Protests at the prestigious Boğaziçi University against Professor Melih Bulu, who was last week appointed rector by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, continued expanding to other districts of İstanbul, while two of the protestors, formerly detained by police, were referred to court for arrest on Thursday.
Defiance targeting Bulu, a ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) candidate from İstanbul in the 2015 general election and previously the rector of the İstanbul-based Haliç University, who holds a doctorate in business administration from Boğaziçi, is mainly due to his political background and appointment without an election.
Bulu’s appointment by a presidential decree prompted criticism from Boğaziçi students and alumni as well as politicians and activists who say it undercuts academic freedoms and democracy and comes at a time when the AKP government is promising democratic reforms.
A total of 40 protestors have been detained since the demonstrations started at the beginning of the week, and 24 of them were taken to the Çağlayan Courthouse in Şişli after undergoing medical checks on Thursday, with two of them appearing in court on a request for their arrest.
The remaining 22 were released under judicial supervision, while the interrogation of 16 protestors at İstanbul’s Vatan Police Station is still underway.
The students on Wednesday decided to hold continuing protests in shifts, following a ban imposed by İstanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya on all demonstrations in the districts where the university’s campuses are located.
They chose to move the protests to districts other than those where the campuses are located to hold demonstrations on Wednesday and Thursday, making statements that demand the resignation of Bulu, democratic elections to choose a new rector and the immediate release of all detained protestors.
Among those who attended the protests in İstanbul’s Kadıköy district on Wednesday were main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmakers Ali Şeker and Mahmut Tanal, and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Hüda Kaya.
“As part of Boğaziçi University, we are against the appointment of a trustee rector. We know that trustee politics will only change things for the worse. We won’t get used to it and we won’t accept it,” the students said, in reference to trustees appointed by the government to replace democratically elected pro-Kurdish mayors in Turkey’s East and Southeast.
Gathering in front of the Çağlayan Courthouse on Thursday to support their friends, the students made another statement, saying: “We are not afraid. The youths you couldn’t silence by way of your bans will not waver in the face of detention. Our friends will be freed and the trustee rector will leave the university.”
The Birgün daily on Thursday reported a claim by a university solidarity network that the pro-government Service for Youth and Education Foundation of Turkey (TÜRGEV) was trying to convince 30 students from the university to meet with President Erdoğan at the palace in order to stop the protests. As of the time of writing, they had enlisted only 10.
Meanwhile, Zafer Yenal, the rector’s adviser and a professor of sociology at Boğaziçi University, resigned late on Wednesday, announcing his decision on social media and wishing to “never again see a university with ‘handcuffed’ gates,” in reference to the police intervention on campus earlier this week.
The chairperson of the Boğaziçi University Press editorial board, Murat Gülsoy, also on Thursday announced his resignation from the post he has held since 2004.
Turkey’s Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Wednesday made a statement on Twitter about the widely criticized police intervention at Boğaziçi University, arguing that Turkish police did the right thing by not allowing “terror-related illegal groups outside of Boğaziçi” to enter the university.
Soylu’s remarks were similar to those of Bulu, who on Tuesday defended the deployment of police units at the university campus during an interview on Habertürk TV, claiming that there were people among protestors who had no links to the university who “marred the protests with provocations.”
Founded in 1863, Boğaziçi University, overlooking the Bosporus, is the first American institution of higher learning to be established outside the US, with over 15,000 students and six campuses on the European side of İstanbul.