Turkish opposition gives President the third degree

Mr Erdogan speaking after receiving an honorary doctorate from the Kocaeli University in Kocaeli, Turkey, on May 13. Turkish laws require the President to have completed and passed a full four-year university degree course in order to hold the office
Mr Erdogan speaking after receiving an honorary doctorate from the Kocaeli University in Kocaeli, Turkey, on May 13. Turkish laws require the President to have completed and passed a full four-year university degree course in order to hold the office.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Erdogan under pressure after professors accuse him of passing off diploma as degree

ANKARA • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who this month picked up no less than the 44th honorary doctorate of his political career, likes nothing more than to give one of his trademark political speeches in full academic regalia.

But does the Turkish strongman, who served as premier from 2003 to 2014 before moving to the presidency, actually have a university degree? The Turkish opposition has seized on a new spate of recurring claims that he does not.

The argument is not merely an idle amusement - the president must have completed and passed a full four-year university degree course in order to hold the office.

Mr Erdogan's fulsome array of honorary degrees - with his latest such award coming from Makerere University in Uganda - has provoked mockery from opponents who point out that US President Barack Obama can only boast of six honorary doctorates.

According to his official biography, Mr Erdogan received his university degree in 1981 after four years of study at the faculty of economic and administrative sciences of Marmara University in Istanbul.

But Turkey's association of university professors claimed last week that he did not have a full degree, but has the equivalent of a college diploma instead. It said he studied at an institution that became part of Marmara University only in 1983, two years after the President says he graduated.

A former prosecutor who now heads a magistrates' association, Mr Omer Faruk Eminagaoglu, has filed a complaint with Ankara prosecutors and Turkey's election council saying Mr Erdogan should be disqualified from his position as this made him ineligible.

The university, whose rector Mehmet Emin Arat is an ally of Mr Erdo- gan's, rejected the claims that the degree was falsified as "unfair" and "baseless". He published on the university website a lengthy document outlining the university's history going back to Ottoman times and Mr Erdogan's academic career, including his graduation on April 4, 1981.

The issue has become a new rallying cause for opponents, inspiring hashtags #diplomasidasahte (your diploma is also false) and #yadiplomayaistifa (either the diploma or resignation) on Twitter.

A member of Parliament from the opposition Republican People's Party, Mr Murat Emir, with heavy irony, has proposed submitting a Bill to Parliament to remove the requirement for the president to have a university education and save Turkey further embarrassment.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party was sent a notarised copy of Mr Erdogan's diploma after a request to Turkey's election committee, but said it would continue a legal battle to find the real diploma.

The controversy has erupted as Mr Erdogan blasted opposition academics at universities as traitors for not supporting the military's offensive against Kurdish militants.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2016, with the headline 'Turkish opposition gives President the third degree'. Print Edition | Subscribe