Provocative AKP-affiliated official promoted by Istanbul mayor resigns after uproar

(Updated after Yetkin's resignation)

A controversial appointment to a subsidiary company of the Istanbul municipality has resigned after an uproar over his history of provocative social media posts.

Istanbul’s opposition mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu announced on Thursday that he had appointed as the head of a municipal subsidiary Bahaddin Yetkin, an official known for his social media posts against opposition figures and women and for his ties to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Yetkin was promoted to head ISBAK, a company that oversees smart city policies. In 2011, he applied to run as an AKP candidate in parliamentary elections for the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa. 

Yetkin closed his Twitter account on Thursday, after Turkish media outlets began publishing his old posts.

On Friday, Turkish news site Oda Tv reported that Yetkin had resigned from his position.

The Istanbul municipality released a statement saying it had accepted his resignation on the same evening.

"It has become evident both from public posts on social media and from investigations that were completed this evening that (Yetkin) had shared posts on social media that absolutely do not tally with the views of this administration", the municipality's statement said.

According to Birgün newspaper, Yetkin joined a social media campaign calling for Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia museum to be turned into a mosque. 

“We cannot open on our soil our mosque which was shut down. But an unbeliever from the other side of the world comes and finds hope for himself over Hagia Sophia being closed,” Birgün quoted a tweet of Yetkin as reading without mentioning the date it was posted.

The official also shared several posts in support of the Ismailağa sect, a religious group based in Istanbul’s conservative Fatih district, and liked videos that insulted senior opposition figures.

During the International Women’s Day march in Istanbul on March 8, protestors were accused of disrespecting the Islamic call to prayer by shouting slogans, booing, and whistling. Participants in the march said they had been chanting and whistling as part of the demonstration and had not targeted the call for prayer, which began during their protest.

Yetkin’s was one of many AKP-affiliated accounts on Twitter that spread the allegations that women had deliberately insulted the call to prayer. 

The appointment of Yetkin prompted an uproar on social media on Thursday. İmamoğlu responded to the criticism on Friday by saying that Yetkin had been appointed due to his qualifications and experience.

“As we said before in the rallies, we do not take into account political and other similar factors. We were concerned with success, competence, and merit, and the appointments were made according to these,”Birgün quoted İmamoğlu as saying to reporters. 

However, his remarks only drew more outraged reactions. 

“Up until today we approved what is right. But we have to say that this one is wrong Mr. Ekrem İmamoğlu,” said Yaman Akdeniz, an academic and a cyber rights activist on Twitter. 

Turkish author and documentary filmmaker Ümit Kıvanç called to attention anti-Semitic statements Yetkin had made, and said İmamoğlu deserved criticism for promoting somebody with a history of hate spech.

“Unacceptable,” said journalist Zafer Arapkirli. “The voters of Istanbul await an urgent ‘correction’,” he said, adding that the voters who had supported İmamoğlu in the local polls would not agree with figures like Yetkin being promoted.

“Wouldn’t people question whether a person who praises religious sects, vomits hate speech and denounces people has the merits to be appointed to that job? Does merit mean only technical knowledge? Are ethical values not a part of merit?” asked journalist Kemal Göktaş.