Interior Minister justifies violence against Boğaziçi University protestors, accuses them of links to 'terror groups'

Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu has cast the Boğaziçi University protestors as being linked to “terror groups.” “Turkish police did the right thing by not allowing terrorism-linked illegal groups that tried to enter the university and are not from Boğaziçi [University],” Soylu said on Jan. 6. In similar remarks, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's staunch ally Devlet Bahçeli accused the protestors of “being pawns of terrorism.”

Boğaziçi University students protest against President Tayyip Erdoğan's appointment of a new rector on Jan 6 in Istanbul's Kadıköy district.

Duvar English

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu has said that he found the police's violence and detentions against Boğaziçi University students as a “right” move, accusing protestors of having links “to terrorism-linked illegal groups."

“Turkish police did the right thing by not allowing terrorism-linked illegal groups that tried to enter the university and are not from Boğaziçi [University],” Soylu said in a written statement on Jan. 6.

Boğaziçi University students on Jan. 6 continued to defy President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's appointment of ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) member Melih Bulu as rector to their school.

On the first day of demonstrations on Jan. 4, scores of riot police blocked the entrance of the campus, preventing students from going in. They teargassed the crowds, followed immediately by the detention of 22 protestors in home raids on Jan. 5. 

Another 14 protestors were detained again in home raids on Jan. 6.

Lawyers said some of those detained had been beaten and strip-searched.

Thousands, including students, academics, activists and opposition party members, gathered in the city’s Kadıköy district on Jan. 6, calling for the release of those detained. 

Pro-government media outlets cast the protestors as “supporters of terrorism,” while the Interior Ministry said most of those detained were not Boğaziçi University students.

Rector Bulu said that the protests were marred with “provocations” and defended the deployment of police units at the campus, saying there were people among protestors who had no links to the university. “The police did what is right there,” Bulu told Habertürk TV channel on Jan. 5.

In similar remarks, Soylu attempted to justify the police's actions, saying: “Should the university be handed to those who sing the anthem of terror group?” 

Soylu's remarks came after pro-government media and trolls have accused the protestors of singing an anthem of the banned militant group DHKP-C. However, the song was in fact written by iconic folk singer Ruhi Su years before the DHKP-C existed.

It is a frequent attempt of ruling AKP officials and pro-government media outlets to associate “terror groups” with protestors whenever a demonstration in protest of the government's policies takes place.

Soylu also commented on the police's move to handcuff the university's gate during Jan. 4 protests, accusing protestors of “vandalism” and breaking the gate. “Should we have said, 'Please stop, let us call gate repair or locksmith?' The Turkish police did what is necessary as per the law,” Soylu said.

Erdoğan ally accuses protestors of 'being pawns of terrorism'

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's staunch ally Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), said the protests “need to be crushed” before they grow any further. He accused the protestors of “being pawns of terrorism.”

"Those who are trying to strangle Turkey by taking this rector's nomination as an excuse are terrorism's pawns and separatists dressed as students," Bahceli said in a written statement on Jan. 6.

The protesters were "trying to create a new Gezi uprising," Bahçeli said, referring to the anti-government protests of 2013.

Opposition highlights academic freedom under threat in Turkey

Bulu's appointment as the new rector of Boğaziçi University has received widespread condemnation among the opposition.

Future Party leader Ahmet Davutoğlu, Erdoğan's former prime minister, said this appointment shows academic freedom in Turkey received a heavy blow. “There is an understanding here that attempts to liquidate everything that stands on its own,” Davutoğlu said during a press conference on Jan. 6.

“If terrorists, marginal groups had infiltrated into the protests, then the duty of the police is to distinguish them and respect other students' right to express their view. The police will do the distinction. Just because they are there, why is Boğaziçi University students' protest considered to be illegal? Is it legal to intervene in the protest?” Davutoğlu said.

Felicity Party (SP) leader Temel Karamollaoğlu was another politician who slammed the politically motivated appointment of Bulu to the post of rector. “This partisan appointment has turned into a rule now. If you had run as an AKP candidate in the past, then once you go back to your civilian life, you are respected. I am of the opinion that such appointments to Boğaziçi University are not right,” he said during a press conference on Jan. 6.

Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said that a university needs to have its own autonomy in the areas of science, management and finance.

“How were rectors being chosen when Erdoğan came to the power? The universities themselves would name three rector candidates and the president would pick one of them. What happened after July 20? The election of the university [to choose rector candidate] got abolished,” he said during a press conference on Jan. 5.

Erdoğan assumed the power to directly appoint university rectors after surviving a failed 2016 coup attempt. Rectors were appointed through elections before July 2016.

Kılıçdaroğlu also commented on the police's move to handcuff Boğaziçi University's gate, saying: “Turkey is going through a civilian coup. YÖK [Higher Education Council] is the result of the [martial] law of the Sept. 12 military coup [of 1980]. And today, this continues.”

Bulu became the first rector appointment from outside Boğaziçi University since the military coup of Sep. 12, 1980, one of the bloodiest chapters in Turkish history.

'Trusteeship policy has now spread to cover also universities'

Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) co-chair Mithat Sancar also commented on Bulu's controversial appointment, saying the government's trusteeship policy has now spread to cover also universities.

“What Boğaziçi University is going through has shown to all Turkey in a clear way what the reality of trusteeship is. The trusteeship policy has come to a point where it also puts universities under its domination,” Sancar said during an online meeting held with his party's provincial co-chairs on Jan. 6.

“This regime [AKP] has been for a long time trying every method to liquidate all values, democratic accumulation and all opportunities that have been acquired with social struggles. When we say, 'They are on their way to create a new regime,' this is what we mean,” Sancar said.

Meanwhile, former HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, who has been imprisoned for more than four years on terrorism charges, expressed his solidarity with Boğaziçi University students in a tweet.

“What did you do youth, your sound has been shaking even here. Who knows which places it is causing to tremble,” his tweet read.