This is a debate article. The views expressed belong to the author.
The anti-democratic appointment of Prof. Melih Bulu as the vice chancellor of Boğaziçi University in Turkey has started a student protest that has spread quickly. The students and faculty members of the university condemn this attack on academic freedom and demand the release of all students who have been detained during the protests. Boğaziçi students call upon the international academic and LGBTQ+ community to show their solidarity.
On January 1st, Professor Melih Bulu was appointed overnight with a Presidential Decree as the rector of Boğaziçi University, one of the most prestigious and internationally acclaimed universities in Turkey.
Bulu was previously a candidate for nomination to run in the Parliamentary elections in 2015, for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. His overnight appointment, the emerging plagiarism accusations regarding his academic work, and his political ties sparked an immediate reaction of anger from students of Boğaziçi, as well as alumni such as myself. As me and alumni try to increase awareness, we urge fellow students of Lund University to show their solidarity and spread the word in their social and academic communities.
The students first started campaigning on social media. On January 3rd, faculty members of the university released a joint statement against the appointment and stood in front of the rectorate building with their backs turned. The students gathered in front of Bulu’s office and demanded he resign immediately.
On January 4th, police entered the campus. Next, students were detained from their homes. The spark of the protests spread around the country and international support started flooding in.
Peaceful students protests continued, one of which was an art exhibition. One of the pieces submitted to the exhibition, a picture of the ‘Kaaba’, the most sacred site in Islam, with LGBTQ+ flags on its corners, and the mythological figure of ‘Şahmeran’ in the middle, gathered intense backlash. Several government officials made statements of hate speech targeting the students, especially members of the LGBTQ+ community to the extent of calling them “perverts” and “terrorists”. Following this smear campaign, four students were taken into custody and two of them, who I am lucky to call my friends, were arrested.
Countless students from different universities were detained and mistreated by the police. Faculty members of Boğaziçi University were targeted by the government’s media outlets with baseless accusations.
A statement supporting the ‘Academic Freedom for Boğaziçi University Students and Faculty’ has already been signed by more than 4000 people, including 16 names from Lund University. The U.S. State Department spokesperson voiced concern regarding the demonstrations and condemned the anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric surrounding them. The U.N. human rights agency condemned the “homophobic and transphobic comments by [Turkish] officials” and called for a “prompt release of students and protesters arrested for participating in peaceful demonstrations.”
During my experience as a student at Boğaziçi, I found that being a part of that community was much more layered than I expected. I learned through experience that very different people can live together with mutual respect. Perhaps today I feel like I belong there more than ever before. As me and others who are far away from Boğaziçi try to spread awareness, I ask all fellow students of Lund University to ask their faculties to show academic solidarity with a statement or reach out to LGBTQ+ activists to stand with the targeted students.
The students need international pressure on the government. They demand democracy, justice, and freedom, and will not settle for anything less.
International Master Student in General Linguistics