Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his far-right ultranationalist ally Devlet Bahçeli have accused the young people who have been demonstrating for weeks against the appointment of a pro-government rector to Boğaziçi University of being terrorists.
“We don’t accept you as youths who stand up for moral and national values. Are you students, or terrorists attempting to raid the rector’s office? This country will not be one dominated by terrorists, we will never allow it. We are taking the necessary action [against the students] and will continue to do so. We will not allow the country to experience another Gezi-like event in Taksim,” Erdoğan said as he spoke to his party’s supporters in a video conference on Wednesday.
Turkey has been hit by rallies across major campuses since last month after Erdoğan decided to name a party loyalist, Melih Bulu, as the rector of İstanbul’s prestigious Boğaziçi University at the start of the year. The students have been demanding Bulu’s resignation and the appointment of a new rector following an election at the university. Yet, Bulu who has so far ignored the calls for his resignation, made clear in a statement on Wednesday that he has never considered resigning.
Dozens of students have been detained in violent confrontations with the police in the sprawling commercial hub of İstanbul and the capital city of Ankara.
The youth-driven demonstrations have echoes of 2013 protests, known as the Gezi Park protests, that erupted against plans to demolish a park in İstanbul’s Taksim neighborhood before spreading nationally and presenting a direct challenge to Erdoğan’s rule.
In his speech Erdoğan also targeted main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu due to his support for the Boğaziçi students as well as the LGBT community.
The dispute over the rector intensified after protesters hung a poster near his office depicting Islam’s holiest site covered in LGBT imagery last week.
“Kemal, if you want to go on your way with your terrorist friends, go ahead. We never stood together with terrorists and we never will. As for LGBT, there is no such thing,” he said dismissively. “This country is … moral, and it will walk to the future with these values.”
Some protestors carrying LGBT rainbow flags were among the dozens of students detained during the protests on Monday.
Erdoğan’s election ally, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, used harsh language for the students in a series of tweets on Wednesday, likening them to vandals and barbarians.
“They play with the nerves of Turkey at Boğaziçi University. They test the limits of patience and tolerance [of the government]. The members of the terrorist organization are pouring oil on the fire by using several reckless students as shields. The terrorists are challenging our country by clinging to Boğaziçi,” said Bahçeli.
He was apparently referring to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as the instigator of the protests.
Bahçeli also criticized Kılıçdaroğlu for referring to the protestors as the children of the nation, saying: “This country does not have such children. What they call students or children are vandals, barbarians who are filled with hatred and thirst for blood.”