President Abdullah Gül made a statement about the incident when asked about his thoughts on the issue during his visit to Yalova on Friday. “These are issues that are behind us and in the past. Education is a basic right for everyone. No one should inhibit the exercise of such a basic right,” the president said, and he added that a debate on clothing belongs in the past now. He also stated that such incidents are not appropriate for ODTÜ, which is one of the most prestigious universities in Turkey. “No one should put pressure on any student based on his or her ideas,” the president added.
Responding to a question on the issue at a press conference he held after he attended the G-20 summit in Russia, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also described the incident as an attack on the basic rights of students wearing headscarves. “This is an effort to make the children of this country ‘others’,” said Erdoğan, adding that not only will the government take the necessary steps but the Higher Education Board (YÖK) as well.
Stating that his government is establishing a Turkey in which basic rights and freedoms are dominant, Erdoğan said women who wear headscarves will enjoy the same rights as others. “That university belongs to everyone,” Erdoğan said in reference to ODTÜ and criticized the perpetrators of the attack.
The prime minister also stated that the incident showed why there is a need for the police at universities since private security took no steps to stop the attack at ODTÜ.
YÖK President Gökhan Çetinsaya also stated on Friday that the incident is a direct attack on to the right to receive an education.
The attack sparked a strong reaction when video of the event was seen on social media platforms on Thursday. The incident took place on the ODTÜ campus.
Many new students had come to enroll during the registration period, including some students wearing headscarves.
A group of students carrying banners that read “Cemaate karşı” (against Hizmet — a movement known for its activities in the field of education, culture and dialogue) harassed a number of headscarved students who were waiting to register.
The group chanted slogans against Hizmet and they intensified their harassment of the headscarved students until eventually the victims of the verbal attack decided to leave the site.
When the victims began to leave, some aggressive students followed them amid loud applause from their friends.
Commenting to Today’s Zaman, Humanitarian Aid Foundation (İHH) Vice President Hüseyin Oruç said that in today’s Turkey, such incidents should not happen any longer since all segments of society have made peace with each other. “Turkey has overcome this [discrimination against the wearing of a headscarf],” he said and he urged that a minority of students at ODTÜ not be allowed to cause polarization in Turkey or reactions that might bring an environment of conflict to the country.
Ahmet Faruk Ünsal, the president of The Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (MAZLUM-DER), also spoke to Today’s Zaman and stated that it is ironic that such an outdated incident took place at a university where the students claim to be progressive. “Their attitude is reactionary,” Ünsal said, criticizing the students who abused fellow students at ODTÜ. He noted that his association did not issue an official statement because the attack was not related to university policy, but rather it was limited to the acts and attitudes of a group of students. Ünsal also said that universities should be the center of the struggle for freedoms.
‘Reminiscent of apartheid’
Human rights lawyer and Today’s Zaman columnist Orhan Kemal Cengiz described the attack as a violation of human rights on many levels. According to him, it is an attack on religious freedoms, an attack on women and an attack on the right of assembly. “It resembles the incidents in the Apartheid era or the treatment of African-Americans before the civil rights movement,” commented Cengiz, as he warned everyone against intolerance of diversity of thought in the country.
“If the attack was directed at Cemaat, the perpetrators are apparently not aware of the fact that they are members of a community that wants to establish a monopoly on campus, just as they accuse Cemaat of seeking,” Cengiz commented.
In the meantime, the ODTÜ Alumni Association (ODTÜ-MEBİVA) strongly condemned the attack in a statement released on its website on Thursday. The statement called on university officials to investigate the incident. Expressing outrage and frustration over the indifference of university officials regarding fascist acts, the association says the university’s name is being tarnished.
People from all walks of life, from politicians to journalists and community leaders have condemned the attack in social media forums after the footage of the attack became widely available on the Internet.
ODTÜ to investigate
On Friday, AK Party İstanbul deputy Bülent Turan announced on his Twitter account that he had spoken to the president of ODTÜ about the incident and that the university administration has decided to launch an investigation of the events. Turan said that the university will take legal action if necessary based on the findings of the investigation.
The police have determined the identities of some of the students who were involved in the verbal attack, İlknur A., Özgül B. and Muhammet K., who are also members of the Turkish Communist Party (TKP).