Young people are Turkey’s only hope for the future
The ongoing demonstrations at Bogazici University in Istanbul, one of the nation’s top-ranking universities, are at the heart of the public debate in Turkey at the moment. They were triggered when Melih Bulu, a former member of the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party, was appointed rector of the university on Jan. 2. Many students and professors have been protesting against his appointment, and demanding his resignation, since Jan. 4.
As if Turkey’s other problems, including the deepening polarization in the country, were not enough, tensions have risen further as a result of the handling of the protests. A few hours before Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed on national television to implement political reforms, including a new constitution, security forces carried out mass arrests and detentions of protesters at the university. This sparked further protests, with students across the country supporting the calls for Bulu’s resignation. Every day, faculty members perform silent protests by turning their backs on the office of the rector.
Traditionally academics elect the rector from within their own ranks but Bulu was appointed by Erdogan rather than through traditional university election procedures. This outside appointee, whose academic credentials are said to be lacking and tarnished by allegations of plagiarism, is seen by critics as an attempt by the government to increase its influence on Turkish academia.
Bogazici University, one of the most prestigious establishments in Turkish academia, was a rare left-leaning institution that had avoided government influence for years. The current protests are not only about the appointment of Bulu, but also general opposition to a process introduced in 2016 under which the Turkish president approves one of three rectoral candidates for universities.
Undoubtedly, Bulu will not be happy with the cold shoulder he has received at the university. Many people believe the only way to ease the growing tension is for him to resign but he has made it clear he will not step down and believes that things will get back to normal within six months. This could be an eternity when we consider the polarization and tensions in the country.
During a meeting of the ruling AK Party on Monday, Erdogan said young people in the country should be “a youth repairing broken hearts.” He added: “You will carry this nation to the future with the power of our glorious past.” But let us go back in time a few years, to 2015, when he said to the nation’s youth: “Do not bow before posts, whether it is the president or prime minister. Bowing brings flattery and this will never suit the youth of this nation.”
In 2017 he said: “We don’t need a youth who comply without questioning, but a youth who knows what it wants and why.” Critical readings of the government’s education policies and the political discourses of Erdogan on youth argue that there is an emerging myth about youth that aims to control the future through reshaping the young.
Every period in Turkish history created its own myth of youth. According to academic Demet Lukuslu, the AK Party’s “pious generation” is part of its project to reshape society and national identity. This reformatting is realized in the three interrelated domains of: political discourse of youth, state youth policies, and national education.
Erdogan stated on Thursday that the number of students in Turkish universities has grown to 8 million, and that the country now ranks top in Europe in terms of access to universities. However, what do these numbers matter when the majority of those students end up unemployed after graduation? The issue of youth employment is increasingly critical as growing numbers of young people lose hope for the future in their own country and seek opportunities abroad.
A generation has grown up with the AK Party as the ruling party. Known as “Generation Z,” it knows no other country other than one that is under the party’s control. This is also a generation that is highly engaged with social media. Turkey is a young country: About half of those eligible to vote are under the age of 30. The nation’s next parliamentary and presidential elections are due in 2023, when about 6 million members of Generation Z will be eligible to vote for the first time.
The nation’s next parliamentary and presidential elections are due in 2023, when about 6 million members of Generation Z will be eligible to vote for the first time.
These young voters and the views they hold will determine the outcome of the coming elections and, most importantly, the future of their country. These young voters — whether conservative or secular — might have different visions for their country’s future; but at the end of the day they are the future of the country.
The Bogazici protests are a reflection of their fear for their future. The blame for this fear lies with the government, first and foremost, then all the political parties and institutions who share the responsibility to build the future. That is why Turkey needs an urgent normalization and must embrace its own young people rather than alienate them.
By: Sinem Cengiz – a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. Twitter: @SinemCngz
Source: Arab News