ISTANBUL – Turkey’s president has ordered the establishment of two new departments in the country’s most prestigious university, which has been rocked by weeks of demonstrations protesting his appointment of a new rector with government links.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision, published in the Official Gazette Saturday, says law and communications faculties are to be launched in Bogazici University. Critics say the establishment of new departments would allow the presidentially appointed rector to staff them with government loyalists.
For over a month, students and faculty have led mostly peaceful protests against the new rector, Melih Bulu, who has links to Erdogan’s ruling party. They are calling for Bulu’s resignation and for the university to be allowed to elect its own president.
In an open letter to Erdogan, protesting Bogazici students called the decision to open new departments intimidation and “petty tricks.”
“Your attempts to pack our university with your own political militants is the symptom of the political crisis you have fallen into,” the letter said.
Police have detained hundreds of demonstrators at the university and in solidarity protests elsewhere, some taken away following raids of their homes. Most were later released.
Top government officials have said terrorist groups are provoking the protests, and Erdogan has called the protesting students terrorists. Istanbul governor's office press statements have listed detention numbers with alleged links to outlawed leftist and Kurdish militant groups.
Erdogan has also singled out Ayse Bugra, an emeritus professor at the university. Bugra is married to Turkish philanthropist and civil society leader Osman Kavala, who has been in prison for more than three years on charges of espionage and attempting to overthrow the government.
Erdogan accuses Kavala of being the “Turkish leg” of billionaire U.S. philanthropist George Soros. On Friday, as an Istanbul court ruled to keep Kavala in prison, Erdogan said “his wife is a woman who is among the provocateurs at Bogazici University."
Her students released a separate statement Saturday, saying the attacks on her must stop.
“We are deeply saddened by the personal and malicious attacks against her following the appointment of the rector of Bogazici University,” her students over four decades said, adding: “Ayşe Bugra is a source of inspiration for the thousands of students she has taught and mentored. ... She is a treasure for both Bogazici University and Turkey.”
Bugra said she thought the president's statement was regrettable and that she was saddened for her country.
Officials from the United States, the United Nations and the European Union have criticized Turkey’s handling of the protests as well as a series of homophobic comments that were made by Erdogan and other officials while denouncing the demonstrations.
With the same order, the president opened new faculties in several universities, closed down some others and appointed 11 rectors elsewhere.
The students in their letter to Erdogan said they knew its publication would likely result in criminal complaints, including for insulting the president, but they vowed to continue speaking out and protesting.