What Do Boğaziçi Protests Show Us?

In January, we saw that the assignment of Melih Bulu, who previously had ties to the ruling party, as rector by President Erdogan, sparked many protests across the country. These protests were triggered by various motivations, and some protesters were pointed as a target with a discriminatory and polarizing discourse by the president and ministers. Currently, we’re at the end of the month of February, and daily protests of academics at Boğaziçi University against the assignment of Melih Bulu as rector, and the call for release of detained students continue. Besides that, this process led to many discussion in various aspects. We, as some of metapolitik authors, have tried to create a collection article in which these various aspects can be presented consecutively.


  • Efe CengizWhat Does the Boğaziçi Protests Mean for the European Student?

In 1966, a pamphlet was published in UNEF Strasburg, in a time where the European student could still at least trick themselves into thinking they were politically relevant, the pamphlet called their situation one of poverty.

According to “On the poverty of student life…” the student was the most hated group in France after priests and police. Looking at Boğaziçi, we could argue that in Turkey student surpasses the priest and police easily in this regard. Yet are they the most hated? We must here learn to recognize what those at UNEF did not, the racial-other and the queer.

Boğaziçi protests are now at a point where it is impossible to analyze them separately from the movements for LGBTQI+ rights and the Kurdish political recognition.

The pamphlet called those Franks who decided to act as if the university is some institution where the knowledge was valued for itself and could be cultivated free from the grasp of capital and state fools. Doubly foolish were those who recognized this issue but saw the liberation / rebellion in grasping the institution ever tighter, as if it was a raft in a storm, rather than the anchor.

Similarly, we must now call those Turks who have called for the sterilization of the Boğaziçi protests as a protest of meritocracy and eligibility, one of prestige, one of deserving the rectorate position and nothing more, what they are; naive fools at best, and neoliberals at worst.

If the government can recognize the position of the Turkish universities as a site of political power, to be cultivated and to be channeled, and can act accordingly; pulling out all stops to turn this field into a barren wasteland where only apolitical echoes-who can only repeat what has been spoken in the great halls of government supporting media- could be cultivated, we must also be able to recognize it for what it is; an institution whose possibilities for political power far exceeds the most radical hope of any European student, who still debates whether bombing Dresden another time would be a good response to the Holocaust or not. I am sorry to mention the Anti Deutsch movement here, but every argument needs a good joke, and they are nothing but. Which would mean that Goethe University is a comedy show, for example. Yet the matters are far too serious in Boğaziçi, as a battle rages bot for the soul of the Turkish student, but its soul itself rages in a battle for basic human rights all across turkey. If the European student still has some capacity to learn anything that does not reward credit points, let them start with a dream, of studentship as politically active and meaningful.


  • Ezgi Meriç BaşThinking Boğaziçi Protests Together with Massumi’s Hope

Boğaziçi protests are the emergence of hope against not only a single appointed trustee but also an appointed lifestyle. I am not trying to put a romantic description of a protest; on the contrary, Boğaziçi protests are the very outcome of our illuminated world, a world we are continuously under control. It is the reveal of a potential to darken a little bit and bring some sort of uncertainty, where the real freedom might be found. What made students gather for their rightful protest was the hope itself. It was the hope for the possibility of living in a country where the lack of political accountability does not crush people.

To Massumi, the idea of hope in the “virtualized global and political economies” is somehow vital. Hope is neither the planned or expected happy ending of the optimistic ideals nor the opposite of the pessimism, rather it is an affect. Furthermore, it is the margin of maneuverability[1]; in other words, every movement initiated by protestors is the expression of what they can do. Boğaziçi protests have grown neither because protesters believed the most popular politicians would resign (as expressed in the latest protest declaration) nor because they believed they would change the non-democratic regulations in a night. Their motivation can be associated with Massumi’s affect of going beyond what is structured for them, i.e., a structure that was organized by patriarchal, sexist, exploitative, and anti-democratic political power.

Our enlightened world provides a fully encapsulated situation through which people’s route was fully determined. The appointed trustee is not to direct or to administer but to manage the university. Just as the highest authorities determined his managership, he was to determine what students cannot do about their own lives. That his very first undertakings were about entrepreneurship and extra-revenue for the university budget is not a coincidence but the signs of constructing a future lifestyle for future students. The managerial methods used in ideally autonomous institutions, i.e., universities, endanger this autonomy by transforming every member as the managed subjects for the maximum possible gain. Unfortunately, the gain considered here is not only in terms of economic means but also political. So, well, Boğaziçi protesters had their own hope to stand against the political gain of the ones who never turn off their flashlight.

[1] Massumi, B. (2015). Politics of affect. John Wiley & Sons.


  • Emin Aslan Özbek A Way to Out: Boğaziçi University Protests and Understanding Turkey’s Broken Politics

At the very stark & desperate political deathtrap of People’s Alliance, nasty appointed-trustees of Leader of AKP (Justice and Development Party) Erdoğan, like Mr. Bulu or Mr. Kök, may enjoy their Heidegger-ish power that resulted from their submission to AKP-MHP (Nationalist Action Party) Block and irreversible treachery to most essential academic and intellectual values. Yet, people of Boğaziçi University and thousands of people who demand the most basic rights are introducing a very powerful resistance which the “major political opposition” of Turkey, namely Nation Alliance, cannot try to utter: An inclusive front which, also, fights for every oppressed one clearly including queers, Kurds, women, and workers. This civil front’s members faced a series of assaults. People’s Alliance specifically targetted representatives of oppressed communities. Even this poor strategy of AKP shows us that every possible threat to their policy of segregation & polarization in the public sphere is becoming very fragile when oppressed different identities reconcile and act for freedom of all. Thereinafter, we see a “tiny” and “marginal” group of students can implement policy and narrative for future-to-come-for-everyone, while “strong” political actors of Turkey are suffering from their lack of policy and naturally a future-anterior. Thus, Boğaziçi University Protests demonstrate the other and crucial responsibility of civil opposition actors of Turkey:  Broke the broken politics of the current system.


AKP government and its supporters are holding up on the artificial and synthetic “terror” and “terrorists” discourse for the people protesting the assignation of Melih Bulu, in order to strengthen their stand against this rising resistance wave. This is the same discourse that the government has adopted over the years also against the political parties, of which existence is legalized by the constitution. The AKP government is giving a new ultimatum by using “a language” based on nationalist sentiments in response to those who do not want its hegemony. The brutality of this language, which is being used by the government to protect its existence, can be summarized as follows: During the first protests held on January 4, 2021 the requests of students for “independent elections, not appointments” were followed by conflicts between the police positioned in front of the campus and students positioned in front of the Boğaziçi University. In response to these atrocities carried out by the police and the government; “solidarity” was established among students in the universities all over Turkey. In order to protect the rights of protest and meeting, which is a constitutional right, the students came together without feeling tied to any other constituent or structure. Upon this establishment of solidarity, the students shouted altogether and under no bond to any other constituent, by using their constitutional right to protest. Their only motivation was to defend and protect themselves. In the coming days, the peaceful protests of Boğaziçi academicians to oppose this nomination made by the government followed the objections of students. In order to respond to these increasingly stubborn protests; the AKP government followed a systematic intimidation policy, using the hardest measures it could take. Police used severe violence against protesting students in Kadıköy on 1 February. More than 100 of these students, who participated in the protests were called as “terrorists” by the government. Furthermore, some supporters and protesters were arrested by the police. For these reasons, Boğaziçi protests show us that the statements regarding terror and terrorism, which the government has been abusively using for years are now hollow statements. The government is strengthening its hegemony by calling any opposer as a terrorist.


  • Kağan SarıkayaA Despair Between the Public Opinion and Political Vulnerability

From the Boğaziçi University protests, it is possible to ascertain various social, intellectual, and political findings in a range of different aspects. In particular, these are of great importance in terms of indicating how blurred the relationship that the academics and intellectuals, as civil opposition, has established with the political opposition. As we know, the criticisms such as the lack of merit and corruption, that the opposition parties often bring to the ruling party AKP, seemed as values that have also been ignored by the opposition parties’ themselves within the frame of their own duties and responsibilities. It should be noted that if a political party receive their votes and undertake political responsibility from a segment of society around a vision, which is presented in the party programs, they are of course obliged to defend the political demands of civil opposition. Likewise, if the protests against the assignment of the rector, are being adopted by hundreds of thousands of people in the civil opposition, these political parties had to execute the responsibility to express the social and political demands, to the public and the state, with the legal privilege that they acquired through the will of these opposite segments of society. Namely, they should have been aware of the incontrovertible duty to create a basis for legitimacy to protests and the people who were engaged in. But what happened?

The fact that the protests were passed and transformed into an identity and political-emotional perspective and tried to be instrumentalized as a continuation of the polarization strategy of ruling party- AKP, indicated some hard realities about the situated deficiencies of the opposition parties. Indeed, because the protests took place in a youth-student range, so that is outside the mainstream social-political pattern in Turkey, or so we assume, students stood in the middle of a political vulnerability. Popular politicians of opposition parties have publicly distanced themselves from the ‘truth’, seemingly for the sake of their future political careers, they have considered that it was risky to get position away from the ‘average’ and the conservative political discourse.

Therefore, communities with a high possibility of social marginalization such as LGBT+, Feminists, Leftists, Anarchists, and so forth, remain in a sphere of utmost political absence. It seems that any claim for rights that do not attain a basis of social and conventional ‘legitimate’, is becoming less and less likely to be raised its voice for the reason that conservative politics instrumentalizes the notions such as tradition and family as tools, and the types of political pressure. Henceforth, the claim for rights for these masses will become a quite painful and more difficult process.


Recent protests have been triggered by the appointment of Melih Bulu as the rector of Boğaziçi University. Students want the rector to be elected by academics to maintain the self-governing structure of their university. In addition, they denied considering the issue as a part of the legal process and developed an inclusive political reaction, which disturbed the government as well as some neoliberals claiming to be opponents. Students managed to represent the voice of people who were being subjected to increasing oppression of the government. Student movement involves a crucial message to the government:  ‘’We do not mind the narrative of external enemies; we need a transformation from the inside.’’

In this country, the establishment of authority has been closely related to such notions as masculinity, Turkish identity, and religious faith. While expressing their demands, Boğaziçi students attempted to construct a movement that would exceed these traditional limits. Boğaziçi resistance implied a contingent, self-expressive and productive movement. The queers did not try to disguise themselves or to keep silent. Women were in the foreground and acted daringly in a manner that we are acquainted with these days. Those who do not refer to Turkish identity while expressing themselves reminded the society that there is no such necessity. Finally, some protesters indicated that the embodiment of religious values may be anomalous to the ways utilized by the government.

Thus, Boğaziçi resistance, having an anti-authoritarian and a lively character, was regarded as unbearable and cursed by the government. As the sources of legitimization were shaken by the dynamism of the protests, the government began to act unreasonably and violently. Many protesters were taken into custody, families of students received a warning from the officials, and some participants were sued even though there was no clear evidence. The majority were acquitted of the charges, although some students were put under house arrest, and nine protesters were sent to jail. It is uneasy that the government is going out of control; however, a strong belief in a bright future for the country emerged as the solidarity between the protesters and people would undermine the despotism.


Guy Debord points out the social relationship as being based on the mediation by images1 which are something frozen, separated from its space and time as its etymological connection with imago meaning dead masks taken from ancestors. Thus, the question might be asked about the characteristics or symptoms of a society whose relationship is solely formed by things that are not present and alive. One claim might be made from Benedict Anderson’s well-known argument in the Imagined Communities that “the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion”.2 However, if we live with a community that exists in our imagination, then, what is the real community? Or, what happens when the image of the community in the minds corresponds to another image or system of signs in reality? How can we differentiate the image in our own minds from the images in which we live? In a society mediated by images, an infinite loop of the system of signs has been created regardless of any reference to reality. Therefore, the separation between sign and referentiality leads to unfixable meanings, namely the chain of equivalences without any reference.

For instance, the protestors in Boğaziçi University are presented as naive students deceived by terrorists but also terrorist students in another statement, and perverts for being LGBTQ+, elites, non-believers, etc. That equation has been reproduced each moment even as Boğaziçi students who party in Uludağ despite the pandemic.3 Here, each sign is equaled with another, or even with its negation beyond true and false. The critical point is that it is not about whether the signs and images are distorted or manipulated, or certain images are creating their communities or vice versa. Let me give the example of the Police Department’s tweet about “From below not ‘look down’”4 to justify itself. It is not similar to the videos from protests in Kadıköy that show ones who are kicking a police car and another angle from the same protest video of driving the police car over people. In the case of the Police Department’s tweet, even the same video and audio have generated totally different debates because facts cannot exist as themselves but occur at the junction of different models. In other words, each particular event is subsumed by general models.

Another significant aspect is that the violence against and detention of students could have been part of the social again only by some forms of discourses. Therefore, the bodies, the bare lives of the students have split up in systems of equivalences again, as a result, the basic unit of society, individual, is divided and has become dividual5. On the other hand, those protests also make visible the dead-end of a society stuck between “from below” and “look down”, blind to vulnerability and bare live at stake. Today, this is how the power mechanism works as hiding the truth of vulnerability by “disintegrating every contradiction by the means of production of equivalent signs”6, thus, makes its subjects more vulnerable. Consequently, those protests are also resistance to the kingdom of ceaseless signs and images through reinjecting the fundamental reference of vulnerability. The contemporary challenge of the society grounded on images is accepting its groundlessness, and revealing the dead mask of the society concealing the fact that there is no one dead.

References:

1 Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle. Zone Books, 1995, p. 12.

2 Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Verso, 2016, p. 6.

3https://www.sabah.com.tr/yasam/2021/02/15/son-dakika-uludag-skandalinda-flas-gelisme-bogazici-universitesi-ogrenciler-parti-vermisti?paging=3

4https://www.duvarenglish.com/nation-rallies-behind-bogazici-in-resistance-against-erdogans-rector-we-wont-look-down-news-56094

5 Deleuze, Gilles. “Postscript on the Societies of Control”, October, Vol. 59, Winter 1992, p. 3-7.

6 Baudrillard, Jean. “Simulacra and Simulations” in Selected Writings, ed. M. Poster, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1988, p. 180.


The approach of the President of the Republic of Turkey (the “President”) towards Boğaziçi University shows that the President ignores the autonomy of the universities foreseen under article 130 of the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey (the “Turkish Constitution”) while using his authorities with regards to higher education. The President’s appointment of Melih Bulu as the rector of Boğaziçi University, one of the most prominent universities in Turkey, was criticized by Boğaziçi University students, alumni and faculty members as well as individual political leaders. The reasons behind such criticisms were the fact that Bulu, who was not a faculty member of Bogazici University, was not nominated by the faculty members (or any other components) of the university. Criticisms mainly argued that an appointment of a university president without any nomination (or at least a consultation with faculty members) was against universities’ scientific autonomy foreseen under the Turkish Constitution. Later, the President established law faculty and communication faculty despite the fact that there was no such request of Bogaziçi University, and it further showed that the President is ignorant towards the universities’ autonomy.

Upon the appointment of Melih Bulu, Boğaziçi University students and faculty members started using their right to demonstration protected under article 34 of the Turkish Constitution. These demonstrations took part both in and outside the campus. The government’s attitude, judiciary, and certain members of the opposition parties constitutes a violation of constitutional rights. First of all, the police forces tried to prevent these demonstrations on the ground that the demonstrations are prohibited as Covid-19 measures. However, it is seen that police forces who try to prevent these demonstrations showed no intention to prevent demonstrations organized by Anadolu Gençlik Derneği as a response to Boğaziçi University demonstrations. This showed that the police forces who are responsible for the sustainment of public order respected certain students’ right to demonstrate while preventing Bogaziçi University students from using their right to demonstrate. Secondly, during these demonstrations, certain students were taken into custody as they firstly were accused by the crime of “degrading the religious values of a section of the public” regulated under article 216/3 of the Turkish Penal Code on the ground that they exhibited a painting with LGBTI+ flags which degraded Islam and disrespected the religion by putting down the image of Kaaba on the floor. However, since it was not possible to issue an arrest warrant for the crime of “degrading the religious values of a section of the public,” the prosecution office later revised the grounds. It accused the students of a graver crime, “provoking the public to hatred or hostility” regulated under article 216/1 of the Turkish Penal Code, and requested students to be arrested. Now, there are eight students who are currently arrested. Here, it is significant to say that the main opposition party, CHP’s spokesperson, tweeted that they condemn provocation and they cannot accept any attack on sacred values. Thirdly, the members of the government (including interior minister Soylu) accused students and demonstrators of being “terrorists” while also claiming that LGBTI+ individuals supporting the protests are “perverts”, committing a hate crime. Needless to say, none of the prosecutors initiated any investigations in that regard.  All in all, the attitude of the government and the judiciary shows that fundamental rights and freedoms of people were not sustained and even breached by the authorities as prevention of the demonstrations indicate that people are deprived of their right to demonstration and taking students into custody and arresting some of them mean that people’s right to liberty and security were threatened. It is also significant to state that Turkish authorities are acting in such a way not only to punish people using their constitutional rights but also to create a chilling effect to deter other people from supporting demonstrators and standing against such arbitrary appointments.


  • Tayfun TatarBoğaziçi Protests as a Holistic Academic Matter

The recent events that occurred at Boğaziçi University concern the academia in Turkey as a whole. In order to understand the threat posed to academia by the government clearly, one needs to take two things into account: firstly, Melih Bulu is an ASSIGNED rector, which means that his academic achievements are not even under consideration. A free university rules itself; therefore, strong titles or a well-filled curriculum vitae (although Mr. Bulu does not have one) does not make him a rightful rector. For this reason, the focus should be on the fact that he is assigned, not the fact that he is a failure. Otherwise, these acts and the resistance would still be against the nature of academia. Secondly, the perspective regarding these events should not be limited to Boğaziçi students, professors, or any foundation related to Boğaziçi by itself. It was actually more recently proven by the attacks on Galatasaray University that if the academic community does not stand side by side and resist the invasion of free university sites, the government will not stop at any point. This requires solidarity from all the universities around Turkey, especially by the academicians. This is because the main figures of academia are the academicians, and it is necessary that they respond to these interventions back as strong as they can all over the country. In the enlightenment of these two critical points, one can easily say that the assignation of Melih Bulu is a strong proof of the danger in academia. Even further, it also, unfortunately, showed that people still lack the awareness that the matter is not only Boğaziçi University or Galatasaray University, but the academia as a whole.