Controversial mayor vows ‘astronomical increase’ in bus fares for foreign students in Bolu

Bolu Mayor Tanju Özcan

A controversial mayor from Turkey’s main opposition party who is known for his anti-refugee discourse has promised “an astronomical increase” in bus fares for foreign university students in the northwestern province of Bolu, Turkish Minute reported, citing the Demirören News Agency (DHA).

Bolu Mayor Tanju Özcan, from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), said at a press conference on Monday that there has been a significant spike in the number of foreign students, mostly from Africa, enrolling at the city’s Abant İzzet Baysal University.

He said there are students from 102 countries in Bolu and that the number of foreign students in the city has increased 15-fold in the past three years while warning against the possibility of a scandal similar to one that recently occurred at Karabük University in northwestern Turkey.

According to media reports and accounts on social media last month, a number of both male and female students at the university went to the hospital on suspicion of having contracted human papillomavirus (HPV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) after sexual intercourse with African students.

The claims, circulated on an Instagram account called “Karabük University Confessions Page” and denied by the Karabük Provincial Health Directorate, sparked social media discussions that eventually escalated to include statements of racism and hate speech against Africans.

The mayor accused Professor İbrahim Kürtül, the international student coordinator at Abant İzzet Baysal University, and the school’s rector, Professor Mustafa Alişarlı, of organizing the transfer of new foreign students and called for their removal from their positions.

“I call on state officials, the Bolu Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office and our governor to take action. Measures need to be taken before this issue escalates further. … Our authority as the municipality is limited. We will apply an astronomical fare increase to the bus tickets of students who have arrived [the university],” Özcan said in remarks that attracted criticism.

Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party) lawmaker Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, also a renowned human rights activist, called the Bolu mayor “a fascist” and criticized him for his discriminatory attitude.

“If there is an illegal activity … you fight against it. … But these actions targeting students are completely racist. … The CHP should not remain silent on this,” journalist Sedat Bozkurt said in a tweet.

Özcan frequently sparks criticism from human rights groups due to his targeting of refugees living in the city such as imposing exorbitant fees for municipal services.

He was expelled from the CHP in July amid his calls for a change in leadership to replace the party’s former chairman, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

Following the election of Özgür Özel as the party’s leader in early November, the CHP’s party council decided to allow Özcan to return to the party.

Özcan ran again in Bolu as the CHP’s mayoral candidate in the March 31 local elections and won the seat by garnering 52.9 percent of the vote.

Take a second to support Stockholm Center for Freedom on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!