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Controversy over Erdoğan’s university degree reignited ahead of elections

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. AFP PHOTO / Yoshikazu TSUNO / AFP PHOTO / YOSHIKAZU TSUNO

As Turkey prepares for a presidential election on May 14, the controversy surrounding President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s university diploma has once again taken center stage.

Aytun Çıray, İYİ (Good) Party MP and chief advisor to Chairwoman Meral Akşener, filed a petition with the Higher Education Council (YÖK) on Friday demanding the public release of Erdoğan’s university diploma, following former YÖK President Yusuf Ziya Özcan’s statement that he searched for the diploma during his tenure in 2007 to 2011 but was unable to find it.

Holding a university degree is a prerequisite for presidential office in Turkey, and the ongoing debate surrounding Erdoğan’s degree has persisted since his 2014 election. Erdoğan’s official biography claims he graduated from Marmara University’s economic and commercial sciences faculty in 1981. However, the university’s website indicates that the faculty of economic and commercial sciences was established in 1982, raising doubts about the authenticity of his diploma.

Marmara University issued a copy of Erdoğan’s diploma in 2016, but it named the “School of Business Administration” as his department, contradicting his previous claim of graduating from the faculty of economic and commercial sciences. Furthermore, the university’s diploma query system was shut down by court order in 2014, and none of Erdoğan’s college classmates have come forward to support his claims.

In his petition Çıray emphasized that YÖK is a constitutional organization responsible for maintaining records of university diplomas. He demanded that Erdoğan’s diploma be shared publicly to eliminate any suspicion regarding the president’s eligibility for office. The Turkish public is eagerly awaiting the response to Çıray’s petition as questions surrounding the president’s qualifications continue to spark controversy ahead of the upcoming election.

The controversy surrounding President Erdoğan’s diploma has led to various actions by political figures and parties in Turkey. In 2016 tens of thousands of Turks used the hashtag #YaDiplomaYaİstifa (Either Your Diploma or You Resign) on Twitter to accuse the president of lying.

The same year Ömer Faruk Eminağaoğlu, former chairman of the Association of Judges and Prosecutors (YARSAV), appealed to the Supreme Election Board (YSK) to annul Erdoğan’s presidency, claiming a necessary review of his eligibility was not carried out prior to the election.

In 2018 Metin Güler, leader of the small Turkish pro-Alevi party Universal Way, filed a case with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) concerning Erdoğan’s diploma. The ECHR examined the case but did not issue a definitive ruling.

In November 2021 Marmara University rejected a request for information about Erdoğan’s diploma, citing Law No. 6698 on the Protection of Personal Data. The People’s Liberation Party (HKP), a left-wing populist and anti-expansionist political party, had submitted the application demanding that detailed information on the president’s university degree be shared with the public under Law No. 4982 on Right to Information.

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