As the Pride Month has been acknowledged and celebrated worldwide, the Turkish government, among many other authoritarian regimes, has been taking legal and sometimes violent physical action to prevent peaceful LGBTQI gatherings. Higher education institutions are among the primary battlefields for autocratic governments to tame and intimidate opposition and to reinforce a monolithic understanding of individual rights and freedoms.
Some of detained METU students after their release || Photo credit: METU LGBTQI Twitter Account
On June 10, 2022, students at Turkey’s prestigious Middle East Technical University (METU) held a peaceful pride march on campus, which received a disproportionately violent response and resulted in the detention of twenty students. Before the Pride march, the university’s government-appointed rector had released a statement to the university community, banishing any gathering on campus to celebrate this divisive, polarizing, and potentially conflict-generating event, which would harm the school’s prestigious image, and warned those who plan on participating that “all kinds of security measures'' would be taken to prevent it. The march was held by the university's long-running LGBTQI organization Solidarity Club after a two-year hiatus, which was forced by the same university administration soon after their appointment by President Erdogan, despite the faculty’s resistance to admit an unelected rector.
METU has a long and rich history as a progressive, democratic institution, which fought long for the institutional autonomy as well as the freedom of speech and association of its students and faculty. Before the police attack on the protesters with plastic bullets and tear gas started, the Solidarity Club members read a statement in support of the students in Istanbul, Izmir, and Eskisehir, who got detained and/or beaten up during similar peaceful public gatherings in the past month. They also condemned the government intervention in higher education institutions and the state-appointed, unelected rector, for acting as the spokesperson of the government.
We at the Endangered Scholars Worldwide stand in solidarity with those who strive for their legally entrenched and internationally protected rights and freedoms. ESW condemns the Turkish government’s recurring attacks on academic freedom and the autonomy of higher education institutions in Turkey. The ongoing tensions in Turkey have had a profoundly negative effect on academic freedom and continue to pose a grave threat to higher education on a national scale. ESW urges the Turkish authorities to respect and guarantee the autonomy of higher education in Turkey and to implement the provisions and principles of human rights as specified in international conventions and treaties, and to drop any charges against the accused arising from their nonviolent exercise of the rights to expression, association, and assembly.