Professor Niyazi Eruslu – why under detention?

Professor Niyazi Eruslu, the founding Rector of Yalova University near Istanbul, has been held in detention in the aftermath of the coup attempt of 15 August 2016. While President Erdogan deserves to be much admired for his statesmanship, boldness and Muslim internationalism – for example bringing economic prosperity to large sections of Turkish society, famously clashing with Shimon Peres in Davos, accommodating about 2 million Syrian refugees – arbitrary arrests of academics of integrity are unbecoming to him personally and a blot on Turkey’s reputation.

Professor Niyazi Eruslu was a PhD student in the Department of Metallurgy at the University of Sheffield in the mid-1970s. His leadership potential was noticeable even then. In July 1974 he was elected to the executive committee of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) in the UK at its 12th annual conference held in Salford. The following year, in Owens Park, Manchester, he was elected FOSIS vice-president. He was a key organiser of its 1976 annual conference in Loughborough, arranging for the participation of the distinguished Turkish economist Sabahaddin Zaim. When Niyazi returned to Turkey he took up teaching posts at Sakarya University and later the Istanbul Technical University, serving at the latter as Chairman of its Department of Metallurgy and Materials Engineering. He took charge of the Yalova project around 2008, when the campus was a few scattered buildings. He assembled a dedicated team and by 2014 it was a fully-functioning university as good as any state university, undertaking leading edge research in diverse fields from energy systems to distant learning programmes.

In spite of attaining high office, Niyazi did not forget old friends, extending them courtesy and hospitality, particularly to FOSIS alumni. It is a sad moment for Erdogan’s Turkey to deny such a man his liberty, and to deny the nation’s students a dedicated educationalist. These are irrational actions of an autocrat that bodes ill for Turkey’s future well-being and harmony. Remember Elif Şafak: “cycles of hurt and sorrow are handed down from one generation to the next”.