Student Activism In Turkey And Its Brutal Crackdown
The insecurity that gripped the Recep Tayyip Erdogan-led government has seen a crackdown on various sections of society that is causing a huge churn inside the country.
And the section that seems to be most affected are the university students.
The figures are shocking.
As per the information extracted by a lawmaker from the opposition party after several attempts, it has come to light that there are nearly 70,000 students in Turkey’s jails.
But that’s not all! More than 100,000 students are facing charges which will lead to trial.
The charges imposed on them consist of “attending illegal activities, terror propaganda, membership to terrorist organizations and joining unlawful protests.”
1. Student Activism In Turkey
Like most vibrant democracies, Turkey also has very politically active college and university campuses. Students politics in this country is as intense as anywhere in the world.
So, its not surprising that various ideologies and political causes have found deep resonance among students.
This combined with a growing population of college and university students made campuses hotbeds of political activities.
Among the causes that have found support in the student community are included autonomy for the Kurdish regions of the country, end to the persecution of the followers of Fetullah Gulen (a religious leader in self-imposed exile in USA accused by the government as the main perpetrator of the coup attempt) and leftist movements.
Things have got uglier in recent times. On March 19 of this year, a group of students at Boğaziçi University decided to protest against some of their fellow students who had celebrated the killing of Turkish soldiers during their operations in Afrin.
This led to many of the students involved in the celebration being detained.
President Erdogan described these students as “communists, traitors and terrorists” while praising those who protesting against them as “believers, local and national.”
This whole episode shows the schisms that have emerged in the student community and the growing politicization of the student class.
2. Effects Of Prosecution On Education Of Students
The students that have found themselves on the wrong end the law or the government’s offensive face dire prospects regarding their future lives and their education.
As per the current system, students who are taken under arrest are first suspended from their educational institutions and if they go on to face conviction are expelled.
The arrested students can take university entrance exams from within the jails and on being successful get a reprieve in the form of a right to freeze their enrollment for two years.
Obviously, those who are going to be in jail for more than two years, which is certain for the convicted ones, would lose their opportunity.
As for the eventual fate of those who are convicted, they face jail terms which are quite high, disproportionately high according to many people.
According to the sources, the punishment starts at five years imprisonment and can go up to 16 years. One can imagine how deeply damaged the life of those who serve these terms would be.
3. The Internal Conflict Among Students
The social fissures that are affecting Turkey are also manifesting themselves in the form of dissensions within students.
The best example of this is the dichotomy that Turkey is witnessing a rise in religiosity among its younger population while at the same time witnessing heavy activism from leftist organisation as well.
The conservative and pro-Islamic nature of the government is also seeing an attempt to infuse greater religiosity in the textbooks and courses.
Those sections of the society which are moderate or follow a secular lifestyle are worried about these changes while the growing number of devout Muslims are highly supportive of these reforms.
Such divergence of opinion is going to lead to greater conflict.
4. What The Future Holds For Turkish Youth
There is no reason to believe that things would calm down in the future for Turkish student community.
The presence of leftist groups on campuses is being challenged by conservative elements.
What’s worrying is that now there is also an element of radical Islamic groups and pro-Kurdish groups which have jumped into the fray.
Add to that the political churn in the country and you have a situation that is becoming increasingly volatile.