How a Promising Turkish College Becomes Victim of Political Vendetta: The Tragedy of Sehir University

President Erdogan graced the opening of Istanbul Sehir University in 2010; ten years later, he ordered its shutdown. A college fell victim to palace intrigue and political revenge.

Abdullah Ayasun
14 min readJul 10, 2020
President Abdullah Gul, C, then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (4th-L), then-Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (3rd L), Sehir University Rector Gokhan Cetinsaya (2nd L) during the inauguration ceremony of Sehir University on October 5, 2010.


On October 5, 2010, President Abdullah Gul, then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and countless other bigwigs of the Turkish government all graced the inauguration ceremony of a newfound university in Istanbul’s Asian side. This high-profile attendance was a testament to the privileged status of a university — Istanbul Sehir University — as well as their expectations from it: raising a new generation of intellectuals with a conservative worldview.

I was there on that day. I was a new master student as the school simultaneously accepted its first undergraduate and graduate students that semester. We were bundled together with other MA candidates at a small place while media members and a wide array of academic figures crammed into a tiny space reserved for them due to security and protocol reasons. Over the roof of the small campus in Altunizade, snipers and special forces units were carefully positioned. Their presence gave an air of anxiety rather than offering reassurance. For these ultra-high security measures, we were kinda prisoners at hour home university, not hosts but rather guests who were subject to endless body search even for entering the school for a cup of coffee and then getting out. At some moments, we were not even allowed to leave our seats.

The university officially opened that day with great media fanfare and pomp. It spoke to the level of ambition and decades-long dream of the Science and Arts Foundation (BISAV) founded by and forever associated with Davutoglu who served as foreign minister and prime minister in AKP governments until May 2016 when a palace coup (by…



Abdullah Ayasun

New York-based journalist and writer. Columbia School of Journalism. 2023 White House Correspondents' Association Scholar. Twitter: @abyasun