Lecturer at the Bosphorus University (Bogazici, in Turkish) in Istanbul, Can Candan was declared “Persona non grata” within his alma mater, the “Harvard Turkish”, where he taught for fourteen years. His new status was notified to him on the morning of October 11, when security guards stationed at the entrance to the campus refused to raise the barrier to allow his car to enter.
Can Candan explained in vain that he had an important meeting with his students, that he could not let them down, the portico remained closed. “Order of the Rector”, said the guards. Soon plainclothes police arrived as reinforcements, followed by representatives of riot control forces positioned behind Plexiglas shields.
“Colleagues, students, came to the rescue. Two hours of palaver, without result. After a while, I left. What to do ? I wasn’t going to fight anyway… ”, says the 52-year-old teacher, who can’t believe it. “The rector has found nothing better to do than erect a police cordon between me and the university. It is contrary to the spirit of Bogazici, focused on openness and tolerance, but, above all, it is cruel… ”
On the campus, a huge flowered and green park overlooking the Bosphorus Strait on the European side of Istanbul, Can Candan has his office, “Not yet emptied”, his appointments with the students, his bank, his doctor. The session of the university film club to which he was invited on October 25 has been canceled. A nasty blow for this seasoned documentary maker. His feature film entitled My child, a poignant account of families’ reactions to the coming out of their LGBT children in Turkey, won numerous awards in 2013 – a time when speech was incomparably freer than it is today.
“We will not give up”
The Bosphorus University, which has long been the breeding ground for the Turkish elite, has been in turmoil since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan decided to take it over in January. The promotion, by presidential decree, of Melih Bulu, a mediocre academic but with good record of service in the Justice and Development Party (AKP, in power since 2002), set fire to the powders, sparking a movement unprecedented challenge from students and teachers.
Until now a symbol of excellence and academic freedom, the “Turkish Harvard” has found itself brought into line, like other universities in the country, rolled back by the purges that followed the failed coup of 2016. More than 6,000 teachers were dismissed by decree, without investigation or possibility of appeal. It was at this precise moment that President Erdogan arrogated to himself the power to appoint rectors, without taking into account the opinions of the establishments concerned.
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Turkey: Can Candan, banned professor at Bosphorus University