FACT CHECK: Here's why Jamia Millia is giving honorary doctorate to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Social media is seething with anger following reports of Jamia Milia conferring an honorary doctorate on Turkish President Erdogan.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is on a two-day tour to India, will be presented with an honorary doctorate degree at Jamia Millia Islamia today. The university will confer the Degree of Letters (Honoris Causa) to Erdogan in a special convocation.

A section of students and alumni, however, expressed dismay over Erdogan’s visit, claiming that he was involved in “human rights violation” against civilians in Turkey and that he has systematically targeted students and put them behind bars for dissenting. They had also started an online campaign, appealing to the varsity to cancel the decision to honour Erdogan.

“Erdogan has won a flawed and fraudulent plebiscite in order to crown himself the unchallenged dictator of Turkey, is a toxic influence in Turkish public life, in West Asia and in the world at large. He has stifled dissent, cracked down on the rights of working people, women and minorities in Turkey and is conducting a brutal war on the peoples of Kurdistan,” read the petition.

Even on social media the move by Jamia hasn’t gone down well. Twitter timelines are replete with posts on this.

Speaking to InUth, Nasir Lone, who has been  a student of Turkish language course, termed the university’s decision as unfortunate and said that Jamia could have avoided giving Erdogan a honorary doctorate.

“It is unfortunate that the university has chosen a dictator to give such a prestigious degree. The way Erdogan has been handling things in Turkey, he doesn’t deserve to be honoured, and that too by Jamia,” he said.

Earlier, the Jamia Millia Islamia University had awarded the Saudi Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud an honorary doctorate for his contribution to peace and promotion of Indo-Saudi ties.

Following the online petition, the university officials, said: “Erdogan’s visit is a matter of honour for Jamia. A section of students is unnecessarily trying to disrupt the event.”

Read the full petition here

Amid controversy over the university’s decision, we bring you a few reasons as to why the Jamia Millia has decided to honour the Turkish President:

  • Jamia Millia Islamia is the only university in the country offering diploma and a three years undergraduate course in the Turkish language.
  • JMI and Yunus Emre Institutive from Republic of Turkey are working together for running these courses. Yunus Emre Institute provides teachers and text books needed for the courses.
  • The visit of the president may prove to be very fruitful for the education sector and other sectors. Further collaborations may be made between India and Turkey in future
  • Jamia regularly organises student exchange programmes with Turkey. Around 30 students have visited the country, so far.
  • In 2016, the the Turkish government had expressed its desire to fund a Turkish language and literature centre building at Jamia Millia Islamia. Constructing a separate building would allow the university to expand its Turkish programmes that have become popular with students.

This is not the first time that conferring honorary doctorates to a controversial figure has led to outrage.

Here are some other examples from across the world of the same. 

  • In 2013, a Malaysian university was criticised for awarding an honorary doctorate in economics to Kim Jong-un. His dictarorial excesses apart, the Malaysian University’s move received flak because North Korea being one of the poorest countries in the world.
  • In 2001, George W Bush received an honorary degree from Yale University where he had earned his bachelor’s degree in history in 1968. Some students and faculty chose to boycott the university’s 300th commencement, protesting this move.
  • In 2007, protesters demanded that the University of Edinburgh revoke an honorary degree awarded to Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe in 1984.
  • In February 2012, Rosmah Mansor, the wife of the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak was controversially awarded an honorary doctorate by the Curtin University for “services to childhood education”. Alumni and students contended that the government-funded centres are “an abuse of taxpayers’ money.”