Turkish universities are troubled by violence. In one and a half months nine violent incidents, with several wounded victims, made it to the national media. This is assumed to be only the tip of the iceberg. “Violence is a problem in the whole of Turkish society and universities are no exception”, says political scientist Koray Caliskan, a teacher Bosporus University, talking to news agency ANP.
The most recent violence broke out at the campus in Antalya. With a sword tattooed on his forehead, a man fired shots around Akdeniz University, and seven people were wounded. The violence seemed to be provoked by hurt honour but beneath the surface there is more. There had already been unrest at the campus for days because of tensions between different political groups. Alleged sympathisers of Kurdish separatist movement PKK on one side and alleged ultra-nationalist MHP members on the other, had been in a stand-off for weeks, after a student chose a MHP follower as her lover instead of a PKK follower. But this background is only an expression of a bigger problem.
In Turkey, leftist and rightist groups of students have been fighting for years. At the end of the seventies, in the political chaos that finally led to the military coup in 1980, hundreds of students died in acts of violence. “In those days, the left was well organized, which produced rightist provocations and violence”, says Caliskan.
“In the end, leftist groups would defend themselves, with fights following as a result. Even though nowadays the left is hardly organized, the provocations of rightist groups, mainly MHPfollowers, are still there, and now and then violence erupts. The police does nothing about it”, says the political scientist. Also in Antalya, the police is condemned for not acting on complaints by students that the tensions at university were rising.
The violence at universities has only little to do with the current political tensions (recently a case was opened by the highest court to close down governing party AKP), says Caliskan. “Ultra rightist and leftist groups are not directly a part in that. But the rising tensions, also related to the struggle against the PKK, create an atmosphere in which a spark turns into a fire more easily.”
In the canteen at Bosporus, University studentmembers of the (tiny) communist party are holding a meeting. They are preparing for celebrating the first of May, International Labour Day. Their university is not known for violence so they are not afraid. “But regularly we hear that our comrades at other universities are attacked”, says Ali Örnek, a 24-year-old sociology student. “Mostly by people from outside the university or even by university security services. Unfortunately not every university has a climate where you are stimulated to think for yourself and to form your own opinions.”
Political scientist Caliskan adds: “There is more violence at universities where teachers and professors also have ties with ultranationalist and fascist groups. Provocateurs are protected there.”
(written for Dutch news agency ANP)