Turkey caught me off guard. Again. I was about to take a trip to the north of the city for Christmas celebrations when I heard the news. I said, “Oh boy, another power worship craze.” I didn’t realize how immediate everything was to my family.
Last week, Turkish Prime Minister went to ODTU, Middle East Technical University, and the students protested his presence on their campus. Erdogan and his government crashes every aspect of academic freedom, from freedom to produce knowledge to freedom of education. PM Erdogan entered in the campus to only exhibit his power. It was a symbolic visit, and the students rallied against it. The reaction of the police was harsh, leaving students injured, arrested and tortured.
It wouldn’t be horribly wrong to put it this way: ODTU is Turkey’s Berkeley. Even though the campus was an American invention from design to education (a campus in the shape of a handgun towards the Soviets with a curriculum completely taught in English), the smartness it attracted have always given ODTU a critical edge. Throughout years, and especially in the 1970s, ODTU was the left’s castle. Even after the catastrophic apolitization of the 1980s, ODTU kept its reputation– we all know, ODTU students and alumni are natural-born oppositionals.
When I heard about the police’s inexplicably harsh treatment, I was speechless, again. Because my sister is a graduate of ODTU. My brother in law, as well. So are some of my closest friends. Hearing an ODTU student hurt in the news would mean immediate anxiety at our homes. All of them are family to us.
What made everything worse, and caught me off guard, was a declaration by some universities (not their Senates, not their administration, not their Presidents, but the UNIVERSITIES–that’s how they worded it). In this declaration, the ODTU students were represented as violence supporters, and they were condemned for being against scientific development. One of those universities was my university, Galatasaray.
Galatasaray University is almost the opposite of ODTU. Or it was when I was going there. It was proud of being apolitical. Everybody, students and the academics, were happy with their French education, Francophile tendencies, wine, and cheese. We loved talking about poetry, our trips to Europe, and the beauty of Istanbul. We had the right to do so: Our campus is at the center of Istanbul, on the Bosporus’ side. We loved being the last representatives of the Belle Epoque in Turkey.
Despite this magical environment, my school also was hurt by whatever is going on in Turkey. We have a President who has a terrible accent in French, inexplicable declarations about his political ideas, and a horrible mustache. Everyone knew he never had the potential to even represent Galatasaray, but he somehow got to lead it. And when we heard of the declaration condemning our brothers and sisters at ODTU, everybody knew that it was his idea. It would be impossible to pass such text by our professors.
The professors and the alumni association immediately released statements clearly dissociating themselves from the university’s president. I signed the alumni declaration without losing time.
Later on, when I woke up from a horrible night, I realized how immediate the whole situation was to my family. My sister and I have differences in our political opinions. We always had different visions on life. She represented the rationale in our family while I was writing poetry and going for adventures in Europe. But we never fell apart. I know what it means to be a student at ODTU, and she was always supportive of me although she hated my Francophone behavior. This is the same for the relation of ODTU and Galatasaray communities. We are maybe not the best buddies of higher education community, but never, ever a Galatasaray alumni or professor would condemn an ODTU student for his/her political opinions and activism. It is clear, we are a family.
I am writing this post to state one thing we all know. The sane part of Galatasaray is in solidarity with the brave students of ODTU. I am also writing this post to state one thing that people will read after many years. Our schools, and our country indeed, may experience horrible leadership, but we, the people, are connected with something more subtle, more delicate, and stronger. It takes more policemen than you think to destroy that.
Galatasaray Unversity is a distinguished social sciences institution. Faculty of Law is charismatic, Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences is unique, and Faculty of Science and Letters is cool at GSU. If you want to study social sciences thoroughly furnished with a lovely language challenge, you pick GSU out of approximately 100 institutions in Turkey. It also has to pick you, but this is all about points, exams, dissertations, etc. which are not our subject today.
This great school provides many opportunities of academic achievement for its faculty members and students. Many continuing education programs and intriguing conferences are held at school. Venues for these activities are the conference halls, usually named after law professors or wealthy philanthropists. All of these halls has striking structures (two halls can actually become one after the wooden wall between is taken out) and difficult to manage infrastructure (one hall has an AC system which is adjusted once a week so that you can never harmonize the inner temperature with the unstable weather of Istanbul). One, the largest hall of the university, stands out of all: Aydın Doğan Auditorium. It is named after the most powerful media mogul of Turkey, who has no institutional bonds with the school. His name is on the invitations of multi-lingual student conferences or law colloquiums. He deserved it by paying for a hall with over 250 red seats, an overheated translation room, a platform imitating to be a stage, a ridiculously petite backstage, rarely functioning sound system, lights and AC.
However, Aydın Doğan is more than that. Lectures are rarely held there because the students are considered too messy for the elegance. Even if they are held, the board is too small for such a large “classroom”. The students clubs fight fiercely and pay in great sums for the right of using it during weekends. Theater club can’t rehearse there because the school does not want them to. It is too small for huge events such as the Best Bla Bla Awards of Business Administration Club, too large for cozy academic debates, too red for mourning ceremonies, too cold in winters. In sum, too something for everything. So, Aydın Doğan actually paid for a non-purpose thingy, which is not modifiable but also not useful. Galatasaray University with its astonishing view from its miniscule campus needs more functional infrastructure to augment the school’s potential. Social sciences are better studied with comfortable social interaction and the halls are not sufficient for that. Even its best hall is only good for blogging now, as I write and submit this piece in Aydın Doğan, thanks to the wireless from library.
Galatasaray University needs more moguls? Or more clever planning? I opt for the second.