Freedom Of Assembly

The story of Tent Vigil

Rümeysa Özüyağlı

Click to read in Kurdish or Turkish.

Although the story of Tent Vigil had ended up by assaults committed by those Special Security Unit members breaking and smashing up our tent in pieces and seizing it by force, the actual story was not evolved like that.

Boğaziçi University Demonstrations begun about eighteen months ago immediately after the appointment of Melih Bulu as the Rector in January 2021. And of course, what we have witnessed there at Boğaziçi demonstrations was that very same phenomenon observed back in times of revolutions and/or resistances: a phenomenon that can be described as ‘revolutionaries excelling to such levels of awareness that lead them towards such a state of conscientious where they know everything about those unbearable realities of the world’, just like the sunflowers turning towards the sun as described by Walter Benjamin.

As anyone following the Boğaziçi Protests would comprehend, the resistance had somewhat begun with those intuitive collective efforts of all constituents of the University; all giving their support within the bounds of possibility which holds true to this day. However, for more than a year now since it has begun, it has never been possible to carry on with that very same enthusiasm, spark and joy that was there in the very beginning of those protests neither in terms of press coverage nor in the numbers that participated. Now, in my story here, I will talk about that ‘Tent Vigil’ which has never found itself a coverage in media; printed, visual or otherwise, despite having been there from the very start. Today, situation is still the same. I sincerely hope that putting into pen and paper of this story will have some curative effect on me for I am still in mourning for our Tent Vigil.

We pitched our Tent Vigil, as a clear manifestation of those students’ resistance and perseverance, right in front of the Appointee Rector’s office at our South Campus, for almost a year. Although the story of Tent Vigil had ended up by assaults committed by those Special Security Unit members breaking and smashing up our tent in pieces and seizing it by force, the actual story was not evolved like that.

Tent Vigil has never been the centre of conflicts. So much so that, in the beginning there were times when we offered our tea to those members of Special Security Unit. Neither has our tent been a spot where groups of students in support of different ideological views clashed one another, or any other group whatsoever for that matter. While our tent was broken into pieces, some ‘leftwing’ friends underestimated this attack by saying things like “Hey, what you call a tent is just a something consisting of a few pieces of metal bars with some fabric covered over it.” Yet we had our tea with them under that tent! 

On the contrary, most of the times, this tent in fact has been the very scene of those acts of determination and dedication that I still recall in a state of total astonishment and stun. For instance, I remember that Hrant Dink’s Memorial Day of January 19th that coincided with the first month of the protests. Even though there was a few of us then, we managed to organize some events on that day lasted all day long during which various commemorative speeches were made. Personally, I still wonder about that specific day every time when I think about it; for I would not wish to stay under a heavy snowstorm today even for an hour, let alone for whole seven hours that we did on that day. However, we somehow still managed to find that projector gadget on that day. We used that screen, placed under our second tent, and carried on with our commemoration events of Hrant under heavy snowstorm.

Unfortunately, most of the things that we envisaged were not realised as based on such hopeful grounds that this very existence of our Tent Vigil had meant to us. Our Tent Vigil had its first assault by the members of that Special Security Units by the end of January followed by more systematic and frequent assaults. Though in the beginning we were able to put up our tent by the southern square, this had become almost impossible as the time wore on. So, we moved to a place that belonged to the Boğaziçi University Alumni Association. However, this spot was very far away from the southern square; as it already was very difficult and cumbersome to carry the tent over there, let along setting it up. Usually, there we were up to 20 students at a time, sitting inside the tent in turns, and the tent was now evolved into an information centre for the resistance, where people who want to contribute to the protests with their participation, with their words or maybe with just a little gesture, stopping by to learn the schedule and location of the daily events. Even though we could not put up the tent near the southern campus, we did manage to continuously set it up for almost six months; on every weekday and without skipping a single beat. During which time, some students including myself tried to solve this problem by means of good will and mutual negotiations; talking to some of our lecturers, in whom we have faith and trust, telling them that the place we set up our tent was very far, and our physically- capable friends were no longer able to carry that tent from one place to another for they were now exhausted and depleted. We tried to negotiate our way by diplomatic means but failed. 

It was perhaps that the burden that we assumed initially was much heavier than that of the responsibility we could assume in the end; not long after that it was when we ended up losing our tent which was the mutual ground of our civil disobedience that represented a common object in uniting the students with their lecturers. I want to emphasize one thing: Boğaziçi Protests did not start with the appointment of Melih Bulu, but with the appointment of Mehmet Özkan, who can be described as a typical prototype to any “Appointee Rectors”. However, during his time in office, there was this ‘disconnection and disunity’ amongst the university’s constituents and that volatile trust to Mehmet Özkan by some academics, prevented the extensity of student protests that had grown enormously in the last sixteen months. The name of Boğaziçi Nöbeti (Boğaziçi Vigil), which was only one of those 30 student collectives formed during the demonstrations, comes from that tent named ‘Watch of the History’ set up to show solidarity with the Academics for Peace who were expelled from our university by presidential decrees or by other means by Mehmet Özkan when he was the Rector. Accordingly, the symbol of Boğaziçi Nöbeti was the Nöbet Çadırı (Tent Vigil). 

All those issues I mentioned above were neither stopped us from setting up our tent nor were reasons to lose our tent. Our determination was much stronger than those ordinary, usual challenges that we could have faced during those of longer resistances. Most of my friends from our tent collective never complained about spending their energies, let it be physically or emotionally, for this resistance, even though they were defining themselves as apolitical in general. While we, ‘political ones’, were trying to deal with this mess, those friends only listened patiently mostly the negative updates that we were sharing with them. I am truly grateful their ability to be patient with us.

If I hadn’t witnessed that endurance of my friends, most of them from Boğaziçi Nöbeti referred to as ‘tent collective’ by us, perhaps I would have had hard times in comprehending my ideas about what our actions of civil disobedience meant in terms of where we stand now. But now, most of these are just memories that are doomed to be forgotten for last semester the Special Security Unit assaulted our tent abusing the authority invested in them by that Appointee Rector Naci İnci. What followed that was something of an ordinary event of today: Police forces entered our campus! Our friends Perit and Berke having already been in police custody earlier furthered our disappointment. Even though our friends listened to every police warning, they were still detained while beaten harshly. Thus, ended was our Tent Vigil that was set up by us for almost a year. Although some of us still try to support our lecturers’ resistance, most of us now leaned toward the leftist point of view contrary to our initial stance in the beginning of those protests. I feel that this change of stance is also about that feeling of desperation created by this government; mutually felt by both the country as a whole and the constituents of Boğaziçi University. Today, we as the students who supported the resistance at our Boğaziçi University by exerting physical energy and support in favour of it, now ready to accept the reality that we have lost our sympathy. 

Nevertheless, actions based on civil disobedience are rather substantial in terms of the existence of the virtue in someplace, as well as the responsibility of any human being in rejection of himself for not to be an instrument of injustice as Henry David Thoreau has put it. However, the form we displayed at our Boğaziçi Protests is somewhat different, a special kind of civil disobedience. For instance, there are some specific disobedience actions, somewhat provocative in a positive way, just like the one Berke performed and unjustly detained for it. Yet the civil obedience actions like the tent watch performed by the students, and the one performed by academics by ‘turning their backs to the Rector’s Office’ should be taken collectively and every participant should take his/her own responsibility. In this case the revolutionaries would not be forced to, I mean deterministically, turn to the sun spontaneously with certain motives in the course of history rather resist with their own willingness to defend the truth with awareness of the social destruction that was pointed out by Angelus Novus. This kind of ongoing civil disobedience action is choosing to stop the time just on the moment of an injustice has happened. Because a waiting never ends unless the thing that has been waited would not be realized no matter the weeks, months or years passes by.

*June 2022

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