University left alone in protest
Students yesterday held demonstrations at ODTÜ and Istanbul to protest the government. The big banner reads ‘ODTÜ resisting AKP.’ YaDAILY NEWS photo, Selahattin SÖNMEZ
The Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) appears to have become an open target for the government following protests by students against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which took place Dec. 18 at the ODTÜ campus.
Several universities who sided with the prime minister attempted to condemn the students and administration of ODTÜ all day yesterday as part of an orchestrated effort to shame the university while a substantial part of the academic community lent their support to ODTÜ.
Education Minister Ömer Dinçer and Energy Minister Taner Yıldız declared their support Dec. 25 for a probe launched into the protest by the Higher Education Board (YÖK), with Dinçer indicating that it should be the university administration itself that launched the probe instead of YÖK.
Gökhan Çetinsaya, YÖK’s president, announced late Dec. 24 that he had assigned the auditing board of the body to examine the students’ protests. Çetinsaya authorized the board shortly after the incidents on Dec. 21.
His announcement came hours after rector offices or senates of several universities released separate statements Dec. 24 in which they faulted university students.
Seven universities located in Istanbul released a joint statement late Dec. 24 accusing students at ODTÜ of violence last week during clashes with police amid the prime minister’s visit to their school.
The universities said the students were “trying to overshadow the historic success of Turkey in the field of space technology through violent acts.”
The statement highlighted the fact that the protest occurred during the Göktürk-2 satellite launch ceremony and that it was not appropriate to stage such a protest in place of appreciating and congratulating Turkey on the launch of the satellite.
Nonetheless, the majority of academia raised its voice against the condemnation of the students’ protests. In a joint statement, academicians from the same seven universities criticized the university executives who issued harsh words against ODTÜ.
“We regretfully witness that statements from the prime minister as well as from several universities are untrue. Students did not run wild. Students did not throw Molotov cocktails or burn tires. But the police directly targeted students, academics, faculty buildings and even a nursery [during protests],” the joint statement of academicians said.
Over 3,000 police officers were on hand to guard Erdoğan as he came to ODTÜ.
Several hundred students were staging a protest against his presence when they were attacked by the police, resulting in clashes and injuries.
In the wake of the clashes, ODTÜ Rector Ahmet Acar criticized the police, saying they were responsible for the violence.
Ten students were taken into custody after the protests but were shortly released after giving their testimonies.
Justice Sadullah Ergin, however, insisted yesterday that it was the students who resorted to violence Dec. 18, saying that “throwing stones and Molotov cocktails to the police” cannot be defended as part of the freedom of speech.
For their part, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy chair, Sezgin Tanrıkulu and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputy parliamentary group chair Oktay Vural criticized the universities that issued statements to criticize ODTÜ students. “Universities should not be institutions taking instructions from the government. But their latest statements show that they are dependent on the government,” Tanrıkulu said, while Vural accused them of being advocates of the ruling party.
Relatedly, several university students and academics staged a demonstration in Istanbul’s Beyazıt square to protest a draft law on YÖK in which they lent their support to ODTÜ students and professors. Students in ODTÜ symbolically occupied a lecture hall in the university yesterday protesting “the AKP’s assaults to universities,” while a group of students from Ankara University staged a brief marching in show of protest.