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Mülkiye – an elite school or a school for elites?

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 12/28/2009 12:00:00 AM | NAZLAN ERTAN

Ankara University's Political Science Faculty, or Mülkiye, has a 150-year history and has seen the likes of Deniz Baykal and Abdullah Öcalan grace its halls.

Their professions range from politician to academic to writer and their policies, beliefs and values are at least as divergent.

Yet still Deniz Baykal, Hikmet Çetin, Doğu Perinçek, İlber Ortaylı and Ayla Kutlu have something in common.

Utter the word “İnek Bayramı” (Cow Holiday) and a smile is likely to appear on their faces. These members of Turkey’s political and intellectual elite all remember, with a mix of pride and nostalgia, their alma mater – the Faculty of Political Science and Administration at Ankara University, known as “Mülkiye” for short or, later, as “Siyasal.”

The Cow Holiday is the famous celebration when the top student in a given class is forced to parade the streets on a cow – a play on words since “cow” is slang for nerd in Turkish.

The Turkish equivalent of France’s École National d’Administration, Mülkiye is wrapping up its 150th year with an impressive list of activities: four statues erected on campus to celebrate the values of the university, a special postage stamp, a lottery ticket and numerous speeches from the now-famous alumni.

“Given our country’s inability to protect its institutions, not to mention its traditions and richness, it is a great success story that Mülkiye has managed to hold on despite political coups, economic crises, various administrative or judicial decisions that drove away or prevented our academic staff from teaching, political unrest, political pressure or even plans to close the school down and move it to another city,” said Faculty Dean Celal Göle.

The school’s long history includes the infamous “147-ers” – academics whose contracts were terminated after the 1960 coup – and two decades later, the “1402-ers,” who were expelled from the university because of left-wing views after the 1980 coup. The latter included Baskın Oran, a human and minority rights specialist who ran for seat in Parliament as an independent candidate in 2007.

“Our school is not one that creates a stereotypical personality,” said Ali Çolak, head of the Union of Mülkiye Alumni. “What we have is people of different beliefs who share the same core values, that is, the supremacy of law and loyalty to Republican values. We believe in social democratic values.”

This view may be contested by Middle East Technical University, whose left-wing students found Mülkiye to be too conservative and too “étatist.”

[HH] From the Ottoman Empire

Ironically, the school that created the political and the administrative elite of modern Turkey was originally an Ottoman establishment. Mülkiye was first designed as a vocational high school in the Ottoman Empire and opened on Jan. 28, 1859.  

Its aim was to arm the future “governors” of the Ottoman Empire with necessary skills for the job. As such, the curriculum of the “Mekteb-i Mülkiye” included political economy, logic and grammar. Indeed, Mehmet Sirri Efendi, who was top of the first group of graduates, was asked by the Ottoman Palace to pick any post he chose.

Sultan Abdülhamit II also attached great importance to the school and declared, by special decree, that it should be considered a university, rather than a vocational high school. Under his patronage, “Mülkiye Şahane” integrated a group of Turkish and foreign teachers, teaching them in French. Graduates would later find work at top posts in the ministries for foreign affairs, interior affairs and finance.

Despite Abdülhamit II’s patronage and attention, the school still acquired a reputation of being a hotbed for reform that supported the founding of a Parliament to share the power of the sultan. Later, both teachers and many students would support the Turkish Independence War.

[HH] Moving to Ankara

More than a decade after the founding of the Republic, the school was moved to Ankara in 1936. Although the move was attributed to different reasons, it is often claimed that a telegraph sent to Kemal Atatürk by the Speaker of Parliament Kazım Özalp (also a graduate of Mülkiye) assured the leader of the “school’s deep devotion to Republican principles.” It was said that Atatürk, touched by the gesture on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Republic, allocated land in the capital to the school.

The Political Science Faculty formed the essence of Ankara University, which acquired new departments, including law, journalism and sciences.

[HH] War of ideas

The elite school’s motto was “First we belong to Mülkiye, then to Türkiye [Turkey].” The school’s march, meanwhile, began with the lyrics, “We do not want another love, because it is your love in our hearts; stop weeping, beloved country, because we have arrived.”

If the words indicate a desire to “save the country,” students have certainly pursued different ways of doing so. The teachers and students of the school have included the ultra left-turned-ultra nationalist Perinçek, Professor and Dean Mümtaz Soysal and, briefly, Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

While there have been political differences, the school has been mainly left wing. Çolak said both students and teachers supported the left in the 1970s. “There were armed conflicts between the left and the right in the streets in Turkey in those years, and naturally, this was also reflected at the university,” he said. 

The house of Soysal, a leading figure of the left, was bombed during this “violent decade” but the attack failed to scare him into resigning from his post.

[HH] A touch of diplomacy

For a long time, its graduates came to constitute a bulk of the Foreign Ministry’s personnel. Turkey’s first female ambassador, Filiz Dinçmen, was a Mülkiye graduate, as was her foreign minister at the time, Hikmet Çetin.

“Foreign” students at the school have also taken their place in the politics and administration of other countries.  Northern Cypriot Foreign Minister Hüseyin Özgürgün is a Mülkiye graduate and traveled to Ankara for the school’s 150th anniversary celebrations.

[HH] The creative spirit

Although the school is known for its contribution to the public sector, important figures from Turkish literature and arts have also studied there. Novelist Kutlu and possibly Turkey’s most daring poet, Ece Ayhan, were both Mülkiye graduates.

“We were not from the big city, but we quickly adopted and made full use of the cultural opportunities,” said Kutlu. “Ours was a period when we had a lot of intellectual and artistic exchange. We never missed concerts. We never missed a performance or a play. Even for those who were more geared toward politics or political science kept this trend all their lives.”

[HH] Glimpsing the future

Have newly mushrooming private universities destroyed the monopoly of Mülkiye? Some would readily agree that the old glamour can hardly resist the linguistic skills and interactive teaching of the new universities.

Mülkiye, however, is not giving up easily: It has established a European Community Studies Centre and makes sure that its students benefit from international exchanges such as the Erasmus program.

And whatever happens, the Cow Holiday tradition, when you put the top student on the back of a cow, will remain.

Even when the university is no longer the country’s top dog – err, cow.

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