Melih Bulu, who has been recently appointed as the new rector of Istanbul's Boğaziçi University by President Recep Tayyip Erdooğan, has deemed the Jan. 4 student-led protests over his assignment as a “provocation.”
“What I did not like is that Boğaziçi students let others [who are not students] to be with them. There were people who are not from the university, people who are not linked to the university. A provocative incident happened here; as far I understand Boğaziçi University students have been used here,” Bulu told Habertürk TV channel during an interview on Jan. 5.
Bulu was referring to the Interior Ministry's earlier statement that 15 of the 17 people detained in Jan. 5 morning raids were not students.
Some 17 protesters were detained during the early hours of Jan. 5, less than 24 hours after police teargassed crowds protesting the appointment of ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) member Bulu in front of the school's main gate.
Interior Ministry spokesperson İsmail Çataklı later issued a statement with regards to the detentions, saying two of the detained were Boğaziçi students, and the other 15 protestors were not students.
“I did not foresee that such a provocation would have happened. Provocations are the reason why such an incident arose. If this had not happened, we would have seen the standard protest culture of Boğaziçi; I would have talked with the students, and this issue would have been solved,” Bulu said.
Bulu ran for Erdoğan's ruling AKP in the 2015 parliamentary elections. As president, Erdogan has the right to appoint university rectors. Bulu became the first rector appointment from outside the university since the military coup of Sep. 12, 1980, one of the bloodiest chapters in Turkish history.
Thousands of students held a protest on Jan. 4, criticizing the choice of rector as undemocratic. They however faced harsh police resistance after attempting to break through a barricade placed at the university entrance. Police used tear gas and plastic bullets on them.
Bulu defends police's use of force on students
Bulu defended the deployment of police at the campus and their use of force on the students, claiming protestors could have otherwise turned the Boğaziçi University buildings into “ruins.”
“What we would not want is that Boğaziçi's 150-year-old physical existence is turned into a ruin; such a thing could have happened yesterday. Therefore, the police did what is right there,” he said.
Bulu said he will not step down despite calls in this regard, saying: “We will see how efficient we will work once we get to know each other.”
A group of Boğaziçi University academics on Jan. 5 staged a peaceful protest by standing with their backs to the Rectorial Building during the handover ceremony for Bulu.
The academics chanted "free our students immediately" and protested the appointment by reading the university's code of ethics, where the third item reads "Create and maintain at the University an atmosphere that nurtures free discussion."
Bulu says police handcuffed university gate for 'practical' purposes
Bulu also touched upon the police's move to handcuff the university's gate during Jan. 4 protests, saying it was done for “practical” purposes. “There is a very practical thing there; it turns out the gate was broken and the police put handcuffs to keep the gate shut,” he told Habertürk.
Bulu also commented on his political background, primarily his running as an AKP parliamentary candidate in the 2015 elections. He said that his candidacy in the 2015 elections was “not very important” and he never “took a role in the active politics.”
He said that he started politics in the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) when he was enrolled as a student at Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) in Ankara. “These are also known but are not seen. They are projecting me as an AKP member,” he said.
'I am a rector who listens to Metallica'
Bulu said that he feels himself to be a part of the culture of Boğaziçi University because he “listens to hard rock music, Metallica.”
“Academics with whom I speak ask me this: Are you going to do something to Boğaziçi culture? I am a member of Boğaziçi University. I listen to hard rock music, Metallica,” he said.
YÖK says Bulu has fulfilled application requirements for post
Meanwhile, Turkey’s Council of Higher Education (YOK) on Jan. 5 released a statement with regards to the appointment of Bulu by Erdoğan, saying the new rector has fulfilled the application requirements for the post.
“Prof. Dr. Mehlim Bulu, who has been appointed as a rector to the university by our President, has fulfilled the rectorship application requirements, like other candidates. Our former or new legislation has never mandated a rector (a candidate) to be one of the professors of the university,” it said, adding that a rector's performance following his assignment is “more important” than the way he/she assumed the post.