How marginal can you get? On discrimination and how METU students stood their ground

Middle East Technical University in Ankara is famous for two things: academic success and a tradition of resistance to political power. Whether it is in reaction to the overnight decisions to bulldoze the forest in the campus or the attempts at changing the stadium’s name  (“Revolution”, as anointed by the legendary revolutionary student leader Deniz Gezmiş and his friends), students have always stood their ground and claimed their space collectively. The tradition remains untarnished, as students’ protests forced the rector to revert his decision to first cancel and then to move the annual spring festival from Revolution Stadium. Despite the rector’s attempts to marginalize LGBTI+ and leftist constituents of the student collectives, the students successfully stood their ground through their solidarity.

As some of our readers might remember, Ankara is still under a blanket ban against all LGBTI related activities, including film screenings and panels – despite the lifting of the state of emergency last year. Although the ban has struck a blow to the public meetings and collective spaces of LGBTI+ people of Ankara, the LGBTI+ student clubs and movement is committed to continuing their social and cultural activities. Such was the case in METU’s Spring Festival, until the rector suddenly decided to cancel the festival, claiming that the students’ demand were financially burdensome, that the students even requested a “tractor” – confusing the DJing software Traktor with the farmer’s favourite, tractors. The rector said the following words, when his decision caused huge uproar:

“First of all, we haven’t cancelled the festival. On the contrary, we have agreed with students from UGT (International Youth Collective) on all matters including the concerts at Revolution Stadium. Yet this group later changed its mind, after having a meeting with LGBT, Marxist, Extreme Leftist, HDP groups [sic]. Their requests cost over a million in total. They even asked for a tractor. We have never had a prohibitory approach as an administration. We are more METU than you. For example I’ve been in METU for 35 years. I know just as well what is what.”

Of course, the rector’s attempts to wag a finger at “good” students being tempted by the evil marginals like “LGBT, Marxist and Extreme Leftist and HDP groups” fell on deaf ears. But once again the official discourse blatantly discriminated against and others the politically active students with the usual tactics: Lumping together all “others” as a united front of villainy, using identity markers and political positions as if they were adjectives to stigmatize the students, reframing the legitimate requests of students to continue their traditional festival as irrational and greedy and as a cherry on the top, claiming to be more METU than “you”. Regardless of the rector’s claims to authenticity, a university is nothing without its students, who have chosen to use the weapon of humour against the misrepresentation of their intentions. The students gathered in front of the Rectorate, carrying a handmade tractor model painted in the colours of the trans flag, garbed in a rainbow flag, a license plate that says “extreme left” and with a hammer and sickle. Indeed this act of creative resistance reverts the power-holders’ attempt at the caricaturized representation of the diversity of the students, by turning the rector’s words into a concrete object shown below.

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Various artists have offered to play for free and supported the students. On April 16th, around a thousand students gathered in protest. On April 17th student collective UGT, in charge of the organization of the festival, had a meeting with the Rector for two hours: The festival is to be celebrated for the 33rd time, at Revolution Stadium on April 24-26. We hope to see the solidarity of students, with all their diversity of ethnicity, political opinion, gender identity and sexual orientation, continue and grow in all campuses around Turkey. Love will win!

*Photos are taken from İnadına Haber.

**This article is based on news from Gazete Duvar and sendika.org.

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