As student protests continue at İstanbul’s Boğaziçi University, one of the country’s most prestigious universities, President Recep Erdoğan has been trying to mobilize his base by deepening polarization in the country. Until now, the response of Bogazici students had limited the effectiveness of Erdoğan’s authoritarian populism. This younger generation, aged below 30, has emerged as the third actor in this polarized political field, giving a glimpse of hope for Turkey’s future.
The problems and socio-political demands of young people are often treated as a “non-urgent” or “scarcely important” matter. However, many studies indicate that millions of young Turks are beginning to demand a radical overhaul of the systems we live by and are capable of acting as force to transform Turkish politics.
Demand for civil liberties
Since early January, students and academics have been protesting Erdoğan’s appointment of an outside rector, Melih Bulu, at Boğaziçi University. The university has long held the tradition of selecting its rector, but in 2016 the authority to select university rectors was transferred to the president, as part of Erdoğan’s strategy to take complete control of state institutions.
When the protests began, the government immediately targeted those students demanding an election as “terrorists”. Students were exposed to police violence and some have been jailed. While the government sought out any conflict in the protests in order to encourage their base, student responses were on the whole creative, demonstrating a prevailing diversity and peaceful coexistence on campus.
Nascent informal youth platforms
Instead of participating in organized politics as members of youth branches of long-standing political parties, Turkish youth seem to be coming together under the influence of new, technologically innovative, inclusive and informal platforms. These platforms do not operate alongside the conventional socio-political fault lines of Turkey, such as secularism-Islamism, Left-Right, or Turkish-Kurdish. Instead these new youth platforms ask for and actively create “gray areas” where they can explore, debate, and negotiate these conventional cleavages to rethink their configurations. These groups often stress the fact that they do not want to be dominated by political polarization and the vocabulary accompanying it. Without necessarily refuting their identities, they would like to recreate a political field for debate, negotiation, deliberation and consensus. Gray Area Platform [Gri Bölge in Turkish] is one of them and focuses its online activities on the problems of the youth and their vision for the future.
There are other organizations that strive to address everyday problems that young people disproportionately suffer from. Youth Unemployed People Platform or KYKlılar Platformu (KYK is the abbreviation of Credit and Dormitory Institution) are examples of such issue-based platforms paying attention to Turkey’s many socio-economic woes.