The trustee management appointed to Boğaziçi University in 2021 quickly shifted its focus to LGBTI+s, first the club was closed, an investigation was launched against it, and then systematic intervention in activities and even existences continued. The pride parade, which had been held for years without any problems, was blocked this year, and Boğaziçi University witnessed one of the biggest police interventions in its history. We listened what happened that day and more from M. Güneş.
What was on the agenda of the Pride Parade and Week at Boğaziçi University this year?
Unlike Istanbul Pride Week, Boğaziçi LGBTIA+ Pride Week does not have a theme. The events held every year are held by considering current needs and requests. Unlike the previous one, this year’s Week was not (couldn’t become) intensive and well-prepared due to technical deficiencies, uncertainties created by the trusteeship, insecurity and pressures. As in previous years, there were cinema, literature and ace+ events; this year, for the first time, we held events on neurodiversity. I think we can consider the refugee issue as an agenda that we can refer to as a shortcoming and that we didn’t (couldn’t) handle.
How were the week’s activities? Have you encountered any intervention?
Of course, as I mentioned in the previous question, we encountered/it was encountered some attempts to raise difficulties and prevent the activities. As an example of this, we can cite the following: Two clubs that organized events within the scope of Pride Week were invited for a meeting by Dean of Student Affairs Fazıl Önder Sönmez. Sönmez, who insisted on the events not be held, -as far as we were told- showed the post of BULGBTIA+’s Pride Week calendar with the phone in his hand and said, “We will not allow any of these events!” as soon as representatives from the two clubs aforementioned entered the meeting. In addition, what happened during the Pride Parade is also an intervention that can be mentioned in this question. As a matter of fact, you will have me tell the details later anyway. Despite all this, we tried to do every activity as much as we could, to resist obstacles and pressures.
The day of the Pride Parade was also the day of the Taşoda music festival. Some e-mails were sent from the Rectorate, and an x-ray device was placed in the Etiler Gate of the South Campus, which was the only one left open. Can you tell us what happened before the march?
I know that there was an attempt to place an x-ray device at school entrances also in the past. Of course, it was removed every time due to the reaction of the students. Presumably, the administration, which did not want to face a long-term reaction and action and this to be reflected in the press, announced that it would be used “only during the festival for the safety of the festival” instead of trying to place the x-ray device continuously this time. It is quite obvious that x-ray was introduced to prevent alcohol consumption on campuses. If security were a real concern, similar measures would have to be taken at many events this year. For example, an iftar event was held at school. As far as we know, there was a crowded participation from outside the school and no control was made during the entrance to the campus. What was in the mind of the administration that assumed one of these two crowded events was dangerous? What is behind this ambivalence? The answer is simple unfortunately. Since it is not legitimate to drink alcohol and have fun on campus, “extremism” and “immorality” had to be prevented before Taşoda festival. In ordinary days, we are constantly being harassed by the Private Security Unit (ÖGB) personnel, in accordance with these purposes. ÖGB would not be sufficient in a crowded festival like Taşoda, so such a method has been tried. Students showed their reactions on many platforms. The Student Representative Board (ÖTK) also declared that it will be on the side of the students -as it should be- in this process. Since I entered the campus early in the day, I don’t know much about what happened at the door, but as I saw later on social media, quite a bit of incident had taken place. Unfortunately, such situations are becoming more and more common. For example, even the moments when ÖGB tried to throw tables at students were spotted on cameras. Since the government constantly legitimizes oppression, violence, torture, moralism through state apparatuses and the judiciary which is under its control, it was unthinkable -of course- that we as students would not get their share of the political conjuncture. In any case, isn’t the appointment of trustees also a policy implemented in order for this reactionism to extend to every institution?
For the first time in nine years, the Pride Parade on campus was blocked. Dozens of riot police entered the campus. The police surrounded those who participated in the demonstration and detained everyone one by one. What exactly happened? How many people were detained?
Boğaziçi LGBTIA+ Pride Parade held last year was the only Pride Parade in the country that was not banned or tried to be prevented. However, we LGBTIA+s, of course, faced various methods of oppression in our every Pride Parade at Boğaziçi. Our being videotaped by the plainclothes police and the ÖGB is an example of this. Despite everything, there was no ban decision announced last year. This year, there was a serious concern in the club about the Pride Parade. Sönmez’s attitude in the negotiations, the declining mass mobilization, the increasing cases of ÖGB violence, the normalization of the riot police entering to the campus at Boğaziçi were the main issues that led us into tension. However, in every meeting we held, by taking every risk, the will to organize a Pride Parade this year too was revealed again and again. We started preparations in this direction. In the early hours of the day, it was very difficult to enter the campus due to the x-ray issue. In a country where LGBTIA+ flags have been criminalized, we had problems such as getting those flags on campus without being caught. Somehow, we succeeded, but this time, the abundance of the plainclothes police and ÖGB surprised us. Although the presence of these two teams in the campus was usual, their number had increased significantly that day. Meanwhile, on the occasion of the x-ray device agenda, the ÖTK was invited to meet with the administration. As far as we know, the ÖTK had tried to put the Pride Parade on the agenda, but it had been constantly ignored. The ban was announced in an e-mail after this meeting, half an hour before the march. The state of being closed to negotiations was also evident in the attitude of the ÖGB and the police. When the march started, we were blocked by the ÖGB immediately. It was like talking to a brick wall as we tried to negotiate, to explain that it was an annual march, to convey that we wanted to stay on campus and finish this march safely. When it became clear that the negotiations would not yield any results, we took the initiative to march on an alternative route. As we were constantly interrupted, we marched on to the front of the club room with a flexible and ever-changing route. The intervention was here, just before the press release was read. No warning was given. The riot police came in an instant, formed a blockade, assaulted those inside, assaulted those outside and threw them into the blockade, etc. I was one of those who were under the blockade. Under the blockade, again, we started a negotiation process. We said that there was an intervention without warning and that we wanted an evacuation corridor to be opened, but it was again like talking to a brick wall. As we learned later, we tried to negotiate with a chief who had a very high rank at the provincial level. He told us very clearly “You will all be detained, either you come willingly or we will take you by force and violence!”. Of course, I didn’t know how many people we were when we were detained, I found out when I got out. 70 people were detained. As far as I know, it is the highest number of detainees on campus in the history of Boğaziçi. I think this reveals the extent of LGBTIA+ hostility. As a result of the criminalization of LGBTIA+ existences, which Soylu constantly refers to as a member of a terrorist organization, even their efforts to maintain their existence and to be visible are obviously considered as a situation that requires an urgent and harsh intervention for the government. We suffer this oppression because we are constantly being seen as a threat to the “sacred” family institution, which makes us a social mobility with the potential to undermine and destroy the patriarchal order. I have been participating in the Istanbul Pride Parade since 2017, and I know how we are treated every year. In the rest of the country, LGBTIA+ hostility is being re-produced by the government, the state apparatus, and the legitimations of the judiciary. Political power needs an enemy to remain in power. In order to justify its oppression methods, it has to blame someone. Recently, LGBTIA+s are one of these “enemies”.
Photo of students under police blockade
How were you treated in detention?
It was my first detention, and first for many of us. Unfortunately, it is not unusual to be detained while being a part of a movement that seeks rights and fights for freedom and equality in this atmosphere of political oppression. Detention is also a method of oppression and torture. No matter how lightly, it is a process that starts from the moment you are blockaded for detention and constantly interferes with your physical integrity and psychology. We were deprived of all our rights for eight hours in total. I think the important thing here is, despite this violence that has become common, to establish solidarity, to take care of each other, to maintain our continuity in the movement, to be able to be good to each other enough to show the will not to give up. We tried to do that. For example, what I am most disturbed about such events is that the media generally uses the detention process and the torture involved in that process in a pornographic way. I’m not saying the media should lie, but how the people in the field managed this whole event, how the outsiders presented the whole process is a very critical issue. I want all those people -detained and not- to come to the march again next year, I hope. We try to maintain this. I want to put into practice that “don’t be afraid, we take care of each other, we stand together!” We have been subjected to a lot of irregularity and inhuman treatment, from being handcuffed behind the back, not given a warning, being kept in a detention car for eight hours, to being ill-treated, abusive glances, being beaten, not being examined properly. Despite all these, I have to feel up to come next year, and I will. I want to see and show that they cannot silence us, and that we can overcome many things as long as we are together.
How do you generally evaluate this treatment against the Pride Parade at Boğaziçi? What’s on your agenda next?
The point reached by the LGBTIA+ hostility is obvious. Since we are a threat to the sacred family, the binary gender system, heteronormativity, and patriarchy, we are subjected to oppression and violence by the masculine and heterosexist state, the political power and its apparatus, which take on the guardianship of this system of inequalities. We are witnessing that the situation in Turkey has extended to all institutions through trustees. The police enter the school by the order of the rectors appointed to make our campus life difficult for us. The political power wants to take control of all our living spaces. They attack us every time we try to show our existence, which they try to confine in ghettos, within four walls. No, we do not and will not accept. Don’t we demand the whole city, not the ghettos? We want to live our being lubunya [queerness] freely and equally. We do not hesitate to fight for this, we will not hesitate. For example, we have the Istanbul Pride Parade soon. It has been banned since 2015, but the lubunyas continued to conform to that call every year. This is a situation that proves our will, shows our determination to struggle, and that we can consider as evidence that we will not give up. It is the same for Boğaziçi. This year we had the experience of being banned for the first time. Then we will be more prepared next year, but we will still be in the fields, we will march again. They can’t stop, they can’t suppress, they can’t make us give up. We make it clear every time that we will not refrain from the struggle no matter what they do.
Translator: Gülcan Ergün
Proof-reader: Müge Karahan