları Yine Göreve Çağırdı,” Bianet, 14 January 2016, translation mine [17 November 2021].
19. “Barış için Akademisyenlere Yönelik Hak İhlalleri / Rights Violations Against ‘Academics for Peace’,” Academics for Peace, last update 28 August 2021 [17 November 2021].
20. “Barış İçin Akademisyenler Davalarına İlişkin Bilgi Notu,” Academics for Peace, 7 May 2020 [17 November 2021]. These are the most recent numbers at my disposal.
21. I myself experienced the “brand effect” of Academics for Peace in 2016, at the 39th Douarnenez Film Festival devoted to the peoples of Turkey, where I had been invited as a speaker. Standing in the cafeteria line, I was approached by a person who introduced himself as an “Academic for Peace.” When I said how nice and mentioned that I had also signed the petition, he retorted, “yes, but I am one of the first signatories.” Finding myself tempted to reply that I was, too, I realized I was getting sucked into a rather unappetizing martyrdom contest and quickly extricated myself from the conversation.
22. Konuk et al., “Friends Forever?”; Konuk, “Academy in Exile: Knowledge at Risk,” in Vanessa Agnew, Kader Konuk, and Jane O. Newman (eds.), Refugee Routes: Telling, Looking, Protesting, Redressing, Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2020, 269-284, here 279 [17 November 2021]; Kristian Frigelj, “Exil in Deutschland als letzte Hoffnung,” Die Welt, 27 October 2017 [17 November 2021].
23. “Förderangebot für geflohene Wissenschaftler(innen),“ VolkswagenStiftung [17 November 2021], translation mine.
24. Volker Heins, CV, April 2014 [29 August 2021]. This file has been removed from the internet since the time of writing, but a copy is at my disposal.
25. Frigelj, “Exil in Deutschland.” The original VW refugee grant was discontinued in 2020, having funded a mere eight scholars [17 November 2021].
26. “Call for Applications: Six Fellowships for Scholars from Turkey for 24 months in Berlin or Essen to join the Academy in Exile,” Academy in Exile, 17 October 2017 [17 November 2021].
27. “Call for Applications: Six Fellowships,” Academy in Exile.
28. Konuk, “Academy in Exile,” 280.
29. “Gründung der ‘Akademie im Exil’ in Berlin und Essen,“ Academy in Exile, 30 September 2017 [17 November 2021]; Konuk et al., “Friends Forever?”. The obfuscation is augmented by the fact that the categories aren’t mutually exclusive.
30. Alkan, CV; Konuk, CV, January 2020.
31. Konuk, “Challenges to Academic Freedom in the 21st Century,” talk at the Observatoire Turquie Contemporaine, 11 April 2019 [17 November 2021].
32. This is confirmed by the Volkswagen Foundation project page devoted to the second VW grant obtained by AiE on 27 November 2020 [17 November 2021].
33. “Call for Applications: Six Fellowships,” Academy in Exile.
34. Konuk, “Challenges to Academic Freedom.”
35. Pascale Müller. “I am not a refugee. I am a scholar in exile.” Berlin University Alliance, 2 November 2017 [17 November 2021].
36. “Call for Applications: Six Fellowships,” Academy in Exile.
37. “Philipp Schwartz Initiative.” Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung [17 November 2021].
38. Konuk, “Challenges to Academic Freedom.”
39. The only AiE affiliates I identify by name in this piece are people who either have publicly come out as such, or have been outed by Konuk or AiE, presumably with their own consent.
40. Konuk, “Academy in Exile,” 281; CV, August 2020 [17 November 2021].
41. Konuk, “Wissenschaft im Exil,” talk at the Zentrum für angewandte Kulturwissenschaft und Studium Generale, Karlsruhe, 6 December 2018 [17 November 2021].
42. Konuk, “Wissenschaft im Exil”; CV, August 2020.
43. Konuk, “Challenges to Academic Freedom.”
44. “George Soros’s Open Society Foundations to pull out of Turkey,” The Guardian, 26 November 2018 [17 November 2021].
45. “Assist. Prof. Nil Mutluer,” Berliner Institut für empirische Integrations- und Migrationsforschung, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin [17 November 2021].
46. “The political economy of sex: lessons from the semi-peripheral Hungary since the 1990s,” Central European University [17 November 2021].
47. “Curriculum Vitae of Judit Takács” [17 November 2021].
48. “Andrea Peto,” CEU [17 November 2021].
49. “‘Dark day for freedom’: Soros-affiliated university quits Hungary,” The Guardian, 3 December 2018 [17 November 2021].
50. Konuk, “Challenges to Academic Freedom.”
51. The first Wayback Machine capture of AiE mentioning a visiting professor at UDE dates from August 2020 [17 November 2021]. Gürle’s ORCID page [17 November 2021] lists her as having started as a “Guest Professor” at UDE Turkish Studies two months after that, in October 2020, but it is routine for scholars to give the start date of their appointment as the beginning of the academic year, that is fall, even if they formally obtained their post in the summer. Again according to ORCID, Gürle had already served as “Instructor” at UDE Turkish Studies in the academic year 2016-17, and Konuk had mentioned her by name as a dissident Turkish scholar, along with later AiE fellow Nazan Üstündağ, in her December 2018 talk, “Wissenschaft im Exil.” Gürle is the author of a chapter in the 2020 AiE publication, Refugee Routes. And, finally, need I mention that she is also an Academic for Peace?
52. Konuk, “Challenges to Academic Freedom.”
53. The only source confirming Kohstall’s Council membership is the Forum Transregionale Studien web page devoted to AiE [17 November 2021]. For Kohstall’s involvement with Welcome@FUBerlin, see “Refugee students languish in red tape as they seek to resume their educations,” The Hechinger Report, 25 October 2016 [17 November 2021].
54. The other two AiE partners, namely the Essen Institute for Advanced Study and the Berlin Forum Transregional Studies, are not independent entities but research centers jointly funded and run by various institutions, notably UDE, which is one of three partners in the Essen Institute and a General Assembly member of the Berlin Forum.
55. “Call for Applications: Academy in Exile in Berlin and Essen Invites Scholars at Risk to Apply for Five Fellowships for 12 months,” Academy in Exile, April 2019 [17 November 2021]. The earliest online mention I could find for this call was 18 April 2019, a mere twelve days before the deadline of 30 April [17 November 2021]. The AiE page itself listed the call on 22 May, nearly a month after the deadline had passed [17 November 2021].
56. “Governance,” Academy in Exile [17 November 2021].
57. “Vanessa Agnew,” Transcript Verlag [17 November 2021]; Judith Schlehe et al. (eds.), Staging the Past: Themed Environments in Transcultural Perspectives, Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2010, 269 [17 November 2021]; “Bio: Vanessa Helen Agnew,” University of Michigan Faculty History Project [17 November 2021].
58. “Bio: Vanessa Helen Agnew,” University of Michigan Faculty History Project.
59. Konuk, CV, January 2020.
60. “Prof. Dr. Vanessa Agnew,” UDE [17 November 2021].
61. “Sefa Agnew,” Facebook [17 November 2021]. I am well aware that my choice to include information about Sefa Agnew is a controversial one, even though each piece of this information was publicly available at the time the article was published. Ultimately, I decided to proceed with the inclusion because it was Konuk herself, not this article, that had inextricably intertwined the public and private aspects of her life, thereby compromising her daughter’s integrity. The example, I believe, serves to demonstrate that behavior such as Konuk’s risks tainting everyone around it, whether directly involved with it or not. Ultimately, what I wish to highlight is not the person of Konuk, but a certain pattern of character and behavior that can lead to certain consequences, and which, consequently, no one should adopt.
62. Agnew et al., Refugee Routes, 299. The curiously named Sefa Verlag was founded in 2013, the same year Konuk and Agnew moved to Germany [17 November 2021]. Its logo recalls that of AiE, but as drawn by a child. Besides lending her name to the publisher, Konuk and Agnew’s daughter has also lent her voice to some of its audiobooks. But in spite of all this, Konuk and Agnew maintain no formal affiliation whatsoever with the publisher, which is not located in Essen or Berlin, but in Lübeck, northern Germany.
63. “Universität Duisburg-Essen,” Open Society Foundations, 2019 [17 November 2021]; “University of Duisburg-Essen: Academy in Exile: to continue support for scholars at risk at the Academy in Exile,” Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, 9 December 2019 [17 November 2021]; Konuk, CV, January 2020. In accordance with the “anonymity” discussed above, the Open Society webpage does not mention AiE explicitly, instead referring to “scholars in residence,” presumably at the Critical Thinking program in Berlin. Konuk’s CV does mention Open Society explicitly but gives the sum total of the two grants as €1,250,000 (roughly $1,500,000), seemingly omitting the Open Society amount.
64. Konuk, CV, January 2020.
65. He is still listed in an unspecified “coordination” role on AiE’s Critical Thinking program web page [17 November 2021].
66. “’Academics in Solidarity,’ the Nation-Wide Project for At-Risk and Refugee Researchers, to Hold First Network Conference,” myScience, 14 November 2019 [17 November 2021].
67. “Academic Freedom Network wins funding,” Humboldt University Berlin, 14 October 2020 [17 November 2021]; for Kohstall’s role, see “Berlin Center for Global Engagement,” Berlin University Alliance [17 November 2021]. I could not determine how much funding the “Academic Freedom Network“ has received.
68. “[Es] zeichnet sich […] bereits an Universitäten der Trend ab, dass die Einbeziehung von ‘scholars at risk’ als Kriterium instrumentalisiert wird, um erfolgreich Drittmittel-Anträge zu stellen.” “Exile and Academic Freedom Today: Internationale Konferenz der Academy in Exile am Kulturwissenschaftlichen Institut Essen,“ Freudenberg Stiftung, 18 October 2018 [17 November 2021], translation mine.
69. “University of Duisburg-Essen: Academy in Exile: to support a pilot cohort model for scholars in exile,” Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, 6 September 2018 [17 November 2021]; “University of Duisburg-Essen: Academy in Exile: to continue support for scholars at risk at the Academy in Exile,” Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
70. Frigelj, “Exil in Deutschland.”
71. Konuk, CV, August 2020; “Universität Duisburg-Essen,” Open Society Foundations.
72. Konuk, CV, August 2020.
73. Konuk, CV, August 2020.
74. Konuk, CV, January 2020.
75. “Projekt: Academy in Exile,” VolkswagenStiftung, 27 November 2020 [17 November 2021].
76. “Academy in Exile: Neue Stipendien für gefährdete Wissenschaftler*innen,” Freudenberg Stiftung, 12 March 2021 [17 November 2021].
77. The amount of AiE’s first VW grant. The estimate is conservative because AiE managed to double its Open Society grant and triple its Mellon grant the second time around.
78. Konuk claimed that the initial Freudenberg grant of €140,000 supported two AiE fellows. The source I mention above claims Freudenberg to have supported yet a third fellow by 2021, hence my estimate of half the initial grant.
79. AiE home page [25 October 2021]. By this time, AiE had issued its third and fourth calls for applications [25 October 2021]. A fifth call, financed by VW and specifically targeting “Afghans at risk,” is currently underway [25 October 2021]; however, whether the eight advertised fellowships will be covered by the second VW grant (unlikely, since this grant already covered the fourth call), or whether VW has mobilized further funds for this fifth call, is unclear. (Note: by the time of publication [17 November 2021], the number of 12- or 24-month fellowships had risen to 44 and the number of emergency stipends to 13.)
80. The standard AiE fellowship is €2,500 per month; in addition, the first call (only the first call) announces €250 per month in family allowance, while calls 3-5 announce health insurance coverage.
81. As mentioned above, AiE provides no information on the monthly amount of its emergency stipends.
82. Again, AiE does not specify remuneration for visiting professors; the salary assumed here reflects standard professor pay (rank W2) in the UDE home state of North Rhine-Westphalia [17 November 2021].
83. Heike Manssen, “Die Gefährdung der Wissenschaftsfreiheit nimmt weltweit zu,” interview with Kader Konuk, VolkswagenStiftung, 24 February 2020 [17 November 2021], translation mine.
84. “Palais am Festungsgraben,” Wikipedia, 20 August 2021 [17 November 2021].
85. For the tender timeline, see Tomas Morgenstern, “Zentrum für Stadt des Friedens,” Neues Deutschland, 5 April 2018 [17 November 2021]. For the initially projected renovation costs, see “Palais am Festungsgraben III,” Abgeordnetenhaus Berlin, 6 August 2019 [17 November 2021]. For the available space in the Palais, see Dirk Jericho, “Werbung für UN-Projekt: Bundestagskandidaten diskutieren über ‘Haus der Vereinten Nationen’,” Berliner Woche, 20 July 2017 [17 November 2021]. For the state renting out the space at cost, see Ralf Schönball, “Palais am Festungsgraben wird nicht verkauft,” Der Tagesspiegel, 25 April 2017 [17 November 2021]. For the number of submitted projects, see “Palais am Festungsgraben,” Abgeordnetenhaus Berlin, 27 October 2017 [17 November 2021]. For the AiE involvement, see Manssen, “Die Gefährdung der Wissenschaftsfreiheit.”
86. The first ever public mention of AiE occurs in Kristian Frigelj, “Der türkische Braindrain drängt nach Deutschland,” Welt, 2 April 2017 [17 November 2021]. In a talk delivered on 3 October 2017, Konuk stated that AiE was founded “last week in Berlin” (Konuk, “Outlawing Dissent: The Flight of Scholars to Europe,” Cornell University, 3 October 2017 [17 November 2021]. AiE officially announced its existence on 30 September 2017 [17 November 2021].
87. Amory Burchard, “Ein Dach für die Berliner Religionen,” Der Tagesspiegel, 6 February 2018 [17 November 2021].
88. Lorenz Maroldt, “Palais am Festungsgraben soll zum ‘Kultursalon’ werden,” Der Tagesspiegel, 27 March 2018 [17 November 2021].
89. Christoph Stollowsky, “Was wird aus dem Palais am Festungsgraben?,” Der Tagesspiegel, 29 March 2018 [17 November 2021].
90. “Palais am Festungsgraben II,” Abgeordnetenhaus Berlin, 22 October 2018 [17 November 2021].
91. “Palais am Festungsgraben III,” Abgeordnetenhaus Berlin.
92. “Seit wann existiert die ‘Stiftung Palais am Festungsgraben e.V.’, wer repräsentiert sie und wer verbirgt sich nach Kenntnis des Senats dahinter?” From “Vergebene Chance – kein Haus der Vereinten Nationen im Palais am Festungsgraben?,” Abgeordnetenhaus Berlin, 10 October 2019 [17 November 2021], translation mine.
93. “Vergebene Chance,” Abgeordnetenhaus Berlin.
94. “Vergebene Chance,” Abgeordnetenhaus Berlin.
95. “Die neuen Jurymitglieder stehen fest,” Kulturakademie Tarabya, August 2019 [17 November 2021].
96. “André Schmitz,” Wikipedia, 10 September 2021 [17 November 2021].
97. “Shermin Langhoff,” Wikipedia, 4 May 2021 [17 November 2021].
98. “Advisory Board,” Academy in Exile [17 November 2021].
99. “Nil Mutluer,” Maxim Gorki Theatre [17 November 2021].
100. “Sefa Agnew,” Facebook.
101. “Raumnutzung im Palais am Festungsgraben,” Abgeordnetenhaus Berlin, 21 February 2017 [17 November 2021].
102. Reinhart Bünger, “Neue Kämpfe um das Palais am Festungsgraben,” Der Tagesspiegel, 26 November 2016 [17 November 2021].
103. “What we do,” Kiron [17 November 2021].
104. For the involvement of Junge Islam Konferenz and Leibniz Zentrum Moderner Orient, see Burchard, “Ein Dach.” For Kiron, see Stollowsky, “Was wird aus.” For the Berlin Institute for Integration and Migration Research, see “Palais am Festungsgraben III,” Abgeordnetenhaus Berlin.
105. “Dr. Hilal Alkan,” Leibniz Zentrum Moderner Orient [17 November 2021].
106. “Prof. Dr. Naika Foroutan,” Berliner Institut für empirische Integrations- und Migrationsforschung, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin [17 November 2021]; “Advisory Board,” Academy in Exile.
107. “Assist. Prof. Nil Mutluer,” Berliner Institut für empirische Integrations- und Migrationsforschung, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.
108. For Kücük’s various positions, see “Die neuen Jurymitglieder,” Kulturakademie Tarabya. For the Junge Islam Konferenz-Schwarzkopf connection, see “Transparenz,” Junge Islam Konferenz [17 November 2021]. For Kücük at Allianz Umweltstiftung, see “Esra Kücük assumes additional role as Chief Executive Officer of Allianz Umweltstiftung,” Allianz Kulturstiftung, 1 June 2020 [17 November 2021]. For Konuk’s Allianz-funded jury membership, see “Torschreiber am Pariser Platz,” Allianz Kulturstiftung [17 November 2021]. In fact, Kücük wears even more hats—I have only listed the ones with a direct bearing on Konuk.
109. Ralf Schönball, “Baukosten für Palais am Festungsgraben explodieren – kulturelle Nutzung in Gefahr,” Der Tagesspiegel, 20 November 2020 [17 November 2021] and Uwe Rada, “Künstler-Exil droht selbst das Exil,” TAZ, 30 November 2020 [17 November 2021]. Quotes from Schönball, translation mine.
110. For the Berlinovo figure, see Maroldt, “Palais am Festungsgraben.” For the Humboldt figure, see Hildburg Bruns, “Humboldt-Uni zieht in das Palais am Festungsgraben,” BZ, 3 July 2019 [17 November 2021]. The figures given are ca. €650,000 for Berlinovo and €430,000 for Humboldt, which, at 4,500 m2, come to 12 and 8 euros per m2 respectively.
111. The outline of this plan can be gleaned from Stollowsky, “Was wird aus.”
112. Konuk, “Wissenschaft im Exil.”
113. Konuk also toyed with a Plan B for a while: In April 2018, she wowed a Berlin audience with slides of the Château de Lavigny, an eighteenth-century Swiss mansion she was hoping to requisition 6 months a year for an AiE residency program (Konuk et al., “Friends Forever?”; see here for more information on the Château de Lavigny [17 November 2021]). The deal must have fallen through somehow, for the château was never mentioned again. But clearly, when it comes to Konuk’s exilic residence, nothing less than a historic landmark will do.
114. “Vergebene Chance,” Abgeordnetenhaus Berlin.
115. “Gründung der ‘Akademie im Exil’,“ Academy in Exile, translation mine.
116. Konuk, CV, January 2020.
117. Frigelj, “Exil in Deutschland.”
118. Konuk, East West Mimesis: Auerbach in Turkey, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010.
119. Konuk, CV, January 2020.
120. Işıl Uluçam-Wegmann, “Duisburg-Essen Üniversitesi Türkistik Enstitüsü Dilbilim Kürsüsü Başkanlığı’na seçilen Dr. phil. Işıl Uluçam-Wegmann ile yeni görevi üzerine bir söyleşi,” PoliTeknik, April/May 2014 [17 November 2021].
121. Uluçam-Wegmann, “Duisburg-Essen Üniversitesi.”
122. The extent to which UDE came to rue this approach can be measured by the person who was appointed to replace Konuk as Turkish Studies Director, Işıl Uluçam-Wegmann. A Turkish linguist and language teacher to the core, Uluçam-Wegmann has been at UDE since 2002, more than a decade longer than Konuk, and has had a “clean” career with no connection to Konuk until the latter came to Essen (Uluçam-Wegmann, “Akademischer Lebenslauf,” UDE [17 November 2021].
123. Raoul Motika, “Lebenslauf von Prof. Dr. Raoul Motika” [17 November 2021].
124. “Über uns,” Türkei Europa Zentrum [17 November 2021], translation and emphasis mine.
125. “Orient Institut Istanbul,” Max Weber Stiftung [17 November 2021]; “Festliche Verabschiedung von OII-Direktor Prof. Dr. Raoul Motika,” Newsletter, Orient-Institut Istanbul (Fall 2020), 8-15 [17 November 2021].
126. “Festliche Verabschiedung,” Orient-Institut Istanbul.
127. “About,” GTOT [17 November 2021].
128. Raoul Motika, “Zehn Jahre selbständiges Orient-Institut Istanbul – zehn Jahre Direktorat,” Newsletter, Orient-Institut Istanbul (Fall 2020), 4-7.
129. “Membership,” GTOT [17 November 2021].
130. In 2020, Motika was lauded for having opened up the field of Turkish Studies to “a formidable thematic breadth that went far beyond its classical, rather historical and linguistic orientation,” and for having promoted a “future-oriented research design through the establishment of interdisciplinary research fields and topics.” See “Festliche Verabschiedung,” Newsletter, Orient-Institut Istanbul, 11 and 8 respectively, translation mine. In 2014, “great successes in the attraction of third-party funding” were top of the list when Motika praised the achievements of the Orient Institut Istanbul. See Motika, “Editorial,” Newsletter, Orient-Institut Istanbul (April 2014), 2 [17 November 2021], translation mine.
131. In Motika’s own words, “cutting-edge research is almost exclusively possible in the form of cooperations.” See Motika, “Editorial,” Newsletter, Orient-Institut Istanbul (April 2016), 2 [17 November 2021].
132. “Turkologentag 2016,” conference program, GTOT, 48 and 60 respectively [17 November 2021].
133. “Diyar,” Nomos eLibrary [17 November 2021].
134. Konuk, CV, January 2020.
135. Konuk, CV, January 2020.
136. “Statement of the Society for Turkic, Ottoman and Turkish Studies,” GTOT, 24 April 2015 [17 November 2021].
137. “Activities,” GTOT [17 November 2021]. The specific seating arrangements are based on my own memory of the event.
138. I have removed the name of historian Berna Pekesen from the text because she kindly supplied me with the correction that she was not in charge of the Türkei Europa Zentrum in Hamburg but worked there on a research project she had solicited herself, independently of the center, before being appointed as a historian to the professorship in Essen. Pekesen has also pointed out that her Essen appointment was spearheaded by the History rather than the Turkish Studies department and was not made based on a clientelistic relationship with Konuk or other parties mentioned in the text. I am thankful to Pekesen for her clarification as well as the maturity and kindness she has shown in separating my error in her case from the bigger picture presented in the article. As I have pointed out elsewhere, such errors are inevitable despite my best intentions since I could not consult the people mentioned in the piece prior to publication to avoid the article being leaked. I remain open to any concerned party who, like Pekesen, would like to come forward and evidentially correct my assessment of their case.
139. For Kučera’s Hamburg appointment and the quality of his CV at the time, see Petr Kučera, “Akademischer Lebenslauf,” and Kučera, “Publikationen,” Türkei Europa Zentrum [17 November 2021]. For his various roles at GTOT, see “Vorstand” and “Mainz 2020,” GTOT, and “Herausgeber,” Nomos [17 November 2021].
140. For Rentzsch at GTOT, see “Vorstand,” GTOT. For Rentsch at Diyar, see “Herausgeber,” Nomos.
141. Hülya Adak, “My CV,” Sabanci University [17 November 2021].
142. Adak, “My CV.”
143. For the workshop, see Richard Wittmann and Gülşah Torunoğlu, “Workshop: ‘Mapping Gender in the Near East’ (9./10.12.2020),” Newsletter, Orient-Institut Istanbul (Spring 2021), 20-21 [17 November 2021]. For Adak’s role at SU Gender, see “Hülya Adak,” SU Gender [17 November 2021].
144. Adak, “My CV.”
145. “Egemen Özbek,” UDE [17 November 2021].
146. “Turkologentag 2016,” conference program, GTOT, 48 and 60 respectively.
147. For Kirchner, see “Diyar,” Ergon [17 November 2021]. For Rohdewald, see “Extended Editorial Board,” Nomos [17 November 2021].
148. I later found out that Prochaska-Eisl, along with her colleague Claudia Römer, had obtained her “Extraordinary Professorship” in Vienna by the same trick of overstaying her welcome that she was trying to deny to me.
149. For Köse’s career accomplishments, see “Univ.-Prof. Mag. Dr. Yavuz Köse,” University of Vienna [17 November 2021]. I have previously talked of the whole Vienna episode in my article, “Bir Türkologun dünya turu,” K24, 4 September 2018 [17 November 2021].
150. “Sinan Ciddi,” Foundation for Defense of Democracies [17 November 2021]. My assertion of Ciddi’s involvement with the Istanbul Policy Center is based on my personal observations at the time. Since the publication of this article, Ciddi has reached out to me and disputed the reasons why he discontinued the grant. While we could not reach a consensus on what kindled the defunding, Ciddi’s professed reason is that he closed down the entire Turkish Studies program for the sake of one course the university didn’t open (Turkish 101), thereby sacrificing the other nine Turkish Studies courses I was teaching at SFSU. How this may have advanced the cause of Turkish Studies in the US, as Ciddi claims to have done, is something I will leave to the reader to decide.
151. David Selim Sayers, Tıfli Hikâyerleri, Istanbul: Bilgi University Press, 2013.
152. For a detailed breakdown of Hüner-Cora’s career, see her CV on the Boğaziçi University site [17 November 2021].
153. Sabiha Sertel, The Struggle for Modern Turkey: Justice, Activism and a Revolutionary Female Journalist, translated by David Selim Sayers and Evrim Emir-Sayers, London: Bloomsbury, 2019.
154. Gabriele Cloeters, “Sertel, Sabiha: The Struggle for Modern Turkey. Justice, Activism and a Revolutionary Female Journalist,” WZKM, 111 (2021), 465-468. To add insult to injury, Cloeters cavalierly colonizes the author’s own name, rechristening her as “Sabine Sertel” (467).
155. “Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftler,” Türkei Europa Zentrum [17 November 2021].
156. “Gabriele Cloeters,” Istanbul Policy Center [17 November 2021].
157. “Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes,” University of Vienna [17 November 2021].
158. Konuk, CV, January 2020; “Prof. Dr. Volker M. Heins,” Centre for Global Cooperation Research [17 November 2021].
159. Motika, “Editorial,” Newsletter, Orient Institut Istanbul (October 2014), 2 [17 November 2021].
160. “Hülya Adak,” SU Gender.
161. “Univ.-Prof. Mag. Dr. Yavuz Köse,” University of Vienna [17 November 2021].
162. This argument has remained unchanged, and I mean literally unchanged down to its syntax and vocabulary, from Konuk’s very first talk on AiE in 2017 down to her 2020 article in Refugee Routes.
163. Lest we forget, the research underlying this piece is based on publicly available sources alone. The misdeeds I’ve outlined are therefore likely just the tip of the iceberg. For an example of what can happen when such a scandal truly hits the fan, see the Canadian Association of University Teachers’ boycott of the University of Toronto after the university’s hiring process for the Directorship of its International Human Rights Program was corrupted (Masha Gessen, “Did a University of Toronto Donor Block the Hiring of a Scholar for Her Writing on Palestine?,” The New Yorker, 8 May 2021 [17 November 2021]. I am thankful to my friend and colleague Tatiana Senkevitch for bringing this affair to my attention.
164. With the exception of my UDE correspondence, all sources used for this article were publicly available at the time of writing. To avoid possible leaks, I did not contact anyone mentioned in the text prior to publication. For this reason, some errors and misrepresentations will have inevitably crept into the narrative despite my best intentions. I am happy to grant right of response to anyone mentioned in the text. All you need to do is contact me and convey your comments; I will gladly incorporate them into the text as addenda and correct factual errors. Please do reach out; let’s not allow minor misunderstandings to obscure the bigger picture here.
165. Andie Ayala, “Students Petition Against the Non-Renewal of Michael Barry’s Contract,” Campus Watch, 3 March 2016 [17 November 2021]. The marginalization of outstanding scholars by quasi-feudal cliques is hardly confined to Near Eastern Studies. In his upcoming book, There Is No Such Thing as “Continental Philosophy”, my friend and colleague Kristof K.P. Vanhoutte points to Pierre Bourdieu’s assertion that French intellectuals such as Louis Althusser, Roland Barthes, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida, and Michel Foucault “held marginal positions in the university system which often disqualified them from officially directing research” (Bourdieu, Homo Academicus, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988, xviii).

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