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In Istanbul, the teachers of the “Turkish Harvard” protest against the seizure of power over the universities


They are all there on the lawn, standing, the toga of the institution on the shoulders, with their backs to the building of the rectorate. Some hold placards in their hands, on which one can read ” We do not accept “. Barely 2 or 3 meters separate each other. No sound, not a movement. It is 12:15 p.m. and like every day at 12:15 p.m. sharp, the few dozen professors present that day on the campus of Bosphorus University, the most prestigious institution of higher education in Turkey, freeze and silently protest against the appointment of their hierarchical superior, imposed more than two years ago by the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his government.

Whether it’s raining, windy or snowing, the rite is immutable. Except for weekends, holidays and vacations, it has repeated every day for fifteen minutes for over 850 days. Since the vast majority of the faculty of this “Turkish Harvard”, as it is called, made the collective decision to enter “in resistance” against the stranglehold of academic institutions and the methodical muzzling of dissonant voices orchestrated by the strong men of Ankara. Some call it the last and ultimate island of public and collective contestation of the power in place. A few hours before a second round, Sunday May 28, which gives the outgoing president the position of favorite, the image of these professors gathered on this corner of greenery overlooking the Bosphorus, in peace and in the heart of Istanbul, is a formidable snub to the omnipotence of the Turkish state.

To understand the importance of this unique movement, you have to go back to a Friday in January 2021. On that day, a presidential decree announced the appointment of a certain professor Melih Bulu as rector of the establishment. The surprise is total. The man is totally unknown to the seraglio. His name had never been mentioned to hold such a position. His only identified commitment at the time was to have been a candidate in the 2015 legislative elections in the colors of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Erdogan’s party.

“We were too visible”

The takeover by the power of certain major universities had certainly begun for some time already, as at the University of Istanbul or in Ankara, with the technical university ODTÜ, but the “Bosphorus” seemed sheltered. The institution founded in 1863, formerly Robert College, the first North American institution of higher education outside the American borders, has always been a place apart, overprotected by its worldwide fame and strongly symbolic.

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