Ankara mayor mediates construction row between students and police

The mayor of Ankara intervened on Monday on an ongoing standoff between environmental protesters and workers and police attempting to cut down acres of forest to begin construction of a dormitory for Ankara’s Middle East Technical University (METU).

Ankara opposition Mayor Mansur Yavaş announced via Twitter that he had met with METU rector Verşan Kök on Monday after teams of workmen reportedly began cutting down trees in an area of approximately 9 acres earmarked for construction of the dorm.

Yavaş is one of several secularist main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) politicians who have joined activists in a bid to prevent the destruction of the university’s forest, which they say is taking place despite a lack of official authorisation.

The area where the dorm is planned has not yet been zoned for construction, so neither permission to excavate nor licence to build have been obtained, Alper Taşdelen, the mayor of Ankara’s central Çankaya district said.

Despite this, police blocked roads leading to the excavation site and refused to let CHP deputy Gamze Taşçıer pass to inspect the unauthorised construction site, a video shared by the deputy on social media showed. Police have also been filmed attacking protesters.

Work to clear the forest stopped after the CHP politicians met Kök, and though vehicles were later seen entering the construction zone, Taşçıer verified that no further trees had been removed.

The Çankaya municipality had taken a record of the work done in the area and would seal it off if any further work was undertaken, Taşçıer said in another tweet.

Yavaş reported after the meeting with Kök that his municipality had offered to build and donate a dormitory to the university.

Student activist groups occupying parts of the forest and opposing the construction of the state-run Higher Education Student Loan and Housing Board dorm have been protesting for 55 days, reports say.

The activists say the confrontation is not over one single dorm, but an attempt to break up the campus of METU against the wishes of its students. METU is one of the country’s highest ranked universities and an institute with a reputation for fostering free-thinking.

“The rectorship is temporary, so are academics. But the spirit of METU is permanent. Anything that is done in METU must be decided by the students. That’s the university’s tradition and nothing can be done without the assent of the students and alumni of METU,” İrfan Türkkolu, president of the METU Alumni Association, told Turkish left-wing daily BirGün.