Turkish gov’t cancels financial aid of students protesting Erdoğan-appointed rector

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Turkish authorities have canceled the student loans and scholarships of at least 100 university students because they participated in protests against the appointment of a pro-government figure as the new rector of İstanbul’s Boğaziçi University in January, the Birgün daily reported.

The appointment of Melih Bulu, a Justice and Development Party (AKP) loyalist, by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sparked protests at the university, which have been continuing since Jan. 4 and have seen the attendance of students from numerous other universities in addition to Boğaziçi.

According to Birgün, the student loans and scholarships granted by Turkey’s Higher Education Credit and Hostels Institution (KYK) to at least 100 students were canceled due to an order from the Youth and Sports Ministry to the İstanbul Governor’s Office.

The students were also asked to start repaying their student loans in July 2023, the daily said.

Burkay Avcı, a student from the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in İstanbul, told Birgün that he was one of the students whose KYK loan was canceled because of supporting the Boğaziçi protests against Bulu’s appointment.

“We’ll continue fighting against trustee rectors even if they cancel our loans. The ruling AKP aims to punish us for defending democracy. But we won’t let this happen. We will file a lawsuit against this [government-led] move while we continue our struggle on the streets,” Avcı added.

SOL (Left) Youth, a youth movement affiliated with the socialist opposition SOL (Left) Party, on Tuesday called on the government in a Twitter statement to cancel its decision regarding the termination of at least 100 university students’ scholarships and loans “in order to silence them.”

According to the KYK’s scholarship-loan regulations, a student’s financial aid can be canceled if he or she leaves school or is removed or temporarily suspended and other reason that have nothing to do with protests.

Students and alumni as well as politicians and activists have protested the appointment of Bulu as rector of the university, arguing that it is part of Erdoğan’s broader effort to centralize control over universities and that it undercuts academic freedoms and democracy.

Since early 2021, hundreds demanding the resignation of Bulu and the appointment of a rector from the university staff after the holding of an election have been detained for participating in the youth-driven protests that have echoes of the Gezi Park protests that erupted in 2013 against plans to demolish a park in İstanbul’s Taksim neighborhood before spreading nationally and presenting a direct challenge to Erdoğan’s rule.

Bulu, who was a founding member of the ruling AKP’s Sarıyer district branch in İstanbul and worked as deputy chairman of the AKP’s İstanbul provincial chapter, has refused to step down amid protests that have been going on for nearly six months.

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