Meet the Turkish high judges

Meet the Turkish high judges
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Erdogan-appointed judges do not inspire confidence for fair, transparent election process

So who are the key people in the current judiciary system and institutions with an irrefutable influence on the dire state of the rule of law in Turkey?

The Constitutional Court (AYM)

Among the 15 all-male judges of the Court six are of utmost importance. They belong to a Naqshbandiyya Order related sub-group called Iskenderpasa Community founded by Mehmet Zahit Kotku and headed today by Muharrem Nureddin Cosan, son of Erdogan’s master Mahmud Esad Cosan. The Community is known as Hakyol, which derives from the name of their foundation. Before the orchestrated coup d’état of July 2016 Hakyol had only 51 members in the judicial system whereas today their number is evaluated to be circa 1500.

Two “Hakyolists” were appointed by Erdogan right after July 2016 to replace two summarily dismissed Gulenist magistrates. Although they were not necessarily appreciated by the ruling party barons, they have been imposed by Erdogan as a sign of his Hakyol-linked fidelity. These are: 

Recai Akyel: Political Scientist, previously President of the Court of Accounts and Chief Advisor to Erdogan.

Yusuf Sevki Hakyemez: Political scientist.

The remaining four were appointed during 2019 and 2021 by Erdoğan, and the last one by the Parliament:

Yıldız Seferinoglu: Lawyer, Deputy Minister of Justice in 2019 and CC member in 2019.

Selahaddin Mentes: Deputy Undersecretary at the Ministry of Justice in 2017, Head of “State of Emergency (OHAL) Commission” created following the coup attempt, Deputy Minister of Justice and then CC member in 2019.

Basri Bagci: Deputy Undersecretary at the Ministry of Justice, member of the Supreme Court of Appeals 2017 and then Court member in 2019.

Irfan Fidan: Chief Prosecutor, then member of the Supreme Court of Appeals on 27 November 2020 and then Court member since 25 January 2021. The case of Irfan Fidan is particularly important as his, like any appointment to the Court had to be preceded by the membership of another high court, which in his case was the Supreme Court of Appeals. Nevertheless, his presence in this Court has been symbolic as he did not even attend a single session. This star career indicates, as stated above, the high probability for Fidan to become the next president of the CC, as a submissive servant of Erdogan.

Kenan Yasar: Lawyer, the latest elected member of the Court, in office since 1 February 2022. Known for his deep-rooted links to Hakyol.

The term of Court President Zuhtu Aslan expires in January 2023. Thus there is no appointment foreseen before that date unless one of the Court members, and in particular, Zuhtu Aslan resigns before his term. Indeed, the possibility that the government may resort to obscure formulas in order to secure the re-election of Erdogan should not be underestimated. With the 2019 and 2021 appointments, the balance of power between old timers appointed by President Abdullah Gul as well as the Parliament and the new comers appointed by Erdogan has definitely shifted in favor of the strongman. Out of 15 judges 13 are Erdogan loyalists. 

Supreme Court of Appeals (Yargitay)

Mehmet Akarca: Member of the Supreme Court since 2010, Court Prosecutor 2015-2019,  President of the Court in 2020.

Bekir Sahin: Member of the Supreme Court since 2011 and Court Prosecutor in 2020. Both were appointed by Erdogan.

President Mehmet Akarca is a close relative of the very influential businessman, ex-Maoist Ethem Sancak, an Erdogan crony. It is well-established that his kinship with Sancak and his loyalty to the regime is behind his fast promotion after becoming a member of the Court in 2010.

Bekir Sahin is a judge whom Mehmet Akarca has always kept next to himself. He is a graduate of Corum Imams and Preachers High School. Interestingly enough, Mehmet Akarca was able to get Bekir Sahin to systematically replace him. He is a “Hakyolist.” His most recent deed was to introduce a case against an opposition party, the HDP, including the banishment from politics of 687 politicians in or around the party, for five years.

Council of State (Danistay)

Zeki Yigit: Deputy Undersecretary at the Ministry of Justice, member of the Council of State, member of the High Electoral Board, President of the Council of State in 2020.

Zeki Yigit is a strategic figure among the high magistrates as he is the “imam” i.e. the leader of the Hakyol Community within the judiciary. Exactly like Irfan Fidan, Zeki Yigit was swiftly appointed as a member of the High Electoral Board just to become the President of the Council of State. His appointment came right after the 17-25 December 2013 corruption revelations implying Erdogan, his family and four ministers.

He is known to the public as the member of the High Electoral Board, behind the decision to validate the unstamped bulletins during the constitutional referendum of 16 April 2017, after the voting process started. During the same duties he was one of the seven magistrates who nullified the local elections for the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality on 6 May 2019.

Finally, he was the president of the Council of State when the decision to re-convert Hagia Sophia to a mosque was taken.

High Electoral Council (YSK)

The appointment of pro-regime judges to the High Electoral Council is in place. The new YSK President Muharrem Akkaya, who replaced Sadi Guven in January 2020, is the high judge who pioneered the YSK’s decision to vote for the annulment of the Istanbul mayoral election won by opposition candidate Erkem Imamoglu on 31 March 2019 in the first place, acceding to the AKP’s foolish request.

Akkaya’s YSK Presidency will continue until 24 January 2023. However, there is a fair chance that he will be re-elected before the June 2023 elections, and in the case of an early election, he will directly lead the election as YSK president.