Three days after the seemingly usual appointment of a rector to Boğaziçi University on 1 January 2021, a wave of protests burst out, the first of which happened in front of the university’s gate. The protests have neither stopped nor really even slowed down ever since. For any observer of Turkish politics, this resistance, which has lasted 50* days and counting, was unexpected. After all, President Erdoğan’s oppressive methods had apparently been successful in preventing the expected protests or demonstrations in response to his government’s most recent anti-democratic policies, such as the appointment of trustees to the municipalities governed by the pro-Kurdish Halkların Demokratik Partisi [Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP)].
For more experienced observers of Turkish politics familiar with the politicization of the universities of Turkey since the influential student movements of 1968, the Boğaziçi resistance is not only unexpected but shocking. Boğaziçi has generally been known for its liberal environment, and has never had a highly politicized populace of students, as compared to Istanbul University or Middle East Technical University.
How can we understand why this determined resistance against the AKP-MHP government started at Boğaziçi University? The answer cannot be found via a perspective that sees Erdoğan as an omnipotent leader who renders the opposition against him desperate; if that were the case, this magnificent regime would have stopped the protests of feeble unorganized students even before they began.
In fact, throughout the resistance, the government has not figured out a way to scare, repress, or come to an agreement with the protesters. Their ludicrous attempts at each of these outcomes have proved so bad, they worked in reverse: every new move of the government has accelerated the protests.
For example, on the first day of protests, the police were ineffective in dispersing the crowd. The next morning, seven peaceful protesters were taken into custody by a dozen heavily armed officers wearing camouflage; the government declared that those protestors were terrorists or were “affiliated with terrorist organizations.” So what then happened to those dangerous terrorists? They were released after the regular duration of custody, without any charges.
A very similar type of contradictory behavior could also be observed after the police entered the university campus and apprehended 51 students. The public prosecutor demanded the imprisonment of 30 students; the court decided to release them all. Of course, there were also decisive moves made by the Erdoğan government, such as the eleven imprisonments of protesters. But these imprisonments were totally arbitrary: first, because the charges were ridiculous, and second, because the imprisoned protesters were not “leading” figures whose imprisonments would stop the resistance in any way.
These bumbling decisions have had an encouraging effect on the protestors. Since the first day of the protest, fear of the “dictatorship” has been an important element within the resistors. But as days went by and the government could not take decisive action, people became more and more active in a more comfortable manner.
The government thought it could turn the tide with the imprisonment of Doğu and Selo, the two students who were first arrested. The populist charge of disrespect against the holy Kaaba was very useful for them in two ways: first, it utilized the accustomed secular-Muslim dichotomy, and second, it aimed to stir up the angry masses by demonizing the LGBTQI+ community. But the arrests of these students led to the biggest crowd since the first week of protests, who demonstrated in front of the appointed rector’s office, saying they would not leave until he came out and gave an account of the imprisonments.
The police reacted harder than ever before, as 500 police raided the campus and arrested 51 students. But these led to a mass embrace of the Boğaziçi protestors, first with 1.5 million tweets for #aşağıbakmayacağız (“We won’t look down”), then with solidarity protests in different cities. Protestors thought they were helpless, living in a fascist regime, on the 3rd of January. Forty-five days later, they are far more determined and encouraged.
Now we see that the government is not omnipotent, but rather desperate in its struggle against social movements. The regime in Turkey cannot be described as a fascist regime: it detains or imprisons its opposition without doubt, but it is hesitant and heterogenous. Thus, the question is not why did the protests break out because of the rector appointment to Boğaziçi, but why have there not been any determined social movements against anti-democratic policies, corruption, or the economic crisis since the Gezi Park demonstrations in 2013? If it is not the government, who is stopping social movements?
In many cases, those of us who are protestors saw that the one doing the stopping is in fact the united opposition against the AKP, in both its mainstream and “revolutionary” forms. Whether from members of parliament or radical activists, there was a unanimous demand: stop the protests in the streets and confine these actions inside the campus. The leader of the main opposition party, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, has long been arguing that any social movement or protest would increase polarization and thus help strengthen Erdoğan. So the statement from Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, another prominent CHP politician, on constraining the protest action to campus was no surprise. But not having adequate support from “revolutionary” parties or organizations was not expected, as this shows that they have resigned themselves to the alliance project of the CHP, which unites the opposition block under most conservative agenda possible, as they think it is the only way to beat Erdoğan in elections. This plan contains absolutely no street action, of course.
A situation extremely similar to the Turkish opposition’s waiting for the next election is explained in Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, so similar that it proves the opening passage of the book right. As Marx states:
“For the rest, every fair observer, even if he had not followed the course of French developments step by step, must have had a presentiment of the imminence of an unheard-of disgrace for the revolution. It was enough to hear the complacent yelps of victory with which the democrats congratulated each other on the expectedly gracious consequences of the second Sunday in May 1852. [This was the day of elections when Louis Bonaparte’s term was to expire] In their minds that second Sunday of May had become a certain idea, a dogma, like the day of Christ’s reappearance and the beginning of the millennium in the minds of the Chiliasts. As always, weakness had taken refuge in a belief in miracles, believed the enemy to be overcome when he was only conjured away in imagination, and lost all understanding of the present in an inactive glorification of the future that was in store for it and the deeds it had in mind but did not want to carry out yet.”
The predominantly Gen-Z Boğaziçi protestors have seen how the government, which had appeared to be a massively strong entity, was far from omnipotent. Then they saw that the opposition alliance with all of its fractions not only failed to help their cause, but in fact tried hard to contain their protests and demands to the campus rather than the streets. Looking from this perspective, one thing that seems clear is that this resistance will enlarge the rift between traditional political actors and the youth population of Turkey—but not because of the apolitical nature of the latter, as was claimed before. The next election plans led by the CHP may be accepted by almost all of the political parties on the opposition side, but they will not persuade the youth population easily.
 In the local elections held on 31 March 2019, the HDP won the representation of 65 municipalities, while the AKP lost the local governance in the biggest cities of Turkey, including Istanbul and Ankara. Unsatisfied with the electoral results, the AKP government claimed fraud and enforced another election for Istanbul on 23 June 2019, which the AKP lost by a landslide. As for the predominantly Kurdish inhabited cities, the AKP has targeted them differently, undoing the electoral results by deposing or arresting the democratically elected officials of the HDP, thus seizing the municipal governance undemocratically, and appointing AKP representatives as mayors in place of the democratically elected HDP mayors. These AKP assigned mayors are appointed as “trustees” [“kayyım” in Turkish]. According to the news reports, by October 2020, because of the undemocratic pressures from the AKP, the HDP had lost 59 of its municipalities, with only six of them left under an HDP mayor. By referring to the appointed rector as a “trustee,” Boğaziçi students are likening his undemocratic appointment to the appointment of trustees to the HDP municipalities.
 At the time of the 1968 student movement, Boğaziçi University was still not founded, and its historic campus still hosted the boys section of Robert College—an American missionary high school founded in 1863. The University was founded in September 1971, at a time when the military had seized power. Later, in the 1970s, when a new wave of student movements grew in Turkey, Boğaziçi University remained apolitical in its outlook. Even if there might have been some individual students involved with student movements outside, the university maintained this reputation of being nonpolitical, today addressed as “liberal.”
 On Saturday, 30 January, two students were arrested and two others placed under house arrest on charges of “inciting hatred and insulting religious values” in response to work displayed as part of an exhibition of protest-related art at Boğaziçi. On the following Monday, police forces in riot gear patrolled the university entrance, along with at least one sniper unit set up with direct aim on the protesters.
 “We won’t look down” became a resistance statement after the police attacked peacefully walking students and allegedly asked the students too look down, not up, so as not to have any eye contact with the police. The police disputing this by arguing that the police officer said “walk down”—asking the students to take the path leading down—but a video released demonstrated the police attacking quietly walking students. Hence, regardless of whether the police literally asked the students to look down or forced them to metaphorically do so by brutalizing them, “We won’t look down!” became a symbolic statement of student resistance against police brutality.