Turkish teachers’ union protests in support of academic targeted for prayer room criticism

Turkey’s Education Workers Union (Eğitim-Sen) organized a protest in support of academic Zeliha Gizem Sayın, who was brought under investigation by her employer Kadir Has University for warning students to not leave their shoes in front of the prayer room on campus.

Protesters' banner reads, "We defend secularism, we demand job security."

Duvar English

Turkey’s Education Workers Union (Eğitim-Sen) on Jen. 25 held a protest in front of the foundation Kadir Has University in Istanbul in support of academic Zeliha Gizem Saygın. 

The university placed Saygın on unofficial probation while conducting an investigation after a video of the academic where she was seen warning students who used the prayer room on campus not to leave their shoes outside went viral.

Eğitim-Sen called for a demonstration in support of Saygın on the day of her defense in the disciplinary board. “We see this attack against secularism and scientific education in universities,” stated the union spokesperson. 

The union said that pressure on universities has increased to unprecedented levels under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and added that propaganda by religious cults and organizations was used as a means of this oppression. 

Eğitim-Sen condemned the university administration for not taking any disciplinary action against the students who threatened Sayın and nonconsensually shared her video. 

“Our member warned students to follow the rules of conduct outlined by the university administration regarding a public space open to use for everyone,” held the union.

“The job security and personal rights of all academicians at Kadir Has University including Saygın should be protected,” stated the protesters, and demanded the administration to stop arbitrary practices. 

What had happened?

Saygın on Dec. 25 warned students to not leave their shoes and bags at the entrance of the prayer room, which was next to her office. The interaction escalated as the students blamed Saygın for entering the room with her shoes on. 

Stepping on the Islamic prayer mats (saccade) with shoes is considered a sign of disrespect. The student held that the carpeted room was “his saccade,” and that Saygın could not enter the room with shoes on. Saygın stated that the prayer room was open to all religions and she did not step on anyone’s prayer mat. 

Saygın was targeted by Islamic organizations as one student’s video recording went viral on social media. She was labeled as "Islamophobic" and a “terrorist” for being a member of the Academics for Peace, a group that signed the 2016 petition against Turkish military operations in Syria.

The pro-government Turkey Youth Foundation (TÜGVA) organized a protest in front of the university to “condemn the disrespectful action.” The foundation stated on its social media account, “No one can prevent us from obeying God’s will in the Muslim Turkish Republic.”

The university administration launched an investigation into Saygın, unofficially put her on probation, and made a declaration of will stating they no longer wanted to employ her.