Eminent Turkish prehistorian Necmi Karul publicly accused of sexual misconduct

Necmi Karul
As the #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct spreads across the globe, many powerful men (and a few women) who have abused their positions of power are being called out by survivors of their abuse. Most recently it was Luis Jaime Castillo Butters of Peru, who is now under investigation by his university.

Earlier this month, I Tweeted about allegations concerning Necmi Karul, a high profile prehistorian at Istanbul University, whose archaeological projects now include the spectacular and Neolithic site of Gobekli Tepe. Very shortly afterwards, the story hit the Turkish press, including a story in English. The university has now put Karul on administrative leave pending an investigation.

Two students have currently accused Karul of misconduct. One of them issued a five page public letter, which a colleague was kind enough to translate into English for me and which I have pasted below. It is very detailed and compelling.

I contacted Karul to get his comments on the allegations. I am posting his response in full:

Dear Professor Walter [sic],

Currently there is nothing more than the unattested claims in a letter; however, this has turned into a lynching campaign featuring the accumulated animosities that seems to have been exploded with fury to the dignity of my professional career. I have put the matter to the court, and as a legal process is on, I can make no further statements besides my explanation in my personal twitter account. Thus, until the legal process is over, I expect respect to my personal rights. One point noted in your twitter post needs to be corrected, I have not resigned, I am still keeping my position.


Necmi Karul

Prof. Dr. Necmi Karul
Istanbul University
Faculty of Letters,
Department of Prehistory
34459 Laleli İstanbul

Note from MB: I never wrote that Karul had resigned, only that he had been put on leave.

Here is the letter from the student referred to above, Canay Alpagut, which she intended to be public. I will post further developments as they arise.

Page 1:
1) "Where I come from, people ask: 'do you consent?'; so I'm asking you, 'do you consent Canay?". (Necmi Karul asked her this question)
When I was asked this question, I finally started to understand  that something was wrong. Even though things happened before that I did not want to believe actually happened, being asked the question "do you consent" unfortunately became only the beginning of the harassment I eventually lived through.

2) I am Canay Alpagut- someone whom you might know well or not so well, or not know at all. I started my archaeology education at Istanbul University in 2006 (as an undergraduate) and continued as a graduate (Master's) student in 2011, at the same university, graduating in 2016. I participated in the excavations at Aktopraklik between 2007-2016, and at Gusir Hoyuk between 2012-2014. I write this letter as a woman who was harassed by her "teacher" Necmi Karul (I worked with him for 10 years) and who has to tell her story no matter what and who was forced to change her life completely due to the harassment.

3) First, I started receiving messages that said "shall we drink raki together one evening?". Since I didn't understand (or could not imagine him doing this), I said "sure Professor why not, we can drink; or I can organize the whole excavation team to go out one evening". By using answers like this, I tried to manage the situation and to try to understand what was happening. But he called me one night when I was out and said "I am in Taksim with my friends, why don't you guys come and join us" (he had found out, when we were at school during the day, that I was going out that evening). This made me uneasy and scared, so I didn't want to go where he was- I was forced to lie and said "I am going home". From the tone of his voice, it was obvious that he was drunk. Then he started asking me some questions and when I said I didn't understand, he directly asked me: "Where I come from, people ask: 'do you consent?'; so I'm asking you, 'do you consent Canay?". I said "Professor, you are probably drunk, and my answer is no, let's close the subject". But of course it didn't end there- in fact, it was just beginning. Like many women who are harassed, I said to myself: "I must be misunderstanding him; this can't be what I think it is; a person with whom I've been working for many years and who has trained me and who I call Professor cannot be doing this to me". After a while, I understood that in fact, he could do it without any hesitation and feeling of shame. Even though the harassment was not that bad when we were in Istanbul (as a woman, one is even made to put up with this kind of behaviour), his behaviour became very disturbing during the times when we were doing fieldwork. For a long time, I blamed myself and asked myself if I caused this; if I behaved as if I was consenting; if I opened the door to him and allowed him to come in. This is the gist of the problem: the harassment is carried out in a hierarchical context and planned so that the woman blames herself, is not able to share her experiences with anyone and becomes unable to say anything.

4) Even though I was unable to say anything to him openly- the fact that I was running away from him every time he made a move, that I was evading his questions, that I never sat down to drink raki with him- all of these things showed clearly that this was not "something that both parties consented to". Regardless, he continued to push/harass me, and I continued to remain quiet.

Page 2:
1) He would always compliment my fingers, he would talk about how thin and long they were. When I was taking something from his hands or giving him something, or when we would look at artifacts together he would hold me from my fingers and try to pull me toward himself; and when I did not allow this and pulled my fingers back he would say "you are stupid". One incident I can never forget took place at the Gusir Hoyuk excavation house during the summer of 2014. When we went to the storeroom so I could show him something I had worked on, he held my fingers tight and pulled me toward himself; as I pulled myself back equally hard and could only exclaim "Professor!", he called me "stupid" and left, and did not talk to me for some time as if I was the one who was guilty.

 2) The harassment continued for 2 excavation seasons, due to the type of lifestyle allowed by fieldwork/excavation and the fact that I did not object to what was happening. I was face to face with special treatment and interest (from Necmi Karul) that I had not experienced before. Although what was happening was not mutual, I was very worried that people would misunderstand or think that there was something going on between us. Because here was an excavation "director" who was constantly preoccupied with me. I was afraid that if I reacted in any way, he could use his power to shut me up- I didn't know what to do because of my fear. I always found excuses. At the beginning I said to myself that he is my "Professor" and he is training me, and that's why he pays me special attention. I tried to make myself believe that the reason he was paying special attention to me was because our work has a social dimension and that this justifies closeness. For a long time, I tried to make myself believe that this was not harassment by finding reasons for it that didn't make sense. For a while I even thought that I was exaggerating. But when it became impossible for me to escape reality and to deny the truth, I was face to face with an obvious case of sexual harassment. I was not exaggerating, he was harassing me!

3) I thought about what I should do, for a long time. I started seeing a psychologist and of course got a lot of support from her. Thanks to this support, I knew that I needed to expose the harassment, but the whole thing ended with what was going on inside me. I was afraid and powerless; or I thought that I was powerless. I did not speak up because I was convinced that if I said anything about the harassment, I would be destroyed. I came up with solutions on a daily basis; I tried to stay away, I tried to be invisible as much as possible. I was writing my Masters thesis and thought that I should finish it no matter what; and yes, I did finish it. But what happened? I had to leave the city I loved (Istanbul, where I had wanted to live until I die), and the wounds/damage remained with me (which might stay with me for a lifetime). What happened? The harasser/abuser continued his life where he left off. Now I say to myself: I wish that I had not finished that thesis and had exposed Necmi Karul.

4) For me, everything became unbearable in 2015 during the Aktopraklik excavation season. At this point, his interest in me had become extreme. He wanted me to accompany him everywhere he went, and wanted me with him at all times. His interest in my fingers also continued. One time we had gone to the construction supplies store and he wanted to eat a meal together afterward and watch the Besiktas soccer game together. We sat down somewhere and while we were talking, he said that I had gained a little bit of weight and that I was beautiful, and that extra weight looked good on me.

Page 3:
1) Unfortunately, like many women, I also did not know what to do and said "Thank you, Professor(!)", instead of getting up and leaving. He tried to hold my fingers again and I said "Professor, please" and I was forced to move my arms under the table so he could not touch them. I was constantly wondering about what other people might be thinking; wondering if they were guessing what was happening and could not ask me, or if they genuinely did not see what was happening. I was wondering if other people were really not aware of the special attention I was getting (from Necmi Karul).

2) The same year (summer of 2015), during a week when we held the archaeological field school, when I was in the area of the site called "wooden houses" where we were to hold the metallurgy class, he (Necmi Karul) called me and told me he could see me from where he was standing. At first he asked me questions like "Is everything okay over there?"; then he said "I can see you from here, you're holding a water bottle; I'm very thirsty too, can you bring me some water", so I asked him where he was. He was in one of the wooden houses. I still remember the feelings I had as I walked to that wooden house. I went inside and gave him the water bottle. The way he looked at me was very disturbing. He was sitting on the floor and indicated with his hand that I should sit next to him on the floor (he said "come here"); I tried to avoid it with my usual "tactic" and made up an excuse that I had to go (I pointed out that there were people outside); and I left the room. I still remember the way he looked at me and his body language.

3) Since I was close to finishing my Master's, I had decided that I should finish my thesis and leave that place. I now look back at that time and recognize that I was going through a very difficult time psychologically. I had decided, definitively, that I should escape, instead of making a complaint about him, and I was planning my next steps accordingly. My aim was to finish my Master's degree and move to another country for my PhD.

4) During the same excavation season (summer of 2015), he had to examine the material (i.e. the artifacts) with me as my "thesis advisor", and since I was afraid to be alone with him, I was trying to make an appointment with him during the day, but he preferred the evening. On a night when he had set up his raki table and had started to drink, he suggested we look at the material/artifacts together. Toward the end of the evening, he came to the pottery garden/area. We started to look at the material. Every time I handed him a potsherd, he would touch my entire hand along with the potsherd and would constantly look at me in a disturbing way, with a suggestive smile in his face. After a while, he tried to pull me toward himself by holding my t-shirt, but I did not let him- I was frozen. Then he said "I am going to turn this table lamp off, I will go to my room, and you will follow me to my room". I said "no Professor, don't do this, I will not follow". He punched the table (covered of pottery) with his fist and repeated "I said you are coming", and then left the room. I can still hear the sound the pottery made, when he hit that table. I have not forgotten how my knees trembled from fear, after he left. I ran to my room and decided that I had to put a stop to this once and for all. The next day....

Page 4:
...we continued our lives as if nothing had happened the night before. But actually, it was over for me.

1) After the 2015 excavation season, I returned to Istanbul and concentrated on my thesis- I was convinced that I had to finish it and that otherwise the harassment would get worse/ugly (it was bad/ugly already). Soon after I submitted my Master's thesis (in June 2016) we went to the excavation site and I told everyone that I had decided to go to England (I had not told anyone this before). Since I had already made all the preparations nobody could object, but my "Professor" reacted to this and scolded me for making this decision independently. I told him that I had made this decision with my family and that I was going (to England) for language study. While this was true, my real aim was to get out of this black hole and to decide what I wanted to do. I left the excavation by telling people that I had to go to Istanbul to apply for a visa and that I would be back; but I never went back. Some of my friends on the dig asked me why I didn't tell anyone that I would not come back; I tried to deflect their questions by using my "tactic" and made up excuses by saying that I was not doing well psychologically. My "Professor" asked me why I would do such a thing and told me that he didn't know what to say to the other people on the dig about it (of course I could not tell him to explain to them that he had been sexually harassing me). After this, I started blaming myself even more, about why I left the dig and why I was lying. Necmi Karul asked me to write an email to him declaring that I was not doing well psychologically- it was obvious that he wanted to show the email to others and wanted to use the email to blame me, since he knew what he had done. Yes, maybe I should not have left the excavation and left my life behind, but I felt helpless and believed that I could save my life by doing this, so I ran away. I blamed myself even more because I ran away. When I arrived in England, I sent an email to my "Professor" which said that I was not doing well psychologically during that time and that this was why I had left the excavation; I even apologized. I was apologizing even though I was not guilty; he continued to come on top even though he knew what he had done (everything he had done).

2) I moved to Germany in 2017. I still live here and I am doing my PhD. Before I came here, I wrote him (Necmi Karul) emails to ask for a letter of recommendation. I had put a lot of time and effort into the Aktopraklik excavation, so I asked for what I deserved and I got it. After I settled down here (i.e., in Germany), I wrote to him and apologized again (I was feeling very guilty); I asked him to forgive me for having left the excavation in a manner that was inappropriate; I TAKE BACK ALL OF MY APOLOGIES, IN FRONT OF EVERYONE. I am not guilty but he is a harasser!

3) In this letter, I've told you about the incidents that have left me scarred the most. I have been living with the weight of these (and other incidents I have not mentioned here) for the last 4 years. I have been carrying this weight on my shoulders wherever I go; I want this weight to be lifted off my shoulders. I had been blaming myself for not facing him in the past and telling him that he is a "sexual harasser"; for running away without being able to tell anyone about it and for lying about it. I almost lost my self-esteem, self-respect, and honor, but feel that I am beginning to heal thanks to the new life I established here.

Page 5:
1) I started to regain my strength, and decided (as a woman) to expose this harassment no matter what. If there is anyone among you who are blaming me for leaving Necmi Karul behind, I am revealing the truth: Necmi Karul sexually harassed me and I ran away from him. I did not stab anyone in the back; rather, I left because I could not accept what was being done to me; I left because I was afraid; I left because I could not make a complaint and if I did, he would destroy me (with the power he held in his hand).

2) After a long time, when I started to heal, I understood that staying silent and hiding (myself) & keeping it a secret was nothing more than betraying myself. I cannot continue to live my life the way I want and do what I do well, if I don't overcome this (I cannot forget what happened). This harassment has in fact been bothering me for the last 4 years and has been continuing to damage me. Although I thought that I forgot what happened (what I was made to endure), that I had overcome the trauma, my wounds in fact have become deeper as I failed to confront it. Because, in fact, I did not forget anything. I realize now that I don't want to continue to live my life without completely killing off the virus that is inside of me. I cannot stay silent about what was done to me and betray the women who will work on that man's excavation projects in the future. I can no longer turn my back on women's solidarity. From now on, I have nothing to fear and nothing to hide. I am not afraid of anyone; I am here as a woman who was sexually harassed and I know my strength. I am not the person who should be afraid and who should blame herself/himself. I am here, holding my head high, and from this moment forward I choose to expose this harassment openly (I will not be silent in my personal life or my academic life).

Canay Alpagut

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