Dear Turkey-watcher, how are you faring as you follow the unfolding events at Boğaziçi University - the closest Turkey has ever come to the mighty Sorbonne (sorry Anglophones)?
The university, the protests and the politics around it have become a microcosm of all Turkey’s current debates. It is all there, from academic independence to LGBTIQ+ art, from troll-power to the usual debate on nepotism vs meritocracy. From socially-distanced gatherings to the 140-character exchanges of the keyboard-happy, questions float in the air: Will Melih Bulu - the unwelcome rector - resign? Has Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu ever read Ottoman poetry? Who is spreading the worst hate speech against the students – the president, the interior minister or the acid-tongued nationalist politician Devlet Bahçeli?
Here is a dummy’s ABC around the Boğaziçi Events:
Anarchists: Also known as terrorists, snakes whose heads need to be crushed, barbarians, vandals, provocateurs, hapless youth whose parents should keep an eye on. In more objective terms, students and protesters who are demonstrating, dragged, gassed, arrested and released by the police.
Bulu: As in “Roses are Red/Melih is Bulu/He [walked off] with an article/and high office, too” as a suppressed tweet by the “snakes” indicate. It refers to Boğaziçi’s newish rector, a self-declared innovator with a taste for Metallica and plagiarism, who kindly waves at students from his office window. He also pledges to do everything in the best interests of Boğaziçi - except resign, which is the only thing he is actually asked to do. (Caveat: The part in the verse that is brackets is a euphemism to omit defamation.)
Clubhouse: The newly fashionable social platform which is considered elitist (see entry) because you have to have an iPhone to download the application. Currently dominated by debates on Boğaziçi University and students talking about the day’s events. Requires invitation. You can run into celebrities discussing polyamory or newbies standing in a “virtual room” wondering what to talk about.
Canan Kaftancıoğlu: The Big C who, according to Turkey’s government, is a combination of Ma Baker and Tamara “Tania” Bunke, the Latin American revolutionary. Soylu accused her of membership to at least three illegal groups, including one few had ever heard of. President Erdoğan cited her name under “terrorists” who had “infiltrated” the Boğaziçi protests. Kaftancıoğlu, the Istanbul chair of the main opposition party, a human rights advocate and the architect of Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu’s victory, simply laughed it off.
Devlet Bahçeli: President Erdoğan’s eternal ally and, according to some, the bridge between the Erdoğan government and the “deep state.” (See past article on Turkey 101) Unlike his past warning to Erdoğan to “exercise restraint” during the 2013 Gezi protests, the largest civil protests of the 21st century; he presently competes with the president on spiteful speech on students, calling them “snakes whose head should be crushed,” “vandals,” “barbarians,” and advises parents to keep an eye on them. Well, some politicians do not improve with age.
Elitists: Those who support the Boğaziçi University tradition of choosing its own rector and stand against the presidential decree that brought Bulu at the head of the school. It includes the university’s academia, mostly smart kids of working-class parents who spent their high school years preparing for Turkey’s centralized university exam rather than chase after a ball as Turkey’s most powerful man seems to have done. Hence these academics have one or more diplomas that can be displayed, which is enough to make them elitists. The catchall phrase also extends over to students, alumni or anyone who expresses sympathy for the protests. Can be used interchangeably with “scum” depending on who is speaking.
Süleyman Soylu: Turkey’s interior minister whose Black Sea temper - and quotable quotes - matches that of the president. In just one week’s work, he has accused the United States of being behind the 2016 unsuccessful coup and “The West” of exporting LGBTI people. Judging from his statement that “LGBTI people did not exist in our past, it came from the West,” he has digested all the works of Sappho, Catullus, Marcel Proust and E.M. Forster but has not read a single line of Ottoman poetry or looked at a single Ottoman miniature.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs: The ministry, or at least some of its diplomats, would have probably loved to steer clear of the Boğaziçi issue and the whole debate over elitism. Alas, as pro-Boğaziçi protests spread around capitals from Paris to Amsterdam and more and more countries expressed concern, the Ministry concocted up a badly-edited statement in English with two of its staples “look in the mirror at your democracy” and abundant use of passive voice. “It was determined that certain groups that are not from the university and are affiliated with terrorist organizations attempted to infiltrate into and provoke the events... In this respect, necessary and proportional measures are taken within the law against these illegal acts that go beyond the scope of the right to protest,” the statement said. I suppose if the interior minister keeps speaking about Turkey-U.S. relations, the foreign minister feels obliged to express views on the rights and obligations of the police.
Mesbians: Given that Soylu, Erdoğan and the Directorate of Religious Affairs had long been in competition to attack LGBT in Turkey, it came as no surprise that President Erdoğan took fire at “lesbians-mesbians” in a tele-speech to a local women’s congress at the height of his Boğaziçi blues. “Let’s listen to our mothers” said the president, who, in the past, had said that a woman who was not a mother was incomplete. “Do not listen to lesbians-mesbians” – the Turkish version of lesbians-smesbians. The usual deragotory term used by chauvenists-mauvenists to describe women who speak out.