Gulf students caught up in Istanbul university row

The university is struggling to pay academics’ monthly salaries or even electricity bills. (Shutterstock)
Updated 22 November 2019

Gulf students caught up in Istanbul university row

  • Istanbul Sehir University recently had its assets frozen

ISTANBUL: A private university in Istanbul with more than 7,000 students, including many from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region, has become the latest arena for a bitter quarrel between Turkey’s ruling party and a breakaway political faction.

Istanbul Sehir University recently had its assets frozen by a court after state-run Halkbank claimed it was unable to repay more than 400 million Turkish lira ($70 million) in credit provided by the bank.

But many observers believe the real reason behind the move is not commercial, but something much deeper. They claim it is the result of a dispute between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the founder of the university, former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, an ex-ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who recently left the AKP to establish a new party with promises to campaign against Turkey’s drift to authoritarianism.

Now left without access to funds, the university is struggling to pay academics’ monthly salaries or even electricity bills.

And the bitter power struggle does not end here.

Valuable land on which the university’s facilities are established is another source of dispute between the government and university management. Although the land was granted to the university with an administrative decision, some believe a legal interpretation could lead to confiscation of the facility.

Last week, the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, ruled that it should be returned to the government as the land was improperly given to the university at the time.

Davutoglu, who resigned as prime minister in 2016, broke his silence in April this year after the local election setback for the AKP with a text criticizing the “wrongdoings” of the government. He resigned from the AKP in September along with several with other parliamentarians who served in high-ranking positions within the party. 

Earlier this month, Davutoglu said on social media that the government was engaged in “deliberate political acts” against the university.

In a series of speeches, the former prime minister has repeatedly voiced discontent over the erosion of the party’s core values of justice and freedom.

Davutoglu, widely regarded as the chief architect of the AKP’s foreign policy, was ranked seventh in a list of “100 global thinkers” by Foreign Policy magazine in 2010.

Mehmet Fatih Uslu, a Turkish literature specialist from Istanbul Sehir University, said the legal battle began after disagreements surfaced between Davutoglu and the government.

“This is not only a punishment directed at the university because Davutoglu is among its founders, but also a stick to be used against any new political establishment that breaks away from the government,” he told Arab News.

Uslu said that the university has always encouraged a “pluralist academic environment” despite the current polarized political atmosphere in the country. “However, the response from the academic circle has been too weak, which allows the authorities to abuse rights,” he said.

Three journalists who interviewed Davutoglu in a YouTube program in August later had their shows dropped by the Russian-backed Sputnik news platform.

With Davutoglu rumored to be setting up his new political outfit in less than a month, the university may become a bargaining chip following Erdogan’s previous warning against splits within the party. “Those who take part in this kind of betrayal will pay a heavy price,” he said.

Muzaffer Senel, a political scientist from Istanbul Sehir University, said: “Academics and administrative staff cannot get their salaries, and it harms families because they cannot pay their rent. If no immediate solution is found, electricity, water and gas will have to be cut, and students’ education could be interrupted.”

While the dispute continues, the future of foreign students at the university, including those from the Gulf region, remains uncertain.


Outspoken Iranian rapper Amir Tataloo arrested in Turkey

Updated 19 min 42 sec ago

Outspoken Iranian rapper Amir Tataloo arrested in Turkey

  • Tataloo was preparing to travel to the UK when he was detained, reportedly at the request of Iran
  • Fans and colleagues fear for much-loved musician’s safety if sent back to Iran

LONDON: Amir Tataloo, one of the most popular Iranians on social media and outspoken critic of the regime in Tehran, was arrested on Tuesday as he prepared to leave for the UK.

The rapper, whose real name is Amirhossein Maghsoodloo, was detained in Turkey where he had been living to pursue his career in music. Reports said the arrest was at Iran’s request.

Tataloo, who has performed for the BBC, is a long-standing opponent of Iran’s ruling mullahs and has denounced the establishment for not licencing his music, which Iran deems “Western, non-Iranian and immoral.”

He has been arrested in Iran multiple times for his lyrics, which spoke out against the government’s human rights abuses and restrictions on press freedom.

Iran International TV channel reported that Turkish authorities are currently working to facilitate Tataloo’s extradition to Iran, prompting fears for his safety from colleagues and fans.

A fan-made petition advocating for his release had already garnered more than 15,000 signatures.

The administrator of Tataloo’s social media accounts, known as Ronak, warned that “if Amir is handed over to Iranian police, it is unclear what is going to happen.”

She said: “Think you wake up today and think that from tomorrow you will go to a European country after years of pain… but instead they touch you and want to bring you back to the same country where your life has always been in danger.”

Tara Sepehri Far, Iran Researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Arab News that Tataloo has been harassed by authorities repeatedly, and that his “story of past persecution for artistic activities is very concerning right now.” 

Tataloo could “face a real threat of persecution or torture” if returned to Iran.

Even more worrying though, she said, is the way Iranian media is treating the arrest.

Far told Arab News that Iran is using this as an opportunity to “show that they’re capable of bringing people back to Iran.

“They’re using it as a propaganda tool and as leverage to show that Iran can project power beyond its borders.”

Tataloo has more than 3.2 million followers on Instagram and 1.25 million on Facebook.

The arrest comes at a time of heightened civil unrest within Iran, which has been wracked by months of anti-government protests.