We Have Our Own November 17th, Too*

                                                                    Mert Batur

November 17th is known as International Students Day around the world . November 17th has an 81-years history and it goes back to 1939, to the protests at the University of Prague held against the Nazi occupation and for the independence of Czechoslovakia. Jan Opletal, one of the leaders of the students movement, was seriously injured in a protest held on October 28th, 1939, and died 14 days later. The Nazi’s suppresed the protests by angry students attending Jan Opletal funeral on November 17th  with the extrajudicial execution of a further 9 students and the arrest of 1200 students.

In 1973, the students of Athens Polytechnic (Athens Technical University), known as the center of the student movement in Greece, occupied the university against the military junta in power since 1967. The students turned the Polytechnic into a radio station using the equipment available at the university and broadcasted against the junta for 4 days. However, on the fourth day tanks entered the university, thousands of students were injured and the occupation was brought to an end.

Our November 17th  

These protests and occupations that inspired the international students movement continue to live in the student movement in Turkey: Not on November 17th , but on November 6th, in the protests against YÖK, in the democratic occupations of universities, on the banner of  “science for the people, university for the people”. 

To mark the occasion of the International Students Day this November 17th, we focused on the recent history of the students fighting in this country and wanted to search for “our November 17th”. We tried to search for the history of the student movement  running towards freedom, and oppose attempts at  reducing this day to the foreign students and multiculturalism day in universities (though of course this celebration is also very important).

METU Is Standing, Resisting AKP

On December 18th, 2012, the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, came to Middle East Technical University (METU) to watch the launch of the Göktürk-2 satellite. Students organized protests and marches against Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP). The protests expanded after the police attacked the students with tear gas. A student who was hit by a gas canister on the head suffered a brain hemorrhage. Following these protests, academicians and students of different universities stated that METU students were using their right to protest. However, Erdogan claimed that students did not have such a right and that students do not act like this.

The students held events throughout the day, organized forums and meetings where the new Higher Education Council (YÖK) projects were also discussed. Marches and protests continued in METU. Although the lecture hall allocated to the students should be emptied at 21:00, the students announced that they would not leave the university for 48 hours. After the two-days occupation, students met with students from different universities and held a concert at the Devrim Stadium. The student movement still cherishes the inspirational moment when the students lay down on the stadium ground to write METU STANDS UP with their bodies.

In 2019, students who opposed the cancellation of METU festivals and the police intervention in the METU PrideMarch, called for a boycott of their courses by saying “If there are police, violence, hatred, then there are no courses.” The same call was made in the “METU Is Standing” protests. METU protests continue to inspire the student movement.

Occupation is no delight!  

A group of students at Boğaziçi University wanted to offer Turkish delight on campus in memory of the 46 soldiers who were martyred in the Afrin operation of the Turkish Armed Forces on March 19th. Another group of students opposed it and held a banner saying “Turkish delight should not be offered for occupation and massacre.” Police entered the Boğaziçi University for the first time and detained 14 students involved in holding up the banner.

The students targeted by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying “We will not allow these marauders” were taken from dormitories and university, detained and subjected to torture. In the lawsuit, the slogans such as “We do not want  war, we want peace right now” and “Long live the brotherhood of the people” were included in the indictment. Twenty seven students were handed  10 month prison sentences. Twenty students’ prison sentences have been suspended. Seven students were fined 6 thousand Turkish liras for refusing the suspension of the pronouncement of the judgement. Three students were acquitted. 

The police attacks at Boğaziçi University, as in Prague or Athens, have taken its place in the history of international student movements. It was engraved in memory as a protest that should hold a place in the history of International Students Day, especially because it is a protest organized against wars between peoples.

Do Not Touch My Food, Do Not Hit My Friend!” 

The protests that started on December 31st, 2019 at Istanbul University, one of the historical focal points of the student movement, have been met with  police attacks, university administration resistance and student gains. Istanbul University had raised the prices of a meal at the university canteen in 2019. After the administration’s decision to reduce the portion size and raise prices on January 2nd, 2020, the students  protested the decision by saying  “Do not Touch My Food!” 

On the third day of the protests, a banner was hung on the main gate facing Beyazıt Square, saying “The rector, who could eat while the students are hungry, is not one of us!” The footage of the police attack that started after the protests was shared by the press and had a great impact on gaining public opinion support for the student protest. The footage showed a police officer attacking one of the students exercising their democratic rights with a truncheon. An investigation was subsequently launched against the relevant police due to the influence of public support for the students. As a result  of  the students’ protests, the price hike was withdrawn, and the students’ movement achieved a long-awaited gain.

Do Not Forget November 17th And The Fight!

We do not forget the successes, trials and tribulations of students in their anti-YÖK protests, university occupations and much more. On the occasion of November 17, we once again express that we are in solidarity with all students who fight for the right to free education, for democratic universities, for equal campuses against male violence and much much more. 

* Inspired by Metin Demirtaş’s  poem with the lines “We have mountains, too Che Guevara”.