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In May, Turkey’s official statistics institute put the inflation rate at 73.5%, the highest in the country since 1998. The figure was immediately contradicted by Enag, an independent group of researchers, who rather puts it at 160.8%. Subject to legal attacks and pressure, the director of this organization will lose his post at the university where he officiated.

Camped behind imposing gray mustaches, hands in the pockets of his apron, Zeki casts a disillusioned look at the fruits and vegetables arranged in abundance in front of his grocery store in Moda, in the heart of the Asian district of Kadiköy, in Istanbul.

“Look at my beautiful pink tomatoes,” he says with a flick of his chin. “They come directly from Antalya. Normally, in this season, everyone tears them away. What a waste.”

A year ago, he offered them at 8 Turkish liras per kilo (45 euro cents). Today, he cannot sell them for less than 20 pounds (1.10 euros), more than twice as much. A difference that economists attribute to inflation. But not the President of the Republic, Recep Tayyip Erdogan: the latter assured, on June 6, that such a phenomenon did not exist in Turkey but that – nuance – his country suffered from a cost of living problem.

“Data manipulation”

The tendency to want to minimize the seriousness of the economic situation is confirmed at the highest level of the State. The director of Tuik, Turkish National Statistics, was sacked at the end of January after publishing an inflation rate deemed too high. Then, in May, this institute sued Enag, the independent Turkish research group on inflation, accusing it of publishing figures in order to damage the reputation of the establishment.

The man who heads Enag, Veysel Ulusoy, is about to lose his job at Yeditepe University in Istanbul, where he had been teaching since 2010. He is being accused of “having attitudes and behavior contrary to duty of diligence required by the title he bears” and to “divert the resources, places, installations and devices provided or allocated to scientific research” on behalf of his activities within Enag, which he disputes.

The economist Veysel Ulusoy and his institute Enag are targeted after having published inflation figures much higher than the official data.
The economist Veysel Ulusoy and his institute Enag are targeted after having published inflation figures much higher than the official data. © Ludovic de Foucaud, France 24

The person concerned confides that he is not otherwise surprised by what is happening to him. “I expected this from the start but didn’t think it would be based on such absurd reasons. It raises questions: the possibility that the university’s rush to launch an investigation was motivated by outside pressure. “

However, this exclusion does not seem to discourage him. “Enag will continue to provide data to public and financial institutions in a corporatist framework” because, says Veysel Ulusoy, government communication in economic matters reveals “data manipulation”.

This dismissal even allows him to stick to his principles: “Staying in an institution [l’université, NDLR] who has lost his philosophy would cost me too much”, he comments.

Threat to academic freedom

The Ulusoy case once again sheds light on the situation of researchers and academics in Turkey. The country ranks 135th out of 144 in the Academic Freedom index. The possibility for the president to appoint academic staff by decree since 2016 has a lot to do with it. The latest report states that between 2011 and 2021, “Brazil, Hong Kong, India, and Turkey experienced the largest declines in academic freedom.”

Didier Billion, deputy director of IRIS and specialist in Turkey confirms: “this is not a new fact but the phenomenon has tended to increase since the failed coup of 2016. Without being openly militant or opposed in government, many academics prefer to self-censor for fear that their research will appear too critical and this is concerning.”

The geo-political scientist believes that as the elections scheduled for June 2023 draw closer, “the political environment is becoming tense. The polls are not good for the president and there are no indicators to suggest that the economic crisis will be curbed. Under these conditions, and this is a constant in regimes that can be described as authoritarian, he continues, the Head of State tends to listen only to his intuitions and to surround himself with people who dare not contradict him”.

It is in this context of tension that on Wednesday, the Turkish National Assembly must debate a new text which provides for sentences of one to three years in prison for the authors of “publication of misleading information”. For Professor Ulusoy, there is no doubt that this will also concern those who dare to relay the figures of Enag.

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