Calling university protests in Istanbul ‘provocation’ disrespectful to students, says Ayşe Buğra

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan calling the protests against his appointment of a party loyalist as rector to Boğaziçi University ‘provocation’ is “so bad and disrespectful towards the students,” Ayşe Buğra, one of Turkey’s most prominent academics and a professor of political economy at the top university itself, told journalist Ismail Saymaz in an interview on Sunday.

Buğra was targeted by Erdoğan last week, when the president called her “the wife of the representative of Soros,” referring to Buğra’s imprisoned husband, Turkish businessman Osman Kavala whose Anatolian Culture foundation has provided funding for many civil society projects in Turkey for nearly two decades.

Erdoğan said Buğra was “among the provocateurs” of the Boğaziçi protests, which have continued since Jan. 4, escalating last week over government officials’ targeting the university’s LGBT students.

The president’s comments were “shocking” to Buğra, who said, “This cannot be. I was shaken, deeply. But we can’t say that anything is out of the realm of possibility. Anything could happen.”

Buğra said she had visited the Boğaziçi campus “once or twice” since the protests began, as she currently teaches online for master’s and doctoral students.

“I’m guessing it can be seen that (Boğaziçi students) are not the type to rush to the streets with direction from their professors,” Buğra told Saymaz. “They are proud of their school. They don’t want outside influences corrupting it. This is an instinct to protect.”

It is “very strange” that news of the establishment of two faculties came to the university after the fact, Buğra said. In a midnight presidential order on Friday, Erdoğan added faculties of law and communications to Boğaziçi, a move critics have said aimed to create academic cadres loyal to the president and Melih Bulu, the ruling party loyalist that he appointed as rector.

The internationally renowned scholar also spoke about her husband’s continued arrest, saying that she has “neither hope nor despair” for developments in the case against Kavala.

At court on Friday, Kavala gave a “historic defence”, Buğra said, but “in the end this happens again.”

An Istanbul court rejected Kavala’s appeal to be released and moved to combine several cases against the philanthropist, in what he said was an attempt to keep him in prison for as long as possible.

“The head judge read the verdict too fast,” Buğra said. “I’m guessing he wasn’t comfortable. It was so fast that we thought he was going to order a recess.”

“I suppose one day this will change. I don’t know how sustainable this is, but I suppose somebody will order a release one of these days,” said the scholar. “This is torture for us. We are not young people. After a point, 3.5 years is too long a time to steal from a person’s life.”

Kavala was arrested in Nov. 2017 on charges of attempting to overthrow the government via funding and organizing the Gezi Park protests, the massive anti-government protests that spread throughout the summer of 2013. On Friday, the same day that the court ruled for the continuation of Kavala’s arrest, Erdoğan said the Boğaziçi protests would not be allowed to turn into “another Gezi”.