ANKARA: Istanbul’s Sehir University, founded by Ahmet Davutoglu, the former prime minister and ex-ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was shut down on Monday after an overnight presidential decree.
“With this signature, President Erdogan has gone down in history as a politician who shut down a university,” Davutoglu said during a press conference on Tuesday.
The move had been expected following the government seizure of the BISAV (Foundation for Sciences and Arts) organization behind the university earlier this year over a failure to pay back loans. The university failed to pay staff salaries and utility bills.
The overnight move highlights rising tensions between the Turkish government and leaders of breakaway parties.
Erdogan delivered the inaugural speech at the opening of the university 10 years ago.
The university’s assets and bank accounts were frozen by a Turkish court shortly after Davutoglu launched the new Future Party, which aims to attract conservative and religious voters.
Despite the crackdown on the university he founded, the former premier continued his criticism of the ruling government.
“They can walk around with arrogance after having shown how much they are capable of, but they will pay the price of this crime in the public consciousness and in the scales of justice,” he said on Tuesday.
Davutoglu also received support from the leader of another breakaway party, DEVA (Remedy Party), recently founded by ex-economy chief Ali Babacan.
“This process is completely unlawful and is the result of the ruling government’s hostile stance,” Babacan tweeted on Tuesday.
Muzaffer Senel, a professor of international relations at Sehir University, is searching for an academic post after the university he contributed to for many years was shut down. “The university has been turned into a target because everybody enjoyed academic freedom there for a decade,” he told Arab News.
“The university was always distanced from the ruling government. Its management and academics didn’t take any political positions. They only opted for a moral and ethical stance,” he added.
Sehir University hosted hundreds of foreign and Turkish academics with a wide range of political tendencies, including both right and left, and nationalist and socialist points of view. More than 7,000 students graduated from the university, including many from the Gulf region.
“We left behind a shiny reference point about how the university should look like, based on universal values, and we are proud of it,” Senel said.
Berk Esen, a political analyst from Bilkent University in Ankara, said: “The government’s decision to shut down the university is clearly a vindictive move to punish Erdogan’s opponents, particularly Davutoglu.”
He added: “As a result of the autocratization process in Turkey, the cost of toleration for dissent has gone up substantially. The president is sending a clear message that any support given for splinter parties in the conservative camp will be punished severely.”
Sehir University’s founding motive was to consolidate and strengthen the growing conservative intelligentsia in Turkey and abroad.
“Although Sehir University hired good scholars over the years, that conservative agenda permeated throughout the institution and has lately begun to clash with the Erdogan administration. This is a fight to influence the hearts and minds of educated conservative students in contemporary Turkey,” Esen said.
“The fact that the government went to such lengths to abolish Sehir University is highly significant, as this would undermine any long-term influence Islamists may have played in the higher education system,” he added.
The fate of hundreds of students waiting for graduation this year is still unknown.
“There is no bottom point for a government that closes the university because of its political grudge and conducts operations to the future of the youth,” Galip Dalay, a visiting scholar at the University of Oxford, tweeted.