University students from Istanbul fight with police over the rector’s appointment

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Melih Bulu got the post from Turkish President Erdoğan at Boğaziçi University.

In rare protests triggered by the politically charged appointment of a state-approved rector with ties to Turkey’s conservative ruling party, students and workers at an Istanbul university clashed with police. Melih Bulu – who ran as a parliamentary candidate for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2015 – was named rector of Boğaziçi University by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a presidential election. The decision was met with indignation from the student body and members of the faculty, who interpreted the appointment of Bulu as an effort to curb academic freedoms, claiming that after the 1980 military coup, the new rector was the first elected from outside the university community. In preparation for a third day of protests Wednesday, police in riot gear blocked streets across campus, outnumbering the few hundred students who turned up to chant “Melih, step down” and “AKP, take your hands off our university. “The strong police presence and arrests of at least 24 students detained in house-to-house raids also dampened the numbers on Wednesday.

Around 1,000 people took part in the protests on Tuesday, which included confrontations as some students attempted to break through police lines to reach the campus of the university. To break up the rally, police used tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets. Ceren Karapınar, a third-year linguistics student who marched with friends on Wednesday, said, “He is not our rector, he is not an academic, he was not democratically elected,” ‘I came from Bursa to Boğaziçi; it’s the best in the country and it’s a privilege to be here,’ she said. The university is renowned for its open-mindedness and liberal environment…. The appointment will ruin it. Boğaziçi University, named after the Bosphorus Strait overlooked by the campus, was established in 1863 and was known until the 1970s as Robert College. It has a long-standing reputation for tolerance and academic freedom, often described as Turkey’s most prestigious university, and was the only higher educational institution in the country to defy the then-secularist state ban on headscarves Bulu’s appointment was also defended by the ruling party as legitimate. “It is not a crime for a person to have a political opinion,” AKP spokesman Ömer Celik told reporters Tuesday after a party meeting chaired by Erdoğan. While unexpected, the university protests are unlikely to shift the political needle in a deeply divided country where peaceful protest repression by the state has become the norm.

Erdoğan has also reserved the right to appoint university rectors directly since 2016, traditionally decided by elections, and more than a dozen universities have been closed across the region. “We came here for the first protest on Monday and had a little hope that we could change things democratically and declare what we want, but today all the helicopters are flying overhead, there are poles.”

It won’t happen,’ said Ömer, who graduated with a degree in business administration last year.

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