Erdoğan targets spouse of imprisoned philanthropist Kavala, calls her a provocateur

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday targeted Professor Ayşe Buğra, the wife of imprisoned philanthropist and businessman Osman Kavala, accusing her of provoking student protests at Boğaziçi University, where she is a prominent academic, Turkish media reported.

Speaking to the press Erdoğan said the Boğaziçi University protests had not been instigated by students but rather by opposition parties, academics and provocateurs. “The wife of Soros’ representative in Turkey is also one of those provocateurs,” he said.

Kavala was accused of financing the 2013 Gezi Park protests, and Erdoğan has frequently referred to him as “Soros’s representative in Turkey,” claiming that George Soros, a Hungarian-American businessman and philanthropist, was behind Kavala.

Buğra is an internationally renowned professor of political economy at Boğaziçi University. Speaking to the Sözcu daily, Buğra said she was deeply shaken for being targeted by the president. “I barely go to the university. I don’t use social media, and I have only one online lecture. I went to the university twice after the protests started and took part in one demonstration. I don’t understand how I could be a provocateur,” she said.

Buğra’s students published a statement that has been circulating on social media, saying that they stand with their professor.

Kati Piri, a member of the European Parliament and a former Turkey rapporteur, criticized Erdoğan’s comment targeting Buğra and said it clearly showed Turkey’s promises for a reformed and pro-democratic government were empty.

The protests first erupted after Erdoğan named a party loyalist, Melih Bulu, as head of Boğaziçi University at the start of the year.

Critics slammed the appointment of Bulu, saying he was unqualified for the job and that a state-appointed rector harmed the independence of the university.

Bulu was a candidate to become a member of parliament from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the 2015 elections and led a district branch of the AKP in Istanbul. He was also the leader of a team of “virtual raiders” that was established to respond to negative comments online towards President Erdoğan and the AKP and to spread pro-AKP propaganda.

There have also been claims that Bulu plagiarized his master’s and Ph.D. theses. Following the allegations, the higher education council closed Bulu’s theses to online access.

In a statement shared on social media, university faculty members said they would not accept the appointment of the rector “as it clearly violates academic freedom and independence as well as the democratic values of our university.”

More than 500 students and their supporters were detained in İstanbul and the capital Ankara in increasingly violent and politically charged altercations with the police last week. Ten students have been arrested, while 24 were put under house arrest.

The EU condemned the detention of university students in Turkey and called the detention of student demonstrators and a decision by authorities to ban rallies around Istanbul’s prestigious Boğaziçi University “a deeply worrying development.”

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