Amidst soaring rents, student protests spread across Turkey

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by Leo Kendrick

As dissatisfaction with Turkey’s soaring rent prices has spread, student protests have appeared in cities across the country in recent weeks, leading to demonstrations, arrests, and confrontations with police.

The protests, which started in Istanbul this past weekend, have since spread to other cities such as Ankara, Izmir, Kocaeli and Gümüşhane. Following a year and a half of online education, many students are returning to in-person classes this fall and are being confronted with sky-rocketing rent prices, significantly higher than their pre-pandemic rates.

The student protest movement against exorbitant rents, known in Turkish as “Barınamıyoruz” (“We cannot take shelter”), began with a demonstration in Istanbul’s Yoğurtcu Park in Kadıköy over the weekend. Medyascope spoke to some of the youth involved in the protest, who criticized the capacity of Kredi Yurtlar Kurumu (KYK), the Turkish government agency in charge of student housing and dormitories, as well as the general increase in rents across the country: “We have been left without housing due to the lack of capacity in KYK dormitories, the exorbitant fees of private dorms, and the 70-290% increase in rents across Turkey.” According to protesters, for Turkey’s 10 million student population exist only 700,000 dormitory spaces. The students, whose protest involved sleeping in the park overnight, also expressed that their chosen method of protest was the one most likely to elicit a reaction and attract attention towards the issue of student housing prices.

Although no arrests were reported in the Yoğurtcu Park demonstration, local police reportedly attempted to break up the protest, telling students they were not allowed to spend the night in the park. In response, students told law enforcement “We have nowhere to go.”

Following the initial event in Istanbul over the weekend, a protest was organized in Ankara’s 100 Yil district which resulted in the arrest of nine students. Protesters erected tents in 100 Yil’s Erdost Park, with the intention of staying the night. Police later arrived at the protest, demanding that the students remove the tents. When this request was refused, nine student protestors were taken into custody. 

Similar protests were witnessed in Izmir, Kocaeli, and Gümüşhane. A photo circulating on social media showed a student lying alone on a mattress placed directly in front of the entrance to Gümüşhane University.

Students requests include increased dormitory capacity from KYK, lower prices in private dorms, and an end to sky-high rent prices across the country. A member of the “Barınamıyoruz” movement, Aleyna Gençtürk, told Medyascope: “We are students and we cannot shelter ourselves. The dorm capacity is insufficient and rent prices are too high. We want to be able to afford housing and make ends meet. Our demonstrations will continue until our demands are met. For now we are only 50 people but thousands are providing outside support. Especially with the reopening of government schools, our numbers will increase. And in other cities, we will also have demonstrations.”

The protesters have found sympathy with some members of Turkey’s opposition parties. Representative Mahmut Tanal, a member of parliament representing Istanbul for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), joined the protest at Yoğurtcu Park in Kadıköy this past weekend. Lying down with the students in symbolic solidarity, Tanal voiced his criticisms, saying “They left the students without dorms and now they won’t even allow them to take shelter outside,” referring to police attempts to break up the demonstration. “Why are there not enough KYK dorms?”, Tanal was quoted saying.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, rents prices in many large Turkish cities have doubled and even tripled. Currency devaluation and changes in housing supply and demand caused by the pandemic have been cited as reasons for the increase. 

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