Protests against Turkish university hire go global

Protests against Turkish university hire go global
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Turkish police clash with hundreds of students in Istanbul protesting the appointment of a political person as rector of their Bogazici University. (AP)
Protests against Turkish university hire go global
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Students of Bogazici University demonstrate outside a court as they demand the release of their fellow college students who are on trial for protesting against President Tayyip Erdogan's appointment of a new rector in Istanbul, Turkey, January 7, 2021. (REUTERS)
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Updated 09 January 2021

Protests against Turkish university hire go global

Protests against Turkish university hire go global
  • New Rector Melih Bulu is a ruling party loyalist and was a candidate during the previous elections

ANKARA: A high-profile appointment at a Turkish university has triggered protests as far afield as Australia and Canada, amid growing anger over government attempts to infiltrate higher education institutions.

Melih Bulu was a candidate for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) during the previous general and local elections, and his appointment as rector of the prestigious Bogazici University in Istanbul has led to clashes between students and police in the Turkish city and stoked fears that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is tightening his control over campuses.

Bogazici graduates, students and lecturers living in Paris, Berlin, Sydney, Eindhoven and Toronto staged protests in response to the appointment of Bulu, who comes from outside the university’s community and was appointed by presidential decree.

Aybala Bulut, one of the protesters, said Erdogan’s actions “trespassed” on the university’s traditions.  

“What we are protesting is the appointment of a rector to our university by the president, a practice that trespasses the democratic principles highly valued and prioritized for more than 150 years,” she told Arab News.

Traditionally, the candidate with the highest share of votes in university elections became the rector of Bogazici University.

“Bogazici has such a democratic tradition when it comes to electing administrative staff,” she added. “The appointment of a rector from outside of the university without an election, a practice reminiscent of military rule in 1980s’ Turkey, by itself is unacceptable for us and enough reason to protest.”

Hundreds of professors joined the protests on campus, shouting: “We do not accept. We do not give up.”

They also released a joint declaration criticizing the appointment of someone outside the Bogazici community as rector.

“It is a must for the universities to take the decisions themselves through councils elected with democratic methods,” the declaration said.


Bogazici University graduates, students and lecturers living in Paris, Berlin, Sydney, Eindhoven and Toronto staged protests.

At least 36 bar association heads also gave their support to the Jan. 7 protests, criticizing the “anti-democratic” ways for rector appointments and pointing to the gravity of police violence against the demonstrations.

Dozens of university students in Turkish cities were met with tear gas and plastic bullets. They were also taken into custody, although many of them were released. There have also been reports about students being strip searched and beaten, causing more anger.

On Friday Erdogan criticized the protests for the first time, saying that “terrorists” were involved. He also said that Bulu was the “most suitable” person for the job.

Bogazici University, which overlooks the Bosphorus, was founded in 1863. It was the first American higher education institution to be established outside the US. It has more than 15,000 students and six campuses on the European side of Istanbul.

“Bogazici academics object to this appointment first and foremost as a matter of principle, independent of the person who is appointed,” Dr. Mert Arslanalp, a political scientist from Bogazici University, told Arab News.

Arslanalp said that a centralized top-down appointment system was anti-democratic and undermined university autonomy.

“Bogazici University has a bottom-up governance model that spreads decision-making powers across a vast number of commissions, committees, and deliberative bodies, which ensures the free development of numerous disciplines, centers, and student clubs. We think that the democratic governance model is valuable because academic freedoms, critical thought, and pluralist campus life that are necessary for scientific, intellectual, and moral development of academics and students can only be preserved in the long-run under such a model. Otherwise, it depends on the goodwill of individuals. This governance model has also ensured that faculty appointments are made on the basis of merit, which is essential for reaching high quality research and education.”

He added that an externally appointed rector would not be accountable and may use the position’s extensive legal powers to undermine the democratic governance model.

“Appointing someone outside the university is also an insult to the entire faculty body of one of the best universities in Turkey. It implies that this university, which has educated some of the top leaders in many fields and has successfully governed itself for decades, now lacks the human capital to govern itself. I find such an insinuation extremely disrespectful and profoundly antidemocratic.”

There are other ethical concerns about the new rector, including allegations that his master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation involve plagiarism, and question marks over his academic prowess.

“Students doubt that he could even be a part-time professor at the university let alone being the rector of it,” Bulut said.

Erdogan has appointed 27 rectors over the past year.


Fears of Iraq execution spree after Daesh attack

Fears of Iraq execution spree after Daesh attack
Updated 18 min 21 sec ago

Fears of Iraq execution spree after Daesh attack

Fears of Iraq execution spree after Daesh attack
  • More than 340 execution orders “for terrorism or criminal acts” were ready to be carried out
  • The orders came after twin suicide attacks claimed by Daesh killed 32 in Baghdad

BAGHDAD: Rights defenders fear Iraq may give the green light to a spree of executions of convicted militants in a show of strength, days after a deadly suicide attack in Baghdad.
On Sunday, an official from Iraq’s presidency told AFP more than 340 execution orders “for terrorism or criminal acts” were ready to be carried out.
“We are continuing to sign off on more,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The orders were disclosed to AFP after twin suicide attacks claimed by the Daesh group on Thursday killed at least 32 people in a crowded open-air Baghdad market.
The blasts were a jolting reminder of the persistent threat posed by the jihadists, despite the government declaring victory over them in late 2017.
The official, along with judicial sources contacted by AFP, could not provide additional details on when the executions may take place or if they included foreigners convicted of belonging to IS.
A 2005 law carries the death penalty for anyone convicted of “terrorism,” which can include membership of an extremist group even if they are not convicted of any specific acts.
Rights groups have warned that executions were being used for political reasons.
“Leaders resort to announcements of mass executions simply to signal to the public that they’re taking... (these issues) seriously,” said Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“The death penalty is used as a political tool more than anything else,” she told AFP on Sunday.
In mid-2018, outgoing Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi announced 13 executions under the Counter-Terror Law, and for the first time authorities published pictures of the hangings.
That came after Daesh killed eight civilians.

Since the official declaration of victory over Daesh, Iraq’s courts have sentenced hundreds to death for crimes perpetrated during the jihadists’ 2014 seizure of around a third of the country and their brutal three-year hold over cities including Mosul.
But only a small proportion of the sentences have been carried out, as they must be approved by the president.
Barham Saleh, who has held the post since 2018, is known to be personally against capital punishment, and has resisted signing execution orders in the past.
Some Iraqis took to social media to demand tougher action from Saleh after Thursday’s attack, accusing him of “not carrying out the sentences” and risking a prison break.
Despite Saleh’s moderating influence, Iraq in 2019 carried out the fourth highest number of executions among nations worldwide, after China and Iran, according to Amnesty International.
Iraq carried out 100 executions that year — one out of every seven worldwide.
Judicial sources told AFP at least 30 executions took place in 2020.
They include 21 men convicted of “terrorism” and executed at the notorious Nasiriyah prison in November.
The move sparked condemnations from the United Nations, which described the news as “deeply troubling” and called on Iraq to halt any further planned executions.

Rights groups accuse Iraq’s justice system of corruption, carrying out rushed trials on circumstantial evidence and failing to allow the accused a proper defense.
They also condemn cramped conditions in detention centers, saying those arrested for petty crimes are often held with hardened jihadists, facilitating radicalization.
Iraq’s government has declined to provide figures on detention centers or prisoners, including how many are facing terrorism-related charges, although some studies estimate 20,000 are being held for purported Daesh links.
UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said late last year that given such gaps in Iraq’s legal system, implementing capital punishment “may amount to an arbitrary deprivation of life by the State.”
Ali Bayati, a leading member of Iraq’s Human Rights Commission, told AFP the country had “limited options.”
“Capital punishment is part of the Iraqi legal system — and we do not have real rehabilitation centers,” he said.
“We lack clear guarantees and real transparency in the interrogation and ruling sessions, and in allowing human rights organizations to play their role.”