Despite increasing subordination of the judiciary to executive
authorities, Turkish cause lawyering associations are more assertive than ever in
their defiance of forced closures and legal persecution. Why would activist lawyers
‘play the game’ of law when the legal system is being undermined? Focusing on
the historical genesis of Turkey’s oldest activist lawyering association, the Çağdaş
Hukukçular Derneği (ÇHD), I argue that Turkish legal activism results from not
just clashing political causes but also the strategies attorneys are forced to adopt to
effect change within an authoritarian-corporatist structure designed to constrict
their activities. The ÇHD and similar groups are not merely extensions of the
formal juridical order; they also constitute a grassroots engagement with the law
that refuses to conform to the categories, narratives, procedures and ends of the
state’s legal institutions.
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