Speaking at his Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday, Erdoğan said: “Nobody knows what takes places in those houses [where male and female students live together]. Very intricate things. ... Anything can happen. Then, parents cry out, saying, ‘Where is the state?' These steps are being taken in order to show that the state is there. As a conservative, democratic government, we need to intervene.”
The prime minister's statements followed claims by some Turkish media outlets that Erdoğan had harshly criticized mixed-gender student cohabitation at a closed party meeting in Kızılcahamam, Ankara, over the weekend.
Turkish media reported on Monday that Erdoğan had complained about a lack of dormitories for university students. “We recently witnessed this in Denizli province. Insufficient dormitories bring many problems. Female and male university students are staying in the same residence. This is not being inspected. This is against our conservative and democrat line. We gave orders to the governor on this issue. This will in some way be inspected,” Erdoğan was quoted as saying.
“I never deny anything I say because I am a different kind of politician,” Erdoğan said on Tuesday.
Arguing that he is against the idea of coeducational dormitories on the grounds that they contradict his “democratic and conservative” beliefs, Erdoğan said: “We never permitted female and male students to stay in the same dormitory and never will. The inefficiency of such a system, in which both sexes share the same dormitory, is also accepted by global education psychology. The work of separating coeducational dormitories is ongoing now, 75 percent of which has been completed. In some regions students stay in houses when there is a lack of space in dormitories. We receive intelligence on what goes on in these houses. The governor's offices are intervening in this. Why are you feeling uneasy about this?” he asked, referring to criticism his statements sparked in the media.
“Such intelligence is evaluated by both the governors and the police departments, who then try to solve the problem,” he added.
“Complaints come from neighbors” when male and female students share apartments,” Erdoğan said, adding that no one should interpret “intervention” in these houses as meddling in private affairs.
Yet his remarks were more than enough to put those fearful of government intrusion into private life on red alert.
“I was terrified when I was listening to the prime minister making these statements,” said Mehmet Altan, an academic and journalist.
He said people over age 18 can make their own decisions about with whom they live, and the fact that they are students does not cancel out their rights as citizens.
According to Altan, government plans to inspect students' houses to see whether male and female students are living together are a direct violation of privacy and fundamental rights and freedoms.
“These remarks show that the prime minister is seeking to create a society in line with his own wishes. This is an anti-democratic attitude,” he told Today's Zaman.
Since coming to power in 2002, Erdoğan's government has frequently faced accusations of meddling in citizens' private lives; the AK Party has passed restrictions on the consumption and sale of alcoholic drinks, and the prime minister has repeatedly encouraged families to have at least three children. Erdoğan has also told women to avoid cesarean sections and abortions. The government strongly denies accusations of interference and claims to respect all lifestyles.
Eser Karakaş, a columnist and retired economics professor, told Today's Zaman that he doesn't understand how governors are going to take action against male and female students living in the same house because there are no legal grounds to do so.
“We are talking about individuals of legal age who decided to live together on their own will. In order to report these people to the police, they have to be involved in an illegal act. You can report these people to the police if they are involved in prostitution, making of bombs or using heroine. But if five students, let's say three male and two female, are living in the same house, they are studying and eating together, then you cannot prompt public authorities to take action against them,” he said.
According to Karakaş, any steps by the government to lay the legal groundwork for the inspection of students' houses would cause an outrage in the country. However, he said, he does not believe the government will make such a move.
However, elaborating on his remarks later on Tuesday before departing for Finland at Ankara Esenboğa Airport, Erdoğan said his government would, if necessary, push for legal changes to allow the inspection of houses where male and female students live together.
When asked by a female journalist whether such a move wouldn't be a violation of one's right to privacy, he asked how she would feel if her daughter or son were sharing an apartment with students of the opposite sex.
Erdoğan's Tuesday statements also drew criticism from main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who said Erdoğan's real problem is with coeducation and that he is aiming to turn Turkey into a country like Saudi Arabia.
Speaking at his party's parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday, Kılıçdaroğlu said there are no coeducational dorms in Turkey.
“How can a person who has never walked by a dormitory in his life make such a heavy criticism? Your [Erdoğan's] problem is not a problem with dormitories. Your problem is with mixed-sex education and you are seeking ways to end it,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.
If there is a problem in Turkey's dormitories, he continued, the responsibility lies with the government. TOKİ (Turkey's main state builder) could very well build dormitories for students, he added.
“These are people who don't understand the problems of this country. There is a pattern in their minds and they aim to put it into action step by step. They aim to turn Turkey into a Middle Eastern country. Everyone, every citizen -- women in particular -- should be aware of this. Women in Saudi Arabia are struggling to be granted the right to drive. If you come across such a ban tomorrow, don't be surprised,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.
Erdoğan made his remarks one day after Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç denied the existence of a plan to inspect houses where male and female students were suspected of living together, and said Erdoğan gave no such order.
Speaking at a news conference after the Cabinet meeting in Ankara, Arınç lamented the lack of dormitories for university students and said the prime minister had ordered an increase in the number of dormitories to address the needs of universities.
Noting that there are more than 3 million university students in Turkey, Arınç said many students opt to live in private residences due to the lack of available space in dorms. He said the government would not inspect students' residences.
Yalçın Akdoğan, Erdoğan's chief political adviser, also commented on the issue. On Monday, Akdoğan wrote on his Twitter account that Erdoğan's remarks on inspecting students' apartments had been twisted, and that the prime minister did not mean students' houses, dormitories and hostels -- but “other places” that aren't subjected to any control.
He said because these “other” student residences are unregistered and uncontrolled, they are abused by illegal organizations and cause problems.