February 10, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9175

Open Letter To President Erdoğan Amid Protests Over Turkey's Top University: 'You Are Not A Sultan And We Are Not Your Subjects'

February 10, 2021
Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 9175

On January 1, 2021, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's government appointed professor and former AKP politician Melih Bulu to the position of rector of Istanbul's Boğaziçi University, which the U.S. News and World Report ranks as the top university in Turkey and the 197th best university in the world.[1] Protests broke out immediately and have resulted in at least 528 arrests in 38 provinces.[2] On February 5, 2021, a Twitter account called "Boğaziçi Solidarity #10," which has over 90,000 followers, published a two-page letter and wrote: "Our open letter to the 12th president [i.e., Erdoğan], who has for days been targeting us by intermediary channels."[3] The letter has over 31,000 retweets and over 65,000 "likes."

Protests in Istanbul's Kadıköy district against Erdoğan's appointment of the rector of Turkey's top university (source:

The letter speaks clearly and defiantly in opposition to Erdoğan's appointment of Bulu as rector: "Your effort to fill our university with your own political militants is an indicator of the political crisis into which you have fallen... Do not confuse us with those who submit to you unconditionally. You are not a sultan and we are not your subjects." The letter also reads: "We know that now you will open dozens of cases of 'praising a criminal' and 'insulting the president' for this letter, but we will never back down from speaking the truth, we know that too!"

Indeed, on February 7, it was reported that authorities had arrested Beyza Buldağ, a film student at another university in Istanbul, in connection with the letter at around five in the morning at her home in İzmir. Buldağ was charged with "provoking the public to animosity, hatred, and enmity" and "provocation to commit crimes" based on claims that she was running the Boğaziçi Solidarity Twitter account. Her lawyer said that she had also been charged with "insulting the president."[4]

Film student Beyza Buldağ has been arrested in connection with the letter.

Following is a translation of the letter addressed to President Erdoğan:

"Your Effort To Fill Our University With Your Own Political Militants Is An Indicator Of The Political Crisis Into Which You Have Fallen"

"Until now you had surreptitiously requested talks with us by means of TÜRGEV [the Service To Youth And Education Foundation Of Turkey]. Now you are trying to argue with us by means of the press. We do not like intermediaries; we prefer to speak to everyone directly and in a manner open to everyone. We hope that you too will continue this way.

"First let us remind you of the reason for our demonstrations and of our demands: You appointed a trustee[5] to our university while considering our students and our faculty as nothing. Is what you have done legal? Yes, as you repeat at every opportunity, it is legal, but it is not legitimate. This appointment would cause those in society who have even a grain of a crumb of justice in them to rebel!

"As if that were not enough, with a midnight decision on a Friday; to intimidate the professors, students, workers, the whole institution, you are opening the colleges [of Boğaziçi] and appointing deans. Your effort to fill our university with your own political militants is an indicator of the political crisis into which you have fallen. Every day [the number of] those who are victims of this crisis is growing!"

"Do Not Confuse Us With Those Who Submit To You Unconditionally – You Are Not A Sultan And We Are Not Your Subjects"

"We are using our own constitutional rights so that all sections of society can be aware of the injustice to which we have [all] been subjected. Our demands are as follows:

"That all our associates who have been detained and arrested during this process be released immediately!

"That all the campaigns to discredit our LGBTI+ associates and other targeted groups be ended!

"That all your trustees, above all Melih Bulu, who justifies these detentions, arrests, and targeting, resign!

"That at [all Turkish] universities, democratic elections for [the position of] rector, in which all the universities' constituents participate, be held!

"You started a sentence saying 'if they are brave enough...'[6] Is it a constitutional right to call on the president to resign? YES! So then when did it become a matter of bravery to use a constitutional right?

"Do not confuse us with those who submit to you unconditionally. You are not a sultan and we are not your subjects. But since you mentioned bravery, let us answer that briefly. We have no immunity! Whereas you have been storming and blustering under an armor of immunity for 19 years. The interior minister tells lies that offend religious sensitivity. We are saying that we are not going to apply self-censorship. You say that our LGBTI+ associates are perverted. We say that LGBTI+ rights are human rights. Your party members are kicking the miners at Soma.[7] We have formed ranks actively beside workers and will continue to do so."

"You Will Open Dozens Of Cases Of 'Praising A Criminal' And 'Insulting The President' For This Letter, But We Will Never Back Down From Speaking The Truth"

"You are unlawfully holding the leader of the HDP in prison. Journalists and the trade unionists too... Whereas we say that we are one together with those who exclaim the truth without fear and are against all the trustees. You get political rallies to boo the mother of Berkin Elvan.[8] We say that we are with Berkin Elvan. By saying 'the wife of Osman Kavala is among these provocateurs,' without even remembering her name, you pick on Ayşe Buğra and make her a target. In a raw style, you express a sexist false conviction that a woman's only quality worth mentioning is whom her husband is. Whereas we say 'Ayşe Buğra is our treasured professor and a scientist.' We say: 'We count an attack on her as an attack on ourselves.' We know that now you will open dozens of cases of 'praising a criminal' and 'insulting the president' for this letter, but we will never back down from speaking the truth, we know that too!

"It is not a very brave position to try to keep Melih Bulu in place with newly formed colleges [at Boğaziçi] and inflatable staff positions because you do not have enough power to keep the rector you appointed at the school. It is for this reason that we do not take seriously your comments about bravery."

"If You Were Going To Resign... You Would Have Resigned When 301 Miners Were Slaughtered In Soma!"

"We are aware that Boğaziçi University is not Turkey's most important institution, nor is Melih Bulu's coming upon us as a trustee Turkey's most important problem. When it comes to the demand for your resignation, we would not call for your resignation over this issue. Why? If you were going to resign, you would have resigned when Hrant Dink was slaughtered![9] You would have resigned when 301 miners were slaughtered in Soma! You would have resigned when 34 Kurds were killed in Roboski![10] You would have resigned after the train accident in Çorlu![11]

"You would have resigned when you saw the struggle to earn a living experienced by thousands of citizens, above all those affected by the KHK.[12] Then, when your economic policies, which are condemning the people to poverty, became inextricable, instead of sacrificing your son-in-law, you would take responsibility. The examples go on but you never resigned. Rather than being brave, to use your expression, you preferred to appear to have been innocently tricked. Why would we call on you to resign now? We will continue and expand our protest for as long as Melih Bulu is sitting in that chair. Whether or not you do what you have to on this subject is up to you. We are with those who are robbed of their democratic rights and freedoms!

"With wishes for you to understand that you will not be able to silence the oppressed in this country by shouting and threatening and targeting them from the squares and podiums."


[1], accessed February 9, 2021.

[2], February 1, 2021.

[3], February 5, 2021.

[4],931619, February 7, 2021.

[5] The original word, kayyum, often translated as "trustee," is a legal term that has been used in other political contexts. In recent years, the Erdoğan government has dismissed democratically elected mayors of eight cities in Turkey's east over terrorism connections, and in their place appointed eight kayyums ("trustees"). Many view the terrorism investigations against these mayors, who are from the opposition HDP, as a politically motivated means by which the AKP has taken control of the municipal governments of those cities. The use of the term in the context of the Boğaziçi protests can be interpreted as implying a similar kind of forced AKP control in the appointment of Melih Bulu as rector., March 23, 2020.

[6] Erdoğan said of the protests at Boğaziçi: "If they were brave enough, they would say 'the president should resign too.'", February 6, 2021.

[7] On May 13, 2014, at least 301 miners died in a fire caused by an explosion in a mine in the Soma district of Turkey's Manisa province. Opposition leader Cemal Kılıçdaroğlu has said that at least 350 miners were killed in the accident., May 14, 2014.

[8] 15-year-old Berkin Elvan died in March 2014 after a police officer fired a tear-gas canister that hit him in the head in June 2013 during the anti-government Gezi Park protests in Istanbul. He has since become a symbol of those protests.

[9] On January 16, 2007, a Turkish nationalist shot Turkish intellectual and journalist Hrant Dink three times in the head. Dink was editor-in-chief of a bilingual Turkish-Armenian newspaper and worked toward Turkish-Armenian reconciliation.

[10] On December 28, 2011, in Turkey's Şırnak province, a Turkish airstrike killed 34 Kurdish civilians who were smuggling gasolines and cigarettes after the military apparently mistook them for PKK fighters.

[11] On July 8, 2018, a train derailed in Çorlu district of Tekirdağ province, killing 24 passengers and injuring 318.

[12] A Kanun Hükmünde Kararname (KHK) is a type of decree in Turkey. Here the letter refers to a series of laws firing government employees in the aftermath of the attempted coup in July 2016. A government report puts the number of those fired by such decree at 125,678., 2020.

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