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I know this is off-topic, not even being a question.

MathOverflow user Kıvanç Ersoy has been jailed, apparently for signing a petition.

Edit: As mentioned in comments, there is a petition about this issue from the Turkish Mathematical Society (the link contains the text of the petition in Turkish and English and gives an email address for those who want to add their signature), and also a petition on change.org.

Update (22-Apr-2016): According to this source, Kıvanç Ersoy has been released from prison today.

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  • 4
    $\begingroup$ What is the point of this posting? (To be clear, this is meant as an honest question. It is just not clear to me if you intend this purely informational, want to start an exchange on the subject, want further information on the subject, want some action to be taken, etc) $\endgroup$ – user9072 Mar 18 '16 at 11:40
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    $\begingroup$ @quid Purely informational. $\endgroup$ – Jeremy Rickard Mar 18 '16 at 11:41
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps this post would be more appropriate at tea.mathoverflow.net ? $\endgroup$ – Joel Reyes Noche Mar 18 '16 at 13:19
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    $\begingroup$ @JoelReyesNoche I feel posting something on "tea" does not make all that much sense these days. If anything I'd recommend to mention it in a chat room (though the general MO chat is not really active either). $\endgroup$ – user9072 Mar 18 '16 at 20:44
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    $\begingroup$ @JoelReyesNoche "MathOverflow users to communicate with each other about MathOverflow" are the users of MathOverflow not pertinent to MathOverflow? $\endgroup$ – tox123 Mar 18 '16 at 21:07
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    $\begingroup$ I think we should not worry so much about what exactly is allowed or not allowed, if many mathematicians find the discussion/question interesting and on topic. That is, I'd go for a "descriptivist" rather than a "prescriptivist" theory of MO, or meta questions. $\endgroup$ – Lucia Mar 18 '16 at 22:41
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    $\begingroup$ Jeremy, is there a movement under way to help? $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Mar 19 '16 at 1:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Todd I have no personal connection to the case: I read about it, thought I recognized the name and found his MO user page when I Googled. But there is a petition from the Turkish Mathematical Society (in Turkish and English) on their website tmd.org.tr/kivanc-ersoy-tutuklandi, with an email address to send signatures. $\endgroup$ – Jeremy Rickard Mar 19 '16 at 10:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton: There is also a petition for Kıvanç Ersoy on change.org where it is more obvious how to sign (and a considerable number of colleagues have already done so). $\endgroup$ – Stefan Kohl Mar 19 '16 at 10:59
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    $\begingroup$ Jeremy, the change.org petition does welcome such comments, but my own feeling is that every little bit helps and it's fine just to sign anyway. I have done so (with a comment, even though I can't say I know Dr. Ersoy) and also sent an email to the address provided at the link you gave. $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Mar 19 '16 at 12:34
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    $\begingroup$ @post.as.a.guest If not read incorrectly, then certainly interpreted incorrectly. Does the fact that a user of MathOverflow posts, on a site devoted to the workings of MathOverflow, about the plight of another user of MathOverflow really make you think that they don't care about the similar plights of other people? I'd take the opposite inference. If there were an isomorphic thread on PsychologyOverflow meta about the psychologist, by PO users I didn't otherwise know, then I think that would, if anything, increase my estimate of how likely they were to care about the mathematician. $\endgroup$ – Jeremy Rickard Mar 20 '16 at 10:28
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    $\begingroup$ By contrast I find it strange to "conclud[e] this posting" by pointing to petitions. The actual situation is in no way resolved by this, and to pretend otherwise is not appropriate in my opinion. The information on petitions could just as well be edited into the main post, or at least the answer should not be accepted. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Mar 21 '16 at 10:40
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for posting this. I've added my name to the two petitions, and here's hoping there is a swift and happy end to this. $\endgroup$ – Nick Gill Mar 27 '16 at 20:04
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    $\begingroup$ I'm calling for an end to this discussion, which is increasingly opinion-based. People have some bare facts that they can investigate and act on to their hearts' content, but MO (or MO meta) is really not a place for a political discussion. $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Apr 2 '16 at 4:25
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    $\begingroup$ According to a message passed on by Giovanni Falcone (from the change.org petition), Kıvanç Ersoy was released. No mention of the other two. $\endgroup$ – Emil Jeřábek Apr 22 '16 at 21:27
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As I mentioned in one of my comments, I wrote a Turkish academic in the United States who is close to this issue, and she kindly responded thus:

Dear Todd (if I may),

I just received the following petition email:

Ros Petchesky, Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Cuny's Hunter College, drafted a letter to Asst Secretary of State for Human Rights from US-based academics, in solidarity with the academics for peace in Turkey who were arrested last week. Would you like to add your signature and forward to your networks for those who might want to sign? I'm attaching the letter [which is effectively in the link below -- TT].

If you would like to sign, please send me your name, or add it directly to this google doc https://docs.google.com/document/d/1qv90TAZvrYo8L-gFsocQRjF5afVr6jYOyqe7eTajxOk/edit?usp=sharing

Best wishes, Cigdem

Çiğdem Çıdam Assistant Professor Department of Political Science Union College

(This "answer" is not for "acceptance"; it is just for informational purposes to give another venue in which to read and sign. I am posting it as an answer because it would seem to fit well neither in the Original Post nor in a comment box.)

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    $\begingroup$ This "answer" may help address the concerns of post.as.a.guest expressed in a comment. $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Mar 21 '16 at 18:36
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    $\begingroup$ With the original petition (bianet.org/english/human-rights/…), I'm still unsure how being an "academic" counts for anything in the protest (it's not e.g. over academic freedoms, but general ones), other than to be rebutted by Erdogan as "so-called intellectuals, unscholarly". If the last paragraph instead began "We, as construction workers and baristas..." it would still make sense (to me), but would there be such agitation? Maybe "Academics for Peace" is not a great "X for Y" per se, as "Academics for Academic Freedom" would be. $\endgroup$ – post.as.a.guest Mar 27 '16 at 8:53
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    $\begingroup$ @post.as.a.guest I do not claim any particular expertise on this specific subject but it appears that varied other groups in fact also have "their" initiatives. It is not very clear to me what your specific concern is. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Mar 27 '16 at 18:12
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    $\begingroup$ As an imperfect analogy say a (non-anonymous) MathOverflow user was part of a group called "Academics for Life" and was arrested/jailed in an anti-abortion protest (or any other hot-button issue). Would we see a MathOverflow meta-post (not to mention the petitions)? Somehow, I doubt it. In the given case, "Peace" can be interpreted as a codeword for the political desideratum "Kurdish independence", depending on perspective (I don't entirely agree with it, but see above analogy). A contrarian viewpoint would be there is more "virtue signalling" about Turkey/war than any academic/math issue. $\endgroup$ – post.as.a.guest Mar 28 '16 at 3:48
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    $\begingroup$ Note: I don't blame Jeremy Rickard personally for posting his info-blurb in the first place (the background is not easy to navigate), but I think the larger issues should incline that ultimately this is creeping MathOverflow toward general politics (rather than specifically math-based politics, such as math department closures). Also, I'm not necessarily giving my own opinion in my comments, but just playing a bit of devil's advocate, as to what an alternative perception might be. (E.g. there are some Mideast grad students here who are a bit bemused of the US State Dept intervening) $\endgroup$ – post.as.a.guest Mar 28 '16 at 4:06
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    $\begingroup$ @post.as.a.guest "Would we see a MathOverflow meta-post (not to mention the petitions)?" This purely depends on whether someone posts one. The reception is a different matter. This would remain to be seen. I think it would depend on the exact context. The reason why this got/gets so much support thought is I think not the question you hint at, but rather the fact, or at least the perceived fact (that no-one contradicted), that somebody got arrested for signing a petition. First linked text it is said roughly by somebody: original petition was not a good idea but the arrest is uncalled for.) $\endgroup$ – user9072 Mar 28 '16 at 13:13
  • $\begingroup$ Beyond that I agree that it is not a good idea if MO gets involved in politics, as on an international site this is even more complicated than on more local levels (where it is already complicated enough). There was a reason why I asked what the point of the posting was. Still the current cause seems relatively clear cut as what is at stake is the imbalance between signing a petition and getting arrested. This happens to be close to Academic freedom too, in case it is relevant. On the other hand that departement closure thread was about the worst thing that ever happen on this site. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Mar 28 '16 at 13:18
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    $\begingroup$ Tangentially it appears to me that your actual problem/concern is very US centered. "there are some Mideast grad students here who are a bit bemused of the US State Dept intervening" The unqualified usage of "here" is a hint (your other example was another). In that sense and as said, I feel you blow the actual issue at stake here out of proportion. @post.as.a.guest $\endgroup$ – user9072 Mar 28 '16 at 13:38
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    $\begingroup$ I am going to warn the contributors to this thread that if back and forth comments go on much longer (or maybe even any longer at all), they will be moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Mar 28 '16 at 14:09
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I happened to see this post, and I'd like to add some words from the other side of the barbed wire.

It's a puzzle for me why posts like this are controversial here. I have never been in Turkey, and I belive, the situation there is better than in Russia, where I live. Anyway, independently on this concrete case, it is evident for me that the idea to eliminate morality, humanity, solidarity and everything what is not yet well axiomatized, from profession, is a way to Animal Farm.

Of course it is natural, and moreover, inevitable that people separate profession from the rest of the life. In science it's a part of abstract thinking. But this does not mean that professionals can become robots. This continues my old discussion with people at tea.mathoverflow. Look what happens to laywers, jornalists, historians, artists, writers, state employees, even physicians in modern Russia. I assure you, they believe that they are good professionals. And they have reasons to think this. And (visually) they are not monsters from horror films. They just separate profession from the rest of the life consistently, without doubts.

When you do this, your professional life becomes simple, but only until the moment when you meet people from another profession. (Is there a necessity to explain this?)

You may think that this is something specifically Russian, an old tradition, a peculiarity that can't manifest itself in your country. But this is not so, I dare to say that the rational explanation of this is very simple: the lack of horizontal connections between people, and it can manifest itself everywhere.

And it is easy to see that when professionals separate their profession from the world too consistently (this happens all the way everywhere), this becomes an obstacle for the developement even for the developement of the profession itself. As an illustration, you can look at the discussion about the axiomatization of quantum mechanics that I initiated not long ago (excuse me for self-references): a simple and natural mathematical question becomes controversial, because "you actually can't ask this".

In 1990ies many Russian mathematicians left Russia. Some people say, 50%. I hope, that was good for Western mathematics, because many good mathematicians came to the West. But evidently that was awful for Russian mathematics, because nobody from the West came to Russia instead.

So I want to ask, wouldn't it be better for mathematics if this necessity for Russian mathematicians to run away from their own country did not exist? I would say, the world would be much more comfortable for mathematicians if they could seek job everywhere: Russian mathematicians in the West, western mathematicians in Russia, and all mathematicians everywhere.

What mathematicians can do for this is trying to be people, not robots. When you see a colleague in trouble, you shouldn't kill your human motives. Help him. In feudal societies where many mathematicians live now, the help from colleagues from abroad is often the only hope.

EDIT 26.04.2016. Stefan Kohl informed you already that Kivanç Ersoy has been released eventually. I also received this letter of 22.04.2016 from Giovanni Falcone. And four days before, 18.04.2016, I read news about Sergei Mohnatkin, a Russian human rights activist. This can be a good illustration for our dispute. Sergei Mohnatkin is not an active mathematician, he only has a mathematical education, but for what I want to say this is not very important, because what happened to him happens to active mathematicians as well (see e.g. here or here -- however, these people have loud names in the scientific world, in contrast to Mohnatkin, that is the qualitative difference, I believe). Mohnaktin's crime was that once in 2009 he was going down the street (at that moment he worked as a pizza peddler, a person who brings pizza to clients, and he had pizza at his hands), and accidentally he saw how police disperse a demonstration in defence of Constitution. You know mathematicians: everything illogical causes protest in their souls. When he saw a policeman rudely dragging a woman into a police car, he stood up for this woman. The policeman dragged him as well, and put him into prison. He was released only two years later, in 2012. After that he began to participate the demonstrations in defense of Constitution, and in 2013 they again put him into prison, and he is still there. On April 18, 2016, it became known that they broke his spine.

enter image description here

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  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I find your second paragraph (that is the one after the leading sentence) problematic, and I do not think it captures why some are skeptical regarding the merits of having such content on this site. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Mar 29 '16 at 20:41
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    $\begingroup$ @quid, what is your explanation? $\endgroup$ – Sergei Akbarov Mar 29 '16 at 21:00
  • $\begingroup$ There are numerous subjects that are controversial in one way or another. Let us stick to the current situation. As said, I find the very specific incident relatively clear cut, but already the original petition 'academics for peace' appears to be more complex. Somebody might say who could not be 'for peace'? but after all the linked article quotes a Turkish computer scientist on this petition as 'he felt it to be unbalanced and unhelpful. But he says that he “wouldn’t have guessed that something like this would happen — it is extremely disturbing”.' $\endgroup$ – user9072 Mar 29 '16 at 21:36
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    $\begingroup$ So let us rewind three months and assume somebody would have posted about that 'academics for peace' What then? Apparently some Turkish academics find it 'unhelpful'. Do we want to promote something 'unhelpful'? Of course others find it helpful. Who is right? (Likely both in a way.) What's more most users of MO, including me, will not have an educated opinion either way. (A few likely/naturally will have opinion or sensibilities in one way or another.) I just do not think anything of actual relevant usefulness will come out of such things. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Mar 29 '16 at 21:39
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    $\begingroup$ Yet, the risk for somebody to be alienate is rather high. I find it is also something valueable if mathematics is done together by people with vary different backgrounds and worldviews. This site can enable this. But to do so effectively I feel it needs to be somewhat of a neutral place. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Mar 29 '16 at 21:39
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    $\begingroup$ quid, this is vague for me. Are you careful because in your opinion there is not enough information about this case, or because you think that in any case professional societies must be neutral? In which case you think people should show their solidarity with a colleague? $\endgroup$ – Sergei Akbarov Mar 29 '16 at 22:26
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    $\begingroup$ I said nothing about professional societies; this site is not a professional society. This is precisely the issue Gerhard Paseman and Todd Trimble discussed. This site just does not have the infrastructure to properly handle such things. It could only be individuals acting. And for most cases most will not be informed sufficiently well or at all (and to be sure most of the time I will be in the not informed part). This is not a critique, the world is just a complicated place. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Mar 29 '16 at 22:50
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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Apr 1 '16 at 13:01
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In true Jeopardy style, I respond with "What is a recent political concern which bears some relation to MathOverflow and with which the forum community might concern itself?"

More seriously, the search for how this community should behave with respect to its own members and to forces/events/people outside itself continues. I can view Jeremy Rickard's post as a violation of existing policies and counter to the intent of maintaining a well functioning forum. I can also view it as an experiment to see how the community reacts and responds to a particular social concern, pulling the community away from the status quo or comfort zone.

If the community is willing to expand the scope of meta to include postings of this type, then there should be more thought put into the possible consequences. One particular consequence may be that this action is considered as being approved by MathOverflow LLC and the large part of the community. (I wish a good resolution for Dr. Ersoy and am somewhat ambivalent about how this particular post is viewed; I am strongly opposed to having someone conclude " because I am on MathOverflow and am responding to this post, I must be in favor of the post and the actions it promotes ".) In particular, one must be careful in going to a community and asking its individuals for support, and distinguish that from going to a community and assume that the entire community will support the actions.

I encourage all who read this post to consider it a call to moving to the next stage: instead of being a self-assembled collection of individuals with a shared interest of generating and curating a base of knowledge and inquiry into mathematics, to being a community with some form of governance and ability to respond in a coherent fashion to various things. We've done pretty well so far, but I see the time nearing for a decision: community as is, or community as it could be?

Gerhard "Will Do What For Community?" Paseman, 2016.03.21.

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    $\begingroup$ My own view of Jeremy's post is that it is (or should be, ideally) a nonce post -- and I suspect that is how Jeremy intends it. (As would be a post concerning the passing of a colleague or great mathematician.) It is off-topic for MO meta, but a MathOverflow colleague may be in trouble and I personally am willing to override some scruples about being on-topic to try to help in some small way. I don't think however that this is the beginning of a new direction that MO may be taking -- an "experiment" -- that needs discussion because further such experiments are envisaged. $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Mar 21 '16 at 22:18
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    $\begingroup$ I would agree with that view, except the end result is ending up being more than what I would expect of a nonce post. If it did nothing more than inform and inspire activity outside MathOverflow, that would be fine. This has the potential to affect MathOverflow as a community regardless of Jeremy's intention or your view (and ideally mine too). I am urging more reflection on this. Gerhard "It's More Than We See" Paseman, 2016.03.21. $\endgroup$ – Gerhard Paseman Mar 21 '16 at 22:33
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    $\begingroup$ I'm sorry if my own answer is contributing to your feeling. In case it needs to be said, my answer should be read as though with my moderator hat off. (By no means do I speak here for "MathOverflow LLC".) Also, I wrote it as follow-through on my earlier comment, and to provide something for those who feel as post.as.a.guest does. Beyond that, I am actually quite loath to appear here as some kind of social justice warrior, and I generally keep my political sensibilities to myself. I suggest reading both Jeremy's post and mine purely as information; what people do with it is entirely up to them. $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Mar 22 '16 at 1:52
  • $\begingroup$ I am rather confused what your specific concern is. The post seems to start out to caution against this and related posts and activities, yet then it seems to turn around completely at the end. Anyway, this thread is in my opinion not a good place to discuss this in detail. But you might consider starting a thread at some point in the future. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Mar 22 '16 at 11:12
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    $\begingroup$ @ToddTrimble: I think it should be uncontroversial that mathematicians support their colleagues who are persecuted by an authoritarian state. $\endgroup$ – Stefan Kohl Mar 22 '16 at 23:18
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    $\begingroup$ @StefanKohl I agree, and had no qualms responding as I did. I did want to get the point across that my intent wasn't to inaugurate a new social justice direction for MO. $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Mar 22 '16 at 23:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Stefan, I don't know whether it would be uncontroversial, but I would find it unsurprising that many mathematicians would lend such support. Part of my point is that having MathOverflow do it is controversial, and another part is that this post, whether or not it is intended as nonce, may have the effect or cause the perception that MathOverflow as a community lends such support. Are we ready to go there, or have that happen? Gerhard "Hasn't Finished His Packing Yet" Paseman, 2016.03.22. $\endgroup$ – Gerhard Paseman Mar 22 '16 at 23:31
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    $\begingroup$ "MathOverflow" isn't doing it; some users are doing it. All I can say is that a perception of MO as a monolith that is doing something here would be pure confusion, an error, and moreover I'm not aware there is any such general perception. $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Mar 23 '16 at 15:36
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    $\begingroup$ I think it should be uncontroversial that mathematicians support their colleagues who are persecuted by an authoritarian state... I don't see how anyone's status as a "mathematician" should be per se relevant, as it was non-mathematical actions that brought about persecution (using your term). Rather, math colleagues should offer support to someone who is persecuted for doing mathematics which is of course different. Otherwise, it is just a political show, as to whether X "as a mathematician" happens to agree with Y "who's also a mathematician" and is facing jail for outside reasons. $\endgroup$ – post.as.a.guest Mar 27 '16 at 8:23
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    $\begingroup$ @post.as.a.guest "mathematicians" is mainly relevant in that it so happens this is a site mainly populated by mathematicians; you could replace it by "the users of this site." Furthermore, the original motivation of OP to post was that they know the person in question (or at least recognized the name) by virtue of mathematical activity. Orthogonally, while I can very abstractly understand some of your concerns, I feel you are trying a bit hard to take issue. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Mar 27 '16 at 17:45

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