Police crush ODTÜ protest ahead of disputed boulevard’s opening ceremony
A police officer fires tear gas at protesters during a demo against the boulevard crossing the ODTÜ campus on Feb 25. AA photoA demonstration protesting the opening ceremony of a controversial road, which has caused uproar for plowing through the Middle East Technical University’s (ODTÜ) leafy campus in Ankara, was met with robust police action Feb. 25.
Hundreds of students had gathered near one of the entrances of the campus to denounce the destruction of hundreds of trees during the construction of the road. Ankara Municipality has named the new road the “1071 Malazgirt Boulevard,” after the famous battle won by the Seljuk Turks over the Byzantines.
Riot police resorted to tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets to disperse the students, who escaped into the campus. Tight security measures were taken ahead of the opening ceremony, attended by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other top officials.
In line with its historical name, the construction of the road had become a huge battle for Ankara’s controversial mayor, Melih Gökçek. The mayor ultimately “won” the battle, suppressing any dissent against the project with repeated police interventions.
The Ankara Metropolitan Municipality also sparked an outcry last October after its construction workers entered the university’s campus during the night on a public holiday without the university’s permission, to clear trees.
The initial project threatened to cut down 3,000 trees on the campus – one of the greenest spots in the capital - while only 600 of those trees could be replanted.
One of the two roads was replaced by a tunnel to minimize environmental damage, as suggested by the university. Still, the environmental impact of the project triggered visceral anger among students and activists, who staged a number of demonstrations to protest the decision last year.