Melih Bulu, the new rector of İstanbul’s prestigious Boğaziçi University whose appointment a month ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sparked ongoing protests, has announced that the LGBTI+ student club was suspended due to a poster depicting the Kaaba with LGBT flags as well as illegal documents found during a police search, the Hürriyet daily reported on Thursday.
“A university rector has the authority to make decisions about student clubs. Although we call it ‘the LGBTI+ student club,’ the group had been a student club candidate for two years before its candidacy was suspended after the latest developments with the Kaaba poster, provocations and illegal documents found [during the police search],” Bulu said.
As part of ongoing demonstrations at the university, protesters last Friday hung a poster placing a mythical half-woman, half-snake creature found in Middle Eastern folklore at the Kaaba along with the flags of LGBT people across from the new rector’s office with the text below it saying the poster was a critique of traditional gender roles.
The Kaaba in Mecca is the holiest site in Islam, with believers across the world praying in its direction.
The display of the poster was slammed by top Turkish officials and resulted in the arrest of two Boğaziçi students two days later.
Bulu also made reference to documents found by the police during their search of the LGBTI+ student club that the İstanbul Governor’s Office had previously stated concerned the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group that took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984 and is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
The arrest of the two students has been followed by mass protests around the university and in other districts of İstanbul as well as in more than 30 other provinces across Turkey since the beginning of the week, resulting in the detention of hundreds of protestors.
Interior Ministry spokesperson İsmail Çataklı on Thursday announced that a total of 528 people have been detained in protests against the appointment of the pro-government Bulu that were staged in 38 provinces. Two students were arrested and 498 protestors have been released, with 108 of them placed under judicial supervision, he added.
Among the 159 protestors detained near Boğaziçi on Monday, 108 of them were released from detention on Tuesday, and the remaining 51 were freed on Thursday, local media said. Nine of the 51 detainees were placed under judicial supervision, while 12 of them were put under house arrest.
Meanwhile, journalist İsmail Saymaz on Thursday revealed in a column for the Sözcü daily that Boğaziçi University’s previous rector, Mehmed Özkan, denied Bulu’s claims that he had expressed support for him, underlining that it wouldn’t make sense for him to be up for the rectorship again if he were actually supporting Bulu.
The appointment of Özkan, who hadn’t even run in the elections for the position, to the university by Erdoğan in 2016 was also the subject of debate and protest.
“I spoke to him [Bulu] for five minutes about the handover ceremony on the day he was appointed to the university. We haven’t talked long enough for him to think I support him in any way. Since I was up for the rectorship again this time, my choice in the matter is clear. I’m not going to do anything for or against him,” Saymaz quoted Özkan as saying.