Young Turks revisited

February 6, 2014

Jack Grove’s excellent feature “Out of control” (5 December) rightly highlighted the role of Turkish students and scholars in the large anti-government demonstrations last year that centred on the occupation of Istanbul’s Gezi Park. Students and scholars from the leading universities, especially the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, have long had key roles in Turkish political life.

Since its establishment in 1956, METU has been more than a symbol of academic excellence, it has also been a focal point of autonomy, freedom and independence.

The event that sparked the students’ anger against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) before “Occupy Gezi” was the visit of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to the METU campus. Students who opposed AKP policies and the prime minister’s repressive tactics protested on campus and were attacked by a reported 3,000 police using riot control vehicles, water cannon and tear gas. Afterwards, METU academics and administration publicly expressed their disapproval of such brutal policing and supported students’ right to protest, to the ire of the prime minister.

METU received great support from universities nationwide, except for those newly established institutions that are closely tied to the ruling party. The declarations from the academics nationwide were a litmus test for academic freedom and autonomy. Students across the country demonstrated against the prime minister and his administration and gave full support to METU.

Occupy Gezi was not an isolated event; while many METU students went to Istanbul to support their peers in Gezi Park, hundreds of others joined demonstrations around Ankara against the AKP administration.

Today, as the government struggles with allegations of corruption among officials and a question mark hangs over the role of the prime minister, demonstrations and protests continue in Ankara and Istanbul. Many Turkish people, with students prominent among them, are demanding an end to government corruption. Secularists and educated people remain determined to construct a modern Turkey.

Burak Yedierler
Associate professor
Department of physics
Middle East Technical University

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