University skirmish stirs haunting Sept. 12 memories

A fight at Akdeniz University is strongly reminiscent of the fallout of events that led to a coup in 1980, officials warned.

University skirmish stirs haunting Sept. 12 memories
Today's Zaman reported, a fight that broke out between groups of students with conflicting ideological beliefs at Akdeniz University on Sunday -- sparked by individuals who are not even students at the university -- is strongly reminiscent of the fallout of events that led to a coup in 1980, one of the darkest eras of Turkey's recent history, politicians, youth group organizers of the past and government officials warned on Monday.

Seven people were injured during incidents over the weekend sparked when a fight broke out on Sunday at Akdeniz University in the southern port city of Antalya. A man among the crowd who opened fire into the air during the conflict was identified and captured on Monday evening. Akdeniz University Rector Mustafa Akaydın said he was worried that the tension between student groups prior to the 1980 coup could be sparked again. "I openly harbor this concern. I am warning everyone. Both politicians and the security forces should show the utmost sensitivity in this situation. I invite students who might be involved to stay calm. I do carry this concern," he said.

Myriad books by living witnesses and memoirs of politicians and student group leaders of the time on the coup d'état headed by Gen. Kenan Evren on Sept. 12, 1980 have come to the understanding, years after spending their youth in political fighting, that most of the chaos on the street was "manufactured" by certain groups that also relied on the help of foreign intelligence agencies to pave the way for and justify a military intervention. A prominent journalist wrote a comprehensive book on CIA influence on the coup, with evidence that a CIA official stationed in Ankara at the time could not deny.

The conflict of the '70s was mainly presented as a fight between right and left-wing factions of society, centered around the ultranationalist Idealist Clubs, or Grey Wolves youth organization of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and extreme left student groups. An estimated 831 people were killed and thousands injured in 3,319 attacks by nationalists on leftist students in 1978 alone. In the latter half of the '70s, violence on the streets peaked. A May 1 massacre of protestors in 1977 wherein dozens were killed and attacks against Alevi students in Kahramanmaraş in 1978 in which hundreds died are some of the most violent incidents among hundreds that paved the way for the military's intervention. Martial law was declared in the country after the Kahramanmaraş massacre. Not surprisingly, the people were elated that the violence was over when Evren and his generals took power under the pretext of putting an end to bloodshed and parliamentary instability that had remained in place throughout much of the decade.

"These recent incidents are strongly reminiscent of the pre-Sept. 12 period," agreed Şanar Yurdatapan, a musician, artist and prominent activist who was part of the leftist movement in the 1968 generation. Yurdatapan had to flee Turkey and even lost his citizenship after Sept. 12, but regained his passport after many years. Referring to similar incidents that broke out at Ankara University a few days ago, Yurdatapan said: "These incidents started in one place and then jumped to another location. This alone is indicative that certain power centers are shaping them."

He said he expected differences between the Alevi and Sunni segments of society to be provoked. "A conflict between Alevi and Sunni is next to follow," he said of his concern.

However he noted that something was very different this time. "What is pleasing today is that a majority of society is making this very analysis, that there are provocations behind such a conflict."

Atilla Kaya, a MHP deputy who headed various Idealist Clubs in the '70s, agreed. "Turkey has an experience of about 40 years of such political violence," he said. From Turkey's experience, starting with the first coup the young republic endured in 1960, "the social, economic, political aspects of such social violence have been understood both by our politicians and our security forces."

He said the most important responsibility at this point lay with politicians. "Politicians and university administrators in particular should avoid making statements that would add to polarization because polarization in political grounds might reflect on differently in various strata of society."

Meanwhile, in a statement issued in the afternoon, deputy head of the MHP parliamentary group Oktay Vural said the recent incidents "smelled of provocation." "Who ever is behind this incident, they should be found out," Vural said.

Vural criticized some media reports that associated an attacker - who has been identified and apprehended by the police but who is not a student -- with his party. "How can they relate this incident so easily to the MHP?" he asked, claiming that the reports were part of a setup against the MHP.

He blamed those individuals and groups opposed to MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli, saying that his calls for calm and attempts at keeping his party's youth organization out of political street fights have disturbed "certain people."

Gökhan Özakın, head of the nationalist Grand Unity Party (BBP) youth organization Alperen Houses, said: "The state of Turkey in recent times is very confusing. Some are devising plans to change the government. There are complicated things going on in the US, as the government there is about to change ahead of a possible attack on Iran," highlighting that the times were causing politicized student groups to be open to provocation. "We always call, with persistence, on our organization to be calm. We always give them the message to stay out of fighting in the streets. We tell them to stay [away] even for reasons of self-defense," Özakın told Today's Zaman.

Speaking at a Cabinet meeting yesterday, government spokesperson Cemil Çiçek also said the recent fight was brought on by provocation. "They should take their vicious hands off our young people," Çiçek said. He also called on university administrators to concentrate more on what is going on inside the universities, instead of engaging in politics. He warned against "falling into the same trap," again. Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Antalya deputy Abdurrahman Arıcı also expressed a similar opinion, saying Turkey's young people would not "fall victim to this game." He said the conflict was the result of provocation. "But I doubt that young people would buy into such provocation," he added.

Head of the Higher Education Board (YÖK) Yusuf Ziya Özcan was also alarmed. "Our universities will continue to heighten their quality of education despite all provocations," he said, adding his belief that the rector's office at Akdeniz University had acted with calm and common sense.

Conflict between the two groups

Forty suspects have so far been detained in the investigation into the fight between the two groups. Currently, a large number of squads from the riot police have been deployed on campus, particularly around the dormitory where the initial fight occurred.

Witnesses said the reason for the fight appeared to be tension between Kurdish and Turkish nationalists.

"I believe the measures we have taken will not allow this kind of incident to recur," Antalya Police Chief Feyzullah Arslan said on Monday after visiting the campus and being briefed by police officials in detail about the events.

According to information provided by the chief of police, two guns were fired during the conflict, one being a 9 mm and the other a gun filled with blanks. The person who fired the blanks was captured in the evening. The police were still looking for the other man, identified as Ömer Ulusoy in security cam recordings of the incident. The police said he had a criminal record for such offenses as carrying firearms without a license and being in possession of marijuana.

Entrance and exit security screenings at the university have been tightened by the university's security guards, Arslan said.

Police say among the suspects, 25 are students residing at the dormitory where the conflict mainly occurred; four are not students at the university, and two are minors who attend high school.

Incidents at Akdeniz University

The fight between the groups of students was broken up with the intervention of riot police from the Antalya Police Department. The two groups attacked each other with knives and stones; two were injured in the fight. Both men were hospitalized but are in good condition, said doctors at Akdeniz University Hospital. Friends of the injured gathered on Sunday in front of the hospital and chanted slogans. This group, on their way back to the dormitories, started a second fight with a group of right-wing students in front of the rector's office. Knives, sharp objects, sticks and shotguns were used in the fight, which was broken up with the aid of police panzer tanks that fire-hosed those involved in the conflict.

Officials from the Antalya police said tension has been high between the two groups for the past few days.

Akdeniz University Rector Mustafa Akaydın in a statement he issued on the incidents said his university deeply condemned individuals from outside the university attempting to disturb the atmosphere of peace on campus.

Akaydın, who spoke to journalists at his office, also confirmed that tensions had been running high in the past three days.

"Until today our university has been known as a peaceful and happy research and education environment. This tension has been going on for three days."

Last Mod: 08 Nisan 2008, 07:41
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