archive Burak Can
Students at Bogazici University in Istanbul are hitting the streets these days to protest against Turkish president Erdogan putting a political ally in place as rector magnificus. In better days, assistant professor at SBE Burak Can studied at Bogazici. This personal opinion article reflects his optimism about the outcome of the conflict.
Bogazici University, my alma mater, is now troubled with a brutal oppression imposed by the regime in Turkey. The story starts a few years ago in 2016, when Erdogan assigned a professor as the rector magnificus to Bogazici University, instead of letting the conventions take place through voting amongst the academic staff. It was then already unacceptable and mild protests took place, however, in the end this was swallowed down for various reasons. One reason was that Turkey was still shaken by the “coup d’etat” attempt in 2016, and another reason was that the rector magnificus at the time was an academic from within the university. This year, Erdogan decided to consolidate and exercise his power even further and directly assigned an outsider as rector who was a candidate for parliament for his party a while ago whom he thought he could trust. The result is hundreds of students being arrested for protesting against violation of their rights.
The Erdogan regime is losing its legitimacy and blockading Turkish democracy for a while now. This is also symbolized by the fact that he has parted ways with all the other politicians who started with him a decade ago. We are experiencing a “leader” who narcissistically synonymizes a whole country with himself. Any political and democratic threat to Erdogan, is a “threat to the Turkish nation”. To that end, Erdogan eliminated all his rivals, opposition and any institute that might not think like him. He does so also to his allies, unless their alliance is bid on their knees.
It wasn’t all that bad when I was studying at Bogazici University between 2000-2005. When Erdogan’s party, AKP, came to power in 2002, there was still some sort of checks and balances in Turkey, and also within AKP. In fact, when Erdogan was rallying all his fellow politicians in AKP in 2003 to join an invasion of Iraq along with Bush and Blair, he couldn’t convince his colleagues. There was a strong opposition from the public too, including Bogazici University.
Bush and Blair
I was 3 years into my economics education in 2003, when Bush and Blair were showing hand drawn caricatures of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to convince the UN Security Council. We know those weapons were never found, but instead a lot of oil, (in case you didn’t get the memo). Erdogan wanted in and thought he could get a juicy deal out of this if he let the Americans use Turkish lands to launch the assault. The public was outraged, including universities. I was then the chair of the Fine Arts Club at Bogazici and was teaching sculpting. Together with all other student clubs we formed an initiative “Student Clubs Against War”. I lead the initiative and we have protested beautifully against a man’s illusions and battle cry, together with students from all political opinions. For a whole week, we organized concerts, events, installed sculptures, organized theaters all around the theme of peace. And we won… Erdogan could not get enough votes despite his party had a majority in parliament. The result was a more difficult invasion route for the Americans, and they did it anyway.
However, we won because, we were right and everybody knew we were right. When we marched to the capital to prevent the bill that would allow the US Army to invade Iraq from Turkish lands, on my right stood conservative Muslims protesting and on my left the LGBT group was chanting. We were not separated by gender, race, ideology, or opinion. We were united under the same goal…, peace.
We will win again
This time we will win again. Erdogan is becoming more and more paranoid, and is sworn to destruct anything that does not kneel before him. But Bogazici University, a 158-year old tradition with an alumni network of thousands all over the world, is capable of spreading the news and making their case. It is going to be much more challenging for the students now. They will not have the power of unity like we had almost a decade ago, and instead they will be dealing with polarization created by Erdogan. But they have the intellect, wits and stamina to persevere and resist one of the most challenging regimes in the world today.
And they have us, the alumni, academics, and the public with them. They will win, because they are right, and the world should know that. Only the last two weeks, several online events through clubhouse, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram has been organized. In several major cities throughout the world the alumni gathered and protested. When you are a centuries old institute with traditions and values, your alumni will always stick together.