A number of students from İstanbul’s prestigious Boğaziçi University have responded in videos released on Twitter to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent terrorism accusations targeting those involved in protests against the appointment a Justice and Development Party (AKP) member as the new rector of the university.
Erdoğan last week appointed Melih Bulu, a former AKP parliamentary candidate from İstanbul in the 2015 general election, as rector of Boğaziçi without an election, drawing widespread criticism from students and alumni well as politicians and activists who argue that the move aims to politicize Turkey’s universities and undercuts academic freedoms and democracy.
When asked about a possible meeting with the protesting students at the presidential palace, Erdoğan on Friday told reporters that the students were not a part of the protests and that the people involved in them are “terrorists.”
Boğaziçi students released short videos on social media following Erdoğan’s remarks, giving the reasons why they think they were branded as terrorists by the president, with each student ending the sentence “I was branded as a terrorist because …” by stating a different reason.
Among the reasons shared by the students were demanding academic freedom, demanding an elected rector, exercising the constitutional right to protest and thinking differently than those in political power.
“I participate in the protests. I’m a student at Boğaziçi University. I’m not a terrorist. Thank you,” Baran Deniz Bağatur, also a member of the opposition Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), said in a tweet.
The president also on Friday accused Canan Kaftancıoğlu, the İstanbul provincial chair of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) who also attended the Boğaziçi protests, of being “a militant of the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front [DHKP-C],” which is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Kaftancıoğlu denied links to any terror groups in a press statement released on Friday afternoon, stating that she would file a complaint against Erdoğan for his remarks accusing her of being a terrorist.
Twenty-one of the 45 protestors who have been detained in İstanbul since the demonstrations started when Bulu took office at the beginning of the week were released on Friday, with 20 of them placed under judicial supervision.
In the capital Ankara, 30 students were detained by police on Friday for “resisting officers” during protests in solidarity with Boğaziçi students, according to a report by the state-run Anadolu news agency.
Meanwhile, the University and College Union (UCU), a UK trade union for academics, lecturers, trainers, researchers and academic-related staff, released a statement on its website on Friday expressing “solidarity with staff and students at Boğaziçi University — and throughout Turkey — in their defense of academic freedom, university autonomy and democracy.”
“Staff and students at Boğaziçi have strongly criticized the decision [to appoint Bulu] as an attack on academic freedom and university autonomy,” the UCU said, urging Turkish authorities to immediately release all students who have been detained for “exercising their democratic right to protest.”
“Solidarity to all those protesting against infringements of academic freedom, undermining of university governance, and democracy at Boğaziçi University in Turkey,” Jo Grady, the general secretary of the UCU, also said in a tweet.
Turkish presidents used to have the authority to appoint persons who did not come in first in elections for rector, but a presidential decree issued during a post-coup state of emergency declared in 2016 removed the elections altogether.