President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday struck back at international criticism regarding Turkey’s response to students protests, telling western nations to focus on unrest in their own countries.
“I will say this to America: aren’t you ashamed of the incidents in the United States before the elections?” Erdogan said while leaving a mosque for Friday prayers. “Racism went over the roof,” he added, referring to the racial justice demonstrations across the US last year.
Students and faculty have organized multiple demonstrations at Bogazici University and other areas in the past few weeks, after the Turkish president appointed a rector there with ties to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The Turkish president also addressed French President Emmanuel Macron’s criticism of the demonstrations, saying Paris needs to “sort out” the “yellow vest” protests.
US expresses support for protesters
The US State Department has criticized anti-LGBT rhetoric surrounding the protests. Turkey’s interior minister has characterized the protesters as “perverts” on Twitter.
The government has slammed the protesters as ‘LGBT+ perverts’
“The United States….stands shoulder to shoulder with all those fighting for their fundamental democratic freedoms,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said this week about the protests, adding that freedom of speech, “even speech that some may find uncomfortable, is a critical component of vibrant functioning democracy.”
Demonstrators demand resignation of new rector
Bogazici University’s new rector, Melih Bulu, previously ran as an AKP parliamentary candidate in 2015. University faculty and students have slammed Erdogan’s decision to appoint Bulu, because they believe the university’s rector should be elected from within the institution. Critics see the move as undemocratic, and an attempt to push conservative values on the left-leaning university. Demonstrators called on Bulu to resign.
Erdogan has previously called the student demonstrators “terrorists” and “LGBT youth” who lack Turkey’s “national and spiritual values.” The Turkish government has banned the university demonstrations.
On the other hand, Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, a member of the left-leaning Republican People’s Party (CHP), has expressed support for the protests.
Another Gezi movement?
Turkish authorities claim they have arrested some 600 people since the protests began on Jan. 4, following the appointment of Bulu as rector. The civil unrest has marked some of the largest protests in Turkey since 2013, when demonstrators took to the streets en masse against an urban development plan at Istanbul’s Gezi park.
Although the 2013 protests originally focused on environmental concerns, demonstrators also called for the resignation of Erdogan’s government, challenging his authority. Erdogan characterized the demonstrators as “looters,” with the Turkish authorities arresting thousands of protesters at the time.