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Hundreds protest in Turkey’s Istanbul against new university rector

Published: Updated:

Hundreds of people demonstrated in Istanbul on Monday against what they claim is the politically motivated appointment of a rector at a top Turkish university by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

An AFP reporter estimated the number at more than 1,000, with dozens of police officers watching the rally without intervening.

Anger erupted after a January 1 presidential decree in which Erdogan appointed Melih Bulu – a candidate in the 2015 general election for the president’s ruling party – as the rector of Bogazici University.

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The protesters outside the public university’s campus included students outraged by what they alleged to be political interference.

They chanted “We don’t want an appointed rector” and “Melih, step down” while some held placards saying, “We want rights, why so many police?” and “Melih Bulu cannot be Bogazici’s rector.”

Erdogan assumed the power to directly appoint university rectors after surviving a failed 2016 coup, and it is not the first time his choice for Bogazici has caused controversy.

When Professor Mehmed Ozkan was appointed as rector in November 2016, there were tensions and upset from students and academics.

Rectors for Turkey’s universities were appointed through elections before July 2016.

“Academia is above ideologies and politics, but to appoint a rector to our university in defiance of the will of the university members is a political move,” one of the protesters, Selen, told journalists at the rally.

Students hold placards reading “We do not want the appointed Rector” as they demonstrate on January 4, 2021 in front of the University in Istanbul. (Ozan Kose/AFP)
Students hold placards reading “We do not want the appointed Rector” as they demonstrate on January 4, 2021 in front of the University in Istanbul. (Ozan Kose/AFP)

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Ertugrul Usta, 22, who studies electrical engineering at Bogazici, said students want the rector to be replaced by an elected individual.

“They already appointed a rector for us in 2016, we had opposed it as well. This is now the second time it has happened, so we need to show an even stronger reaction. This is why we have gathered here,” Usta told AFP.

A student group known as Bogazici Solidarity tweeted that two people were detained during the protest.

Created in 1863, the university was originally known as Robert College and was the first American university founded outside the United States.

It was renamed when the university was handed to Turkey in 1971. The name reflects the campus location overlooking the Bosphorus river – “Bogazici” in Turkish.