Students should join politics or not

"This will go on" : Police besieged Istanbul University - students do not want to give up

A new normal reigns in front of the gates of the renowned Bosphorus University in Istanbul. High barriers cordon off the streets, armored vehicles and water cannons wait in the side streets, police officers in riot gear and with automatic rifles patrol. This siege atmosphere has been prevalent for weeks.

Riot police sit bored in the courtyard of a nearby mosque while students run the gauntlet through the ranks of the security forces to get to their campus. There are currently no classes, but now and then brutal police operations like at the beginning of the week when more than 150 students were arrested and taken away in handcuffs.

Nevertheless, many students come to the university again on Wednesday mornings. Why are they doing this to themselves? “We want democracy here and at all universities,” says the 22-year-old philosophy student Ali.

Ali, who refuses to give his real name for fear of reprisals, has come to campus to support his lecturers. In protest against the new rector, the teachers stand on the lawn with their backs to the rectorate building every day - journalists are not allowed, says a police officer at the entrance. Nevertheless, there are pictures of the actions, because the employees of the university and the students cannot be denied access.

They all oppose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's decision to appoint the pro-government academic Melih Bulu as rector of the Bosporus University. Since Erdogan's decree of January 1, there have been protests at the university, which is one of the best in the country and which has always elected its rectors itself.

The demonstrations are also directed against the high-handed leadership style of 66-year-old Erdogan - and they show how deep the gap is between the young generation and the Turkish government, which has been in power for almost 20 years. Some consider it no longer bridgeable. Erdogan's nationalist coalition partner Devlet Bahceli says the demonstrators are "not our children", but vandals, barbarians and "poisonous snakes whose heads have to be crushed".

Bulu is sure of victory. He rejects requests to resign from the opposition because he has Erdogan behind him, and that is the most important thing for state employees like him in Turkey. He sometimes condescently describes the protests as excesses of adolescent hormone surges, sometimes as the work of provocateurs hostile to the state.

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Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, the leading hardliner in Erdogan's cabinet, calls the students “perverts” because a picture of the Kaaba in Mecca was combined with an LGBT flag at a rally and because the Bosphorus University previously had an LGBT club. The authorities have now closed the club. LGBT culture, says Soylu on television, is alien to Turkey and is being carried into the country from the West in order to destroy the institution of the Turkish family.

Arrests after discussions on social networks

Dialogue is impossible. The government doesn't want him anyway, as the hundreds in front of the entrances to the Bosphorus University show. Any resistance should be nipped in the bud. A solidarity demonstration in the Kadikoy district was broken up by the police on Tuesday evening with irritant gas and plastic bullets, and dozens were arrested again. The authorities had banned the rally with reference to the corona pandemic - although the meeting of an Islamist association was allowed to take place in Istanbul and although Erdogan's ruling party, the AKP, is currently holding a whole series of state party conferences in full halls.

The judiciary is also hunting for student supporters on the Internet. The lawyer Ali Gül reports that four participants in a discussion about the university protests in the Clubhouse network were arrested for sedition because they demanded the release of their fellow students. "You can only laugh at that," says Gül.

Media close to the government alternately blame left-wing extremist organizations and Western intelligence agencies responsible for the demonstrations. Erdogan's government fears unrest like the Gezi protests of 2013, even if there are no signs so far that other social groups are joining the students.

But young people are not discouraged. “This will go on, it will spread, and in the end the rector will step down,” one student is sure of. The past few weeks have already done a lot of damage. Even before the protests broke out, two out of three young Turks saw their future abroad. For almost 70 percent, freedom of expression is very important, according to a survey by the Sodev Foundation, which cooperates with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

"I'll be out of here after graduation"

Erdogan can put his police on the necks of the young people, but he does not make friends in the important group of young voters. Youth unemployment in Turkey is 25 percent, and even higher for young academics. In the referendum on the introduction of the presidential system four years ago, 60 percent of young Turks voted against Erdogan's plan. In the local elections two years ago, in which the AKP suffered heavy defeats in Istanbul, Ankara and other cities, 68 percent of the first-time voters turned against the president.

Buse, a 28-year-old doctoral student at Bosporus University, has already drawn the necessary conclusions for himself. The young woman with colored strands in her hair is also on her way to the lecturers' protest rally at the Bosphorus University on Wednesday morning. She wants Headmaster Bulu to go away. The state wants to portray the students as terrorists, she says, but the protests will continue. She herself no longer wants to wait for something to improve in Turkey. “I got a job in Spain,” says Buse. "I'll be out of here after graduation."

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