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.