The appointment of Melih Bulu, a former deputy candidate of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), as the new rector of Bogazici University (BU) sparked a wave of protests across the country.
As a result, many students were reportedly detained over accusations of terrorism.
Neither students of BU, one of Turkey’s pioneering institutions, nor its academicians want a rector who is a supporter of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. University professors traditionally elected a new leader from among the university’s academicians, and one who is nominated by BU professors.
BU academicians initiated a protest on the campus Jan. 2 following the political appointment, turning their backs on the office of the new rector.
The protests became the top topic in the country when students began participating.
Irfan, a student of Bogazici University whose last name is being withheld for fear of arrest, said research into the new rector’s background uncovered some disturbing traits.
“We discovered that Bulu has homophobic expressions, discrimination of genders and plagiarism in his articles,” he said after being detained during the protests.
Erdogan responded to the university community’s stance by accusing them of terrorism.
“This country will not be a land where terrorists have control,” he said. “Are you students or terrorists who raid the rector’s room?”
Political attacks by the government were followed by physical attacks by the police. Anti-riot forces took the control of the campus and detained 159 protesters while anti-terror units raided some students’ homes, breaking down doors and pointing weapons during the raids.
“Some of our schoolmates were tortured by the law enforcement,” Irfan said.
Bulu said protestors barricaded the three doors of the rectorate building.
“They prevented the workers from stepping out of the building,” said Bulu, who insisted he will not resign his position. “Both students and academicians have rights to protest, but they forced the boundaries of democracy.”
Police operations and the tortures backfired, however, as the protest in Istanbul spread to other cities.
Mahir, a university student in Turkey’s capital Ankara and whose last name is being withheld for fear of arrest, supported the Bogazici students and academicians.
“During the police attack, I was knocked down with my friends,” he said. “Having pulled my arm, the police threatened me that if I do not release my arm, it would be broken.
The police forced some students to lie down and handcuffed wrists behind their backs with plastic cuffs.
“The handcuffs cut our wrists for hours. I saw that a student sitting on the wheelchair was unconscious, and his face was bloody,” Mahir said.
“The guy was beaten, and his face was kicked by the police,” he said. “They are trying us to scare and intimidate by showing his situation.”
Some university students from east regions also supported their peers’ struggle.
“I joined this movement to say stop to this ongoing process, and I believed that we could change many things with this resistance,” said Roza whose last name is being withheld for the fear of detention.
Her schoolmates wanted to read a press release against Erdogan’s political agenda in universities and the appointment of Bulu, but police did not allow them to join the protest. Anti-riot forces seized the student`s LGBTQ+ flags and detained some of the protestors.
“Police dragged students on the ground of the street, sprayed pepper gas in the face, and handcuffed backwards,” Roza said. “Is not it a torture?”
When Roza was detained, she was exposed to the psychological violence of the police. Also, the officers left them hungry and thirsty in a detention room.
They did not let her go to the washroom for around 12 hours.
“We had to resist even for this,” Roza said. “I never thought that one day I would have to defend the rights of my bladder, too.”
“The trustee rector will go, but we will still stay,” Roza said.
More than 500 students were detained and 10 of them were jailed during the past seven weeks.
“We must continue the peaceful protests without being discouraged, we will win sooner or later,” Mahir said.
Student protests continue at the south campus of the BU in Istanbul. Also, the academicians keep turning their backs to Bulu’s office in protest despite snowy weather conditions.