Erdoğan determined to take full control over Turkey’s half-seized universities

As much as most of the fundamental institutions and key sectors of Turkey, President Erdoğan is determined to modify the genetics of the educational system, in a way that it loses much of its secular nature and focus on raising generations with an independent mindset.

In the previous blog I reported about the escalating tension around the high schools which are marked with their succesful performance now being targeted. It is now obvious that the current system is reconsidered, by being gradually replaced by ‘Imam-Hatip’ (Vocational Religious Schools), with religion coming to the fore as the defining element in the entire content.

But, the developing story is not limited to the lower education.

There is much more, and it goes right into country’s universities.


In the days following the coup attempt, it became clear that they would pay dearly, as the emergency decrees targeted the very existence of many of those. We know that at least 15 universities are closed, that at at least 2.300 academicians from 93 universities were fired, most of them on unknown grounds, based on utterly vague accusations, such as affiliation with terrorist organisations.

Restrictions on travel was put in implementation: those who travel abroad must receive and prove signed approval by their superiors, to show at border gates.

Universities kept open are also under severe political pressure. One spectacular example is the internationally reputed Boğaziçi University, known also as Bosphorus University.

For months now, the university is without a president.


Because, President Erdoğan has been delaying – some say, refusing – to approve the result of the elections, that by a large margin put Prof Gülay Barbarosoğlu as the winner. Well-known secret goes, that neither Erdoğan, nor the government has welcomed this vote, and the Supreme High Education Board (YÖK), which since March 2014 is chaired by an academic known to be the ‘choice’ of the president himself, recently sent signals that there will be, at best, more delays in the appointment.

Turkish university system, which bears the bold marks of political-bureaucratic tutelage, has its roots in the military coup in 1980. From then on, it goes like this: universities go to elections and the first six names are sent to YÖK, which eliminates those down to three, sends the shortlist to the president, who has the power to choose among them, regardless of the vote.

Needless to say, the system has caused deep resentment within the academic community as a remnant of military junta, and as a relic of all intentions of subordinating the entire academic life to political power.

Now, as if this system has not caused enough frustration, Erdoğan, apparently emboldened by the introduction of the emergency rule and power to issue decrees at will, said he wants to abandon the system of rector elections altogether. In a speech at his palace, addressing the university presidents recently, he indicated clearly that they should be appointed directly instead.

And, as expected, the Chairman of YÖK, Prof Yekta Saraç was not late in endorsing the idea. He claimed that the election process itself was damaging the academia, causing ideological rifts, and even personal frictions.

He said that ‘he hoped’ the universities would support the idea of Erdoğan.

Will they?

It depends how brave they would be to speak up frankly in the extremely poisonous atmosphere in post-coup Turkey.

One of them is Ebru Aylar, who leads the independent ‘University Councils Assoication’ (ÜKD).

‘We see this as an attempt to establish ‘AKP universities’ system’ she said. ‘There is no place anymore for democracy here. For example, there is still no president appointed at the Bosphorus University, and we still don’t know the reason why… Today, the process of elections have turned into a show staged by the AKP. We have seen nominees go up to the president in order to get his approval. Even if there is a process of elections, it is the president who makes the decision. Now the president is determined to abolish all the mid layers out of his way.’

What will happen? Well, given the position of extreme arbitrariness which the decree regime provides and parliament in his leash, the statement by Erdoğan, as much as anything else these days, must be seen as a harbinger of what is to come. Usually, the system goes like this. It is either Erdoğan himself or a selected political figure from the AKP who throws the ball in the air, and the game is on, until the ball reaches the goal.

The heart of the matter is, Turkey undergoes a huge transformation, with the reintroduction of the ideas which were identified with its military rulers in 1980’s, and Erdoğan now seems keen to test them.

Needless to say, this is Turkey’s historic test with a experiment with fascism, and if it succeeds, we will see a religion-dominated lower education and a shackled academia, far far away from independence; abandoned to a low quality human resources, after a new brain drain.

Mind you; these days mark only the beginning of the tragedy.

About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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