On September 17th, 2020, Bimeks (1) workers published a press release in front of Boğaziçi University. Then, as they had previously announced, they began a sit-in, but they were detained after being assaulted by the police.
After the first detentions, the workers organized protests to make their voices heard and demand the detentions be stopped. After 4 rounds of protests during the day, 27 people, including both workers and students who came to show solidarity with them, were detained.
Why are the workers protesting in front of the Boğaziçi University building?
Workers’ resistance continues around the country. But almost all of these workers’ protests take place either inside or in front of the relevant workplace, in the bosses’ living quarters or in the city centers. So why do Bimeks workers prefer to protest in front of Boğaziçi University? Because Vedat Akgiray, one of the owners of the company who has unfairly dismissed workers by withholding salaries and compensation of 1500 Bimeks workers since 2016, is a finance professor at Boğaziçi University. The slogan of the workers explains everything clearly: Vedat Akgiray, do not give lectures, give us our rights!
The workers tried almost every option until they got to a sit-in in front of Boğaziçi University. They held meetings, sued and won, made press releases, and filed a criminal complaint. The workers invited the owners Ahmet, Murat and Vedat Akgiray and the various institutions they work with to find a solution. Boğaziçi University is not the only place where Akgirays work as academics; Ahmet Akgiray also teaches at Özyeğin University. This is why workers and students invite Boğaziçi and Özyeğin Universities to take part in finding a solution to this problem or to cut their relations with those who violate the rights of the workers. Bimeks workers have made press statements in front of both Boğaziçi University and Özyeğin University on June 23rd, 2020. But their voices have not been heard until today.
Bimeks workers say: “At a university like Boğaziçi, which claims to be the best university in the country, praises its own liberal and democratic approach, and is preferred by the most successful students from all over the country, a faculty member who is known to be unkind to workers must not be employed. Let’s express this with the famous slogan from the student movement: There is no room for the enemy of the worker in the university!
Who are the pandemic precautions for?
The protest call of the Bimeks workers was as follows: “We will first hold a press release at 13:00, and then hold a sit-in protest in front of Boğaziçi University until 09:00 the next day.“
Before the protest, Boğaziçi University was surrounded by the police. They claimed that the protest would not be allowed due to the pandemic. The workers stated that they would still take this action but would pay attention to all precautions such as social distancing and masks. However, the police claimed that protests and public assemblies are not currently allowed in Turkey. This reminded the students that while they were not allowed into the university over the recent weeks, a wedding ceremony was held on campus.
Dialogues, questions and thoughts after a protest
The Chairman of the Boğaziçi University Alumni Association and the Dean of Boğaziçi University were also implicated in the issue. The dean advised the students to submit a petition on the problem and to disperse. However the Boğaziçi Rectorate had in the past canceled meetings with students “without giving any reason” and the students therefore stated that they will remain at the protest in solidarity with the workers.
The police could intervene, the name of Boğaziçi University could be tarnished… But are the students really to be blamed for this? Or should the police surrounding the university be told that a democratic action is not illegal, and that it is illegal to attack it? The name of Boğaziçi University was tainted when rights were sought in front of the university building. So when a faculty member who usurped workers’ rights worked at the same university, wasn’t the reputation already tainted? Would it be appropriate for a university that is supposed to advocate democracy to try to disperse a democratic action?
The students said that Boğaziçi University should support finding a solution to this problem. At the very least, Vedat Akgiray should not work at the university. However, officials stated that Boğaziçi University is a public institution and cannot be a party to such issues.
But can you be neutral on such issues? Is the university not taking sides when Vedat Akgiray continues to work at the university despite all objections and there is still no official investigation against him? Wasn’t it taking sides when the university remained silent as the police battered and detained workers and students? We would expect a university claiming to have democratic values to say the following in order to protect these values: “Our students are participating in a democratic protest in front of our university, we do not complain about it, we think this is a right and we stand by them!” If saying this is to take sides, isn’t it also taking sides not to say it? Inspired by the poet Ece Ayhan, we can say that “these are the questions that do not let birds fly in the sky” (2)
They are coming again: A protest camp will be set up on November 2nd!
Bimeks workers right before they were detained said: “We will come again, we will come again!” Indeed, they came three more times that day. Until November 2nd, if the relevant persons, officials and mediators do not take the initiative to solve this problem, they will set up a protest camp in front of Boğaziçi University to make their voices heard. Students will continue to be in solidarity with the workers.
Let us repeat the students’ call to Boğaziçi University: “We want the university to adhere to its claimed democratic values and not be represented by someone who has allegations of fraud against them”. Boğaziçi University can play a key role in solving this problem and give strength and courage to all universities.
Let’s finish with the words of a fellow student who attended the protest in solidarity with the workers: “We, students, will not be attending Vedat Akgiray’s classes but instead will be taking open classes from the workers. Bimeks workers are not alone. “
1. Bimeks was Turkey’s first technology products retail company and started its commercial activities in a small shop at Kadıköy in 1990. It went bankrupt, making a concordat statement in 2019.
2. “The questions that do not let birds fly in the sky”: A line from a poem by Ece Ayhan, a famous Turkish poet. It means not allowing anyone and/or anything to escape, to not give up.