After the attempted coup d'état in 2015, Turkish President Erdoğan ordered investigations of public university professors to determine their possible affiliations with FETÖ, the Gülen Movement, which the Turkish government labels a "terrorist" organization. Many professors lost their jobs because of baseless allegations. Thousands were detained and hundreds were imprisoned on charges of supporting the Gülen Movement. Since 2016, President Erdoğan himself appointed loyalists affiliated with his political party, the AKP, as rectors of public universities in order to heighten surveillance of professors' and students' activities.
On January 1, 2021, Erdoğan appointed Melih Bulu, a former AKP candidate for parliament, as Rector at Turkey's most prestigious public university, Boğaziçi University. Since then, students have been protesting Bulu's appointment. Normally university rectors are chosen by democratic elections from the university faculty. They are not politically appointed. Erdoğan's larger agenda is to rewrite the Turkish Constitution. He fears that he will lose his grip on power in the next elections. Polls published in January 2021 show that Erdogan’s party, AKP, and Erdoğan himself will lose the elections, with an all-time-low percentage of votes in 2023. Erdoğan is looking for issues to instill fear in voters. Resentment of privileged students is widespread among those who support Erdoğan.
Erdoğan said on February 1, ‘‘Are you students or terrorists who are attempting to raid the rector’s office?’’ Turkish government officials and party leaders have supported Erdogan’s terrorism analogy and have also called students ‘vandals.’ "Terrorist" is a dehumanizing term, intended to shut groups outside society's circle of moral concern, and justify their arrest, persecution, and extermination. LGBTI+ activists are also hated by Erdoğan's supporters. Erdoğan has started an anti-LGBTI+ propaganda campaign. He denounced an art project by a Boğaziçi student with an image of the most sacred site for Muslims, the Kaaba in Mecca, with LGBTI+ flags collaged with it. Erdoğan's attack on an artwork disrespecting a sacred symbol is a dog-whistle to conservative Muslims. Erdoğan incites hate speech toward LGBTI+ people. Erdoğan has said, ‘‘There is no such thing as LGBTI+ in our culture and values. Our country has morals.’’ The implication is that LGBTI+ people are immoral, another dehumanizing term.
Police have ordered protestors to look down out of shame for their support of LGBTI+ rights and democratic elections for university rector. The hashtag #WeWontLookDown, in Turkish #AşağıBakmayacağız, is trending on Twitter. On February 1st, 2021, students gathered for another protest at Boğaziçi University. 350 students were detained by the police. 51 students have already been taken to trial, with no opportunity to contact lawyers or their families. On February 2nd, around 600 students and people supporting them gathered again, and police responded with excessive force and brutality. 104 more students were detained. Many more were injured. Protests are also being held in other cities such as Ankara and İzmir where police have also intervened brutally and have arrested protesters.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet has condemned the homophobic actions and speech of Turkish government officials. The High Commissioner called for all detained students to be released, and she urged Turkish police to cease their use of force against peaceful protestors.
Genocide Watch considers Turkey to be at Stage 7: Preparation. As more protests are held, Erdogan will increasingly fear loss of his power. He will crackdown on protest and turn Turkey into an anti-democratic autocracy.
Genocide Watch recommends:
- Erdoğan's hate speech and incitement against the LGBTI+ community must cease immediately.
- Students' rights to speak, assemble, and peacefully protest must be protected.