The Bogazici Resistance: The Matter Circles Back to Queers (Mevzu Lubunya’ya)!

Note: As a lawyer, a citizen fighting for equality and an LGBTI+ activist, I would want to emphasize at the outset of this piece that none of the actions taken in response to the Bogazici Resistance are even remotely legal. All decisions made during this period are political in nature. The demands of Bogazici University students and civil society are just and legitimate. The trustees will be gone, and we will prevail!

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The Trustee: Melih Bulu

When the calendar hit January 2nd, 2021, at Bogazici University – one of Turkey’s most prominent universities, in which students exercised plurality and a space that, compared to other Turkish universities, has at least some degree of academic freedom – none of the school’s members could have foreseen their university would never again remain the same. In line with Presidential Decree No. 2021/16 published in the Official Gazette on Saturday, January 2nd, 2021, Melih Bulu was appointed as a trustee to Bogazici University. Prior to 2016, the Higher Education Board (YÖK), a government agency that oversees universities, would propose three of six elected candidates to the Turkish president, who would then pick one. Through amendments introduced in 2016, intra-university elections were removed, and the president was given the right to appoint a rector from among three professors presented solely by YÖK. The appointment of a trustee, which stood in contrast to the culture and entrenched democratic norms at Bogazici, sparked rightful and instant protests from both Bogazici students and wider segments of the democratic society. Although Mr. Bulu was not the first person to be appointed trustee rector of the university (because there were previously rallies against the nomination of Prof. Dr. Mehmet Ozkan, a member of the university, in 2016 within Bogazici), the fact that he was both an outsider and his background as a member of the AKP cadres – as well as a former AKP candidate running for the 1st region of Istanbul – sparked a flame of indignation among protesters.

Balance Sheet of the Resistance

In response to the appointment, Bogazici Solidarity groups urged all Istanbul students to participate in the "No to the Trustee!" demonstration on January 4, 2021, at the South Campus gate. Since then, the Bogazici community has been protesting for almost 550 days at the time of writing. During the same period, dozens of investigations and prosecutions were initiated against the Bogazici Resistance. However, I’m unable to provide an exact number because, as one of the lawyers following some of these cases, I still come across yet another investigation or prosecution every week. In this regard, I feel it is not the number of cases, but rather the judicial harassment that is crucial. In addition, as far as we are aware, none of the cases initiated in relation to the Bogazici Resistance have yet to be concluded. Protests in support of the Bogazici Resistance were not isolated to Istanbul as they occurred all over the country, and it goes without saying that every one of these protests saw their fair share of police interventions.

Over the course of these 550 days, hundreds of students have been subjected to police and private security violence both inside and outside the campus. Their homes were raided, doors were broken, they were prevented from pursuing their education, prosecuted for contravening Law No. 2911, as well as inciting public hatred and hostility. Eleven students remained under pre-trial detention for months, thirty received house arrests, missed the opportunity to study abroad, some had their state-funded scholarships or loans revoked and some were evicted from their dormitories. Lecturers who supported the resistance were dismissed, denied access to the university, the Sexual Harassment Prevention Office and the LGBTIA+ Studies Club were shut down, and finally, Bogazici’s Faculty of Law and Faculty of Communication were established following another Presidential Decree.

Better the Devil You Know: M. Naci İnci

Melih Bulu, who was delivering remarks to the press that the Bogazici Resistance would, at best, endure six months, was sacked, through a Presidential Decree No. 2021/360 published in the Official Gazette, dated July 15th, 2021. Given the content of his social media posts from that day, even he was unaware of his dismissal at the time. Thanks to the efforts of the Bogazici Resistance, the trustee rector who had been placed in this role overnight was removed only after 7.5 months. But that wasn’t the end of it. After Mr. Bulu was ousted, Professor Dr. Mehmet Naci İnci, a member of Bogazici’s Psychics Department and who had already been acting as vice-director, was named as the new interim rector. Shortly after on August 21st, 2021, Prof. İnci was given the position of rector at Bogazici University, through Presidential Decree No. 2021/413. While the second trustee was an insider, the Bogazici Resistance reiterated their demands as follows:

All trustees and their cadre should resign immediately, starting with Melih Bulu and including Naci İnci, Fazıl Önder Sönmez and Gürkan Kumbaraoğlu,

End all unlawful prosecutions of our friends,

Initiate the procedure whereby university rectors are selected through elections including all university components,

Retract all decisions that sought to establish trustee faculties at our school,

Restore the status of the Bogazici University LGBTI+ Studies Club, which was wrongfully dissolved,  

Retract all decisions that sought to effectively halt the Sexual Harassment Prevention Office’s activities,

Remove the entire police presence blockading our campuses,

Disband the Council of Higher Education (YÖK) which is an offshoot of the coup,

Recognise the fundamental human and constitutional rights of LGBTI+ students and individuals, and

Stop the wrongful treatment of all academics, particularly Feyzi Erçin, who are defending academic autonomy and human dignity and renew their contracts.

The Shahmaran

In this post I'm writing for Pride Week, I believe it's equally important to highlight the Bogazici Resistance and LGBTI+ issues. With the escalating anti-LGBTI+ climate epitomized by the ban on the Pride Parade starting in 2015, the ensuing rise in hate crimes, impunity, increasing crackdowns on the LGBTI+ community, and finally the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, the Bogazici Resistance also had its equal share of pressure. From the beginning of the resistance, LGBTI+ individuals were openly targeted and threatened with hate speech through a variety of channels and techniques.

In the first month of the resistance, it started with the Bogazici University Islamic Studies Club and pro-government media sources’ targeting of the exhibition of an anonymous image depicting the Shahmaran, a mythical figure also known as the Master of Snakes, at the BOUN Expo, which was organized through an open appeal. Since government officials, including the Interior Minister, the Istanbul Governor's Office, the Directorate for Religious Affairs, the Justice Minister and the Head of Communications, targeted students and LGBTI+ individuals with hate speech. The Istanbul Public Prosecutor's Office also launched an investigation against activists on charges of "inciting the public to hatred and enmity or defamation." As a result of this inquiry, five students were arrested, two were held in pre-trial detention and two were given house arrests. The two arrested students were released at their initial hearing, one and a half months later, while the prosecution of seven students continues. Obviously, hate speech against LGBTI+ individulas was also evident during the trial phase, with the prosecution stating openly in the indictment that "homosexuality is forbidden and haram." Additionally, in its defence statement submitted in response to an individual application brought before the Constitutional Court of Turkey by one of the jailed students, the Ministry of Justice repeated these statements verbatim, duplicating the hate speech. The matter is due to be heard again on September 21, 2022. This is an encroachment on the right to liberty and security and each passing second in the prosecution of students whose freedom of expression is infringed is an indication of the lack of legal security for LGBTI+ individuals in Turkey. Our existence is in opposition to those who decided to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention on the basis that it "legitimizes homosexuality" and those who wage wars everywhere against LGBTI+ flags.

Rainbow as a criminal element

Assaults on the rainbow flag and LGBTI+ individuals at Bogazici University continue. On February 1, 2021, the university administration pursued an administrative investigation against a student who displayed a "rainbow flag" during protests. On March 25, 2021, 12 other students who showed solidarity and unfurled a rainbow flag on the day of a trial hearing were detained as part of this investigation. The situation continues to be completely absurd. That is, at the end, “those protesting the detention of protesters protesting the detention of protesters protesting the investigation of a student carrying a rainbow flag at Bogazici University were also detained during a protest in Caglayan.” In this regard, as the Bogazici Resistance has repeatedly emphasized, and as I find to be rather true, LGBTI+ individuals and all democratic segments must fight against anti-LGBTI+ sentiment in its entirety. The "Rainbow" case, in which 12 students were charged with violating the Law on Assemblies and Demonstrations, has been postponed until June 21, 2022, to coincide with Pride Week, and experts have already submitted unfavourable reports against the students on trial.

BÜLGBTİA+ is our honour!

In addition to the above, the Bogazici LGBTİA+ Studies Club, which had been in operation for seven years, was shut down by a tweet from the head of the Presidency's Communication Office and a signature from Melih Bulu. Authorities have sought once more to impede LGBTI+ students from existing inside and outside the school and from exercising their constitutional right to peaceful assembly. A court of first instance recently denied a case challenging the closure of the club, which was also in contravention of the Student Activities Statute. However, activists filed an appeal against this ruling. The reasons cited for the closure of the club, which had candidate club status for seven years, were BÜLGBTİA+'s alleged organization of the exhibition – which, as a separate note, is a charade even well-known by the trustee rector Bulu – and an investigation launched by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office on the allegation that illegal publications were discovered during an unlawful search of the Club. LGBT+ organizations and other Bogazici club members decried the closure. Though Bogazici University lubunyas have not gone into thin air following the BÜLGBTİA+'s overnight closure. They are still on campus, they are still organized and they are still in every group; no man's signature can erase this fact. Lubunyas, who began their association with Legato, then Lubunya, and finally BÜLGBTİA+, will continue to be present on campus and throughout the entire country of Turkey. 

Bogazici Pride Parade

A few weeks ago, on May 20, 2022, the police and private security stormed the Bogazici Pride Parade, which had been organized by BÜLGBTA+ for years and was slated to be the tenth, as well as the traditional Taş Oda Festival at the behest of the trustee rector. First, students received emails from the Rectorate informing them the parade had been denied without explanation. On the same day, at approximately 5:00 p.m., the parade marchers were attacked, and a total of 70 were detained on campus in front of their friends and lecturers. The students were detained for nine hours before being released after giving statements. Once more, on the same day, LGBTI+ groups and student clubs published words of support for the Bogazici Pride Parade.

As with my colleagues who supported the Bogazici Resistance, I was initially at the Bogazici South Campus and subsequently at the Vatan, the headquarters of the Istanbul Directorate of Security, to monitor the arrests. LGBTI+ individuals who had taken to the streets and squares to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed rights after Pride Parades were banned in Turkey in 2015 have been met with police violence and judicial harassment without exception. That day’s events at Bogazici were but another manifestation of this trend. I highly urge that readers read Yıldız Tar's interviews with 70 jailed clients and friends published with Kaos GL.

This is just the beginning of our battle!

Unfortunately, the demands of the Bogazici Resistance remain pertinent: university autonomy and an end to the nomination of trustee rectors and anti-democratic behaviour. Bogazici supported these requests unequivocally. The question "Why?" may have crossed your thoughts as you were reading this article. The response is rather simple: In recent years, Turkey has been increasingly governed by decisions made overnight, single signatures, trustees and anti-democratic practices, as we are all aware. The Bogazici Resistance is not an exception, as evidenced by the influence of anti-LGBTQ hate policies in response to the Bogazici Resistance.