Turkish government attacks METU students for protecting their forest

Turkish police have blocked all entrance to the Middle East Technical University (METU)

Turkish government attacks METU students for protecting their forest

Turkish police have blocked all entrance to the Middle East Technical University (METU).

The dispute started when the government appointed rector could not prevent student protests for his undemocratic and top-down appointment by politicians and his collaboration with the government to implement a plan to dilute the progressive student movement.

The student body is rejecting a student housing construction to be built in a forest area by the government.  The plan to start a construction of a dormitory building is problematic from two angles.

First, the school forest is a rare gem in an otherwise dry, barren landscape where even growing trees is a very hard task in the Ankara climate.  Thousands of students back in the 1960’s had worked day and night to plant the trees in the school’s land to start a forest.  For years they have watered, took care of and maintained the forest.  The trees finally grew and the area is a rarity in the region.  Especially in the recent years, the Turkish government has attacked all sites of parks, natural habitat, forests and any area open to the public to privatize it, build shopping malls or commercial sites.  Only few years ago another project to build a huge highway through the forest was underway.  Students feel the latest attack to their forest is yet another attempt of the government to raze the land and build more concrete monsters.  The current AKP government sees all economic activity and growth not in production but in building concrete buildings.  The party enjoys a big support from developers and builders.  The large government projects such as these always becomes a boondoggle for the party bosses who get kick-backs as corruption among the ranks of AKP is rampant.

The second issue is a hideous and a deep political reason.  Middle East Technical University is a top university in the country with a very progressive student body and for years the government has been trying its best to change the school students into obedient, right-wing, religious and compliant political fans of the ruling AKP party.  For this end, the government appointed a lackey rector, Mustafa Verşan Kök, who couldn’t even receive half of the votes for the real candidate for the position.  He was appointed anyway due to his close ties to the government.  Now to pay back, the rector is acting as if he has no say in the administration of his school, but in reality, with this approach he is allowing the government to build the new student housing because other political issues lie behind this move.  Of course, the first question that comes to mind is if the rector himself feels powerless for a construction being planned in his school, how can he be a rector that could administer a university if his hands are tied.

The existing school dormitories are managed by the university.  METU students with listed requirements are allowed to stay there and the administration is accountable to the university staff.  The new dormitories will be built and administered by the government’s office for higher education.  This will give the total control to the government where each and every student who will have the right to stay in these dorms will be given permission to do by the government.  The school’s administration will not have a say in who will use the housing.  This way, the government will be able to bring the right-wing thugs and the Mafioso who will attack academic freedoms, prevent free speech, stop open discussion of issues, dictate religious rules above academic freedom and be the hands, feet and the eyes of the government. This is the government’s round-about way to infiltrate a progressive university to conquer it from within.

The students are resisting the building of the dorms for several months now. They have gathered where the construction is to start and preventing the destruction of the forest trees. The government, on the other hand, are bringing heavy machinery to start razing asap.

The chamber of Architects and Engineers as well as the new Ankara local government have issued statements that the construction lacked any legal permits and it would be illegal to start any building without the required permits.

On Sunday, an opposition deputy in the National Assembly, representing the Ankara District for the CHP party drove to the school in hopes of resisting the assault.  Since all entrances were sealed, she too was not permitted.  The cops tried searching her car for intimidation.  However, she resisted citing that she has immunity and her car also has immunity from police searches.  The police frantically called their superiors to determine if she would be allowed to enter.   Being an elected official and having immunity means she has the right to enter the public roads of the school, however, no matter how much she insisted, the gates were not opened for her either.

On Monday, July 8th, a group of students in Istanbul demonstrated in support of the students of METU but that small, peaceful demonstration too was attacked by the police with batons and violence.

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