Turkish police clashed on Monday with students who protested against President Tayyip Erdogan’s appointment of a new rector at one of the country’s top universities, saying the process was undemocratic.
In a decree published on Saturday, Erdogan appointed Melih Bulu, who has a doctorate in business management, as rector of Bogazici University in Istanbul.
The move led to protests by students and academics, and footage on social media showed hundreds of students carrying signs calling for Bulu’s resignation.
Students and faculty of Bogazici University-one of Turkey's most prestigious schools-clashed w/police blocking entrance of the university. They're protesting the gov's breaking academic procedure and appointing a rector who is a former pro-gov politician. pic.twitter.com/TlQaN6EHib
— Louis Fishman لوي فيشمان לואי פישמן (@Istanbultelaviv) January 4, 2021
They chanted slogans including “Melih Bulu is not our rector” and “We don’t want a state-appointed rector.”
Some students who were able to enter the campus sealed one of the university’s buildings. Later footage showed students clashing and scuffling with security forces at the entrance to the campus.
Istanbul police did not immediately comment.
Bulu, who Turkish media say applied to be a candidate for Erdogan’s ruling AK Party in a 2015 parliamentary election, was the first rector chosen from outside a university since a military coup in Turkey in 1980, Bogazici faculty members said.
In a statement shared on social media, they said: “We do not accept it as it clearly violates academic freedom and scientific autonomy as well as the democratic values of our university.”
The appointment was “yet another case of many ongoing anti-democratic practices since 2016,” they said, referring to a large-scale crackdown since a failed coup five years ago.
Symbolism at its best! Dear academic friends, if you ever need a short video to show in classroom on the curtailment of academic freedoms you can use this video of police in Turkey handcuffing the gates of Bogazici University, one of the top universities in the country. https://t.co/BcJ1lEnylI
— Gulay Turkmen (@gulayturkmen) January 4, 2021
Speaking at a news conference after an AK Party meeting chaired by Erdogan, a spokesman for the party, Omer Celik, denied the appointment was a blow against academic freedom.
“Every academic, like every person, is entitled to their political opinion (…) We do not base appointments on the political affiliations of academics,” he said.
Authorities have arrested thousands of academics, lawyers, journalists, civil servants, and members of the military as part of the crackdown.
Critics say Erdogan’s government has used the coup attempt as a pretext to quash dissent. The government says the measures are necessary because of security threats facing Turkey.