Demonstrations by both staff and students erupted last month over the installation of Melih Bulu, a business figure who stood as a ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) parliamentary candidate in 2015, as rector of Boğaziçi University, arguably the most acclaimed higher education institution in the country. Critics see the move as undemocratic, and an attempt to push conservative values on the left-leaning university. Demonstrators called on Bulu to resign.
At least 250 people in Istanbul and another 69 in Ankara have been arrested this week, the vast majority of them students, in clashes between protesters and police marking one of the biggest displays of civil unrest in Turkey since the 2013 Gezi Park movement.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Wednesday that his government would not allow the Boğaziçi protests to spiral out of control, accusing the protesters of being “terrorists” and “LGBT youth” working against Turkey’s “national and spiritual values”.
According to the BBC, in a video broadcast to members of his party, he said, “We will carry our young people to the future, not as the LGBT youth, but as the youth that existed in our nation’s glorious past.”
“You are not the LGBT youth, not the youth who commit acts of vandalism. On the contrary, you are the ones who repair broken hearts,” he said in the broadcast. While homosexuality is legal in Turkey, public sentiment towards homosexuals is still guarded.
Behrem Evlice, a fourth-year political science student, said: “We are so angry right now, and it’s not just Boğaziçi students, it’s students and young people all over Turkey. [The state] has attacked us with the police and violence. They are smearing us with these labels when all we want is a say in how our university is run. Ultimately though there is an economic crisis in Turkey and they know they are going to lose votes … they are just trying to divide people.”
The US State Department has criticized anti-LGBT rhetoric surrounding the protests. Turkey’s interior minister has characterized the protesters as “perverts” on Twitter.