Monday’s protests at İstanbul’s prestigious Boğaziçi University, which followed the arrest of two students over a poster depicting the Kaaba, Islam’s most sacred site, with LGBT flags, was actually due to the closure of the university’s LGBTI+ student club, an aide to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has claimed.
Fahrettin Altun, Erdoğan’s communications director, tweeted in the early hours of Tuesday that Boğaziçi’s LGBTI+ student club was shut down by new rector Melih Bulu, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) whose appointment by Erdoğan sparked the protests at the university a month ago.
Protesters last Friday hung a poster across from the new rector’s office depicting the Kaaba with the LGBT movement’s rainbow flag, a move slammed by top Turkish officials that resulted in the arrest of two Boğaziçi students on Sunday.
The Kaaba in Mecca is the holiest site in Islam, with believers across the world praying in its direction.
The İstanbul Governor’s Office announced in a statement late on Monday the detention of 159 people who chanted slogans such as “Police, get out” and “Universities are ours” and who scuffled with the police during protests against the earlier arrest of two Boğaziçi students.
The fine arts and LGBTI+ student clubs at the university were searched by police, who found books on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and rainbow flags, the governor’s office further said.
Turkish police also detained 69 of nearly 100 protestors, mainly university students, who had gathered in Ankara’s Kızılay Square on Tuesday to stage a protest and issue a statement of support for the Boğaziçi students.
The detentions were carried out after the chanting protestors resisted the the police, who had refused to allow them to walk from Kızılay Square to the Çankaya municipal building to make a press statement.
Ninety-eight of the detainees were released on orders from the İstanbul chief public prosecutor after giving their statements, the governor’s office said early on Tuesday, after the detentions sparked reactions from opposition leaders and prominent politicians.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu called on Rector Bulu in a tweet to resign and end “this ugly situation,” underlining that detention of students defending their university, merit-based appointments and justice is “unacceptable.”
Ahmet Davutoğlu, a former AKP heavyweight who later parted ways with the party and established the rival Future Party (GP), said problems at the university should be resolved through communication, not detentions.
“What’s happening at Boğaziçi University is worrisome. Protecting the environment of academic freedom at our universities is the common duty of the society,” he added.
“Enough is enough, stop being stubborn about this and release the detained Boğaziçi students immediately. Base [your decisions] on elections. Leave the the young people alone. That’s our position,” Ali Babacan, leader of Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) who was once an ally of Erdoğan, said.
Meanwhile, Oğuzhan Aygören, an academic from Boğaziçi University and a founding member of DEVA who was recently appointed as an advisor to Bulu, announced in a statement that it was “impossible” for him to accept the position.
DEVA vice chair İdris Şahin announced on Monday that Aygören would have to part ways with the party if he accepted the appointment.
Both students and teachers at the university have been staging protests against Bulu, the first rector chosen from outside a university since a military coup in Turkey in 1980, for a month now, arguing that his appointment was undemocratic.
The demonstrations, which spread to other universities before subsiding after the deployment of a heavy Turkish police presence around campuses and on the streets, also received the support of academics and organizations from around the world.