Growing protests over the appointment of a state-approved rector at a prestigious Istanbul university have become an unexpected catalyst for disillusioned and underemployed young people in Turkey to express their frustrations in the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Demonstrations broke out last month from both staff and students about the installation of Melih Bulu, a business figure who ran as a parliamentary candidate for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2015, as rector of Boğaziçi University, possibly the Most acclaimed institution of higher education in the country.
The decision to appoint Bulu was denounced as undemocratic by members of the university and widely interpreted as an attempt by the government to infiltrate one of the last left-wing institutions in the country: Bulu is the first rector elected outside the university community since the coup. military of Turkey from 1980.
At least 250 people in Istanbul and another 69 in Ankara have been arrested this week, the vast majority of them students, in clashes between protesters and police that mark one of the largest demonstrations of civil unrest in Turkey since the Gezi Park movement of 2013. .
Erdoğan said on Wednesday that his government would not allow the Boğaziçi protests to get out of hand, accusing the protesters of being “terrorists” and “LGBT youth” working against Turkey’s “national and spiritual values”.
Behrem Evlice, a fourth-year political science student, said: “We are very angry right now, and it is not just the students from Boğaziçi, it is the students and young people from all over Turkey. [The state] He has attacked us with the police and violence. They are staining us with these labels when all we want is to have a say in how our university works. Ultimately, although there is a economic crisis in Turkey and they know they are going to lose votes … they are just trying to divide the people. “
Critics say Erdogan’s monopoly of power and the undermining of democratic norms have intensified since the failed coup in 2016, after which the presidency reserved the right to directly elect university rectors. Over the past five years, more than a dozen universities across the country have been closed.
Almost two decades of AKP rule have placed Turkish institutions and society on a firmly religious and socially conservative path; The new wave of protests is unlikely to move the political needle in a deeply polarized country where state repression of peaceful protests has become the norm.
But while many older generation people are grateful to Erdogan for building roads and hospitals and raising the living standards of the working classes, Turkey’s Gen Z has never known anything other than the AKP government, in recent years defined by the political instability and economic turmoil. As such, they represent a new test for the party’s control of power.
Despite Erdogan’s attempts to raise what he calls a “pious generation,” young people who are Jobless and turning away from religion seems to be rejecting his vision of the future of Turkey.
People born between the mid-1990s and early 2010s make up 39% of Turkey’s population of 82 million, and there will be around 5 million new voters in the next general election, scheduled for 2023, a change demographic that could have huge political implications as AKP voting margins continue to shrink.
“Youth unemployment is a staggering 29% in Turkey, and our latest research shows that 37.9% of new graduates are unemployed, suggesting that the rate is increasing even more,” said Can Selçuki, CEO of the Istanbul Economics Research consultancy.
“Two things stand out to me: this group of people is very independent and articulate, and they know what they want – we didn’t have that at Gezi. They complain about working hard and not being able to move on because Turkey is no longer a meritocracy, ”said Selçuki.
“Second, there is definitely a departure from the identity politics that currently define much of the political sphere. Young people don’t care which politician is providing services, necessarily … They just want the service to exist. “
Senel Can, 26, did not take part in the Boğaziçi protests: he dropped out of high school at 14 and has been busy working as a motorcycle courier to help his mother. But he said he understands the frustrations unleashed on the streets of Istanbul this week. “My last job was as a waiter, but the restaurant closed due to the pandemic,” he said. “It is impossible to get ahead. Something has to change. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism