Everyone in Turkey has been talking about the videos of Sedat Peker, one of the leaders of the Turkish mafia. He has posted six videos since 2 May and each has been watched by 4-5 million people. For us Kurds, these videos are seen as revealing just the tip of the iceberg of mafia-government relations.
For those who did not know the situation, or pretended not to know, they have come as a shock. Those who did not know are shocked to see that the state is so polluted and that it has turned into a bandit state. Those who knew but pretended not to know are shocked how easily this filth is being spread around. Those who have been mentioned in the videos that have been published so far have been driven by fear to make very ill-tempered statements, and have sunk deeper as they talked. Those who are expecting that their names will be announced next, are fearfully searching for ways to prevent this.
We know that everything Sedat Peker has said about the state’s relations with the mafia is true. We also know that they have a dirty relationship that is many times closer than has even been revealed. However, even if only some of what Peker says is true, under a functioning rule of law, the government and the president would resign, prosecutors would initiate a comprehensive investigation, and those who committed crimes would be prosecuted and receive the punishment they deserve. However, the Turkish judiciary, which recently sent a parliamentary deputy to prison because of a tweet, has done nothing. Not a single prosecutor has raised their voice. Erdogan’s name has not been mentioned in the videos that have been published so far, and he has been silent. Most likely, he will accept this as a “gift of God” and use it as a reason to get rid of the problematic interior minister, Süleyman Soylu, and those close to him.
Here are just a few examples of what Sedat Peker has said about the state-mafia relationship. Concerning the connection between himself and the interior minister, Süleyman Soylu, he tells us: “Süleyman Soylu sent me a message that a file had been prepared about me, and that if I was at risk, he would let me know in advance. In addition, he said that he is the guarantee that I would be acquitted and be able to return to Turkey”.
There was a risk and Soylu had been warned that Sedat Peker had been abroad for a year and a half and the courts issued an arrest warrant for him. In other words, an interior minister contacts a mafia leader to enable him to avoid arrest and escape abroad! He then guarantees that his mafia friend will be able to return to Turkey without any problems. Even though Sedat Peker was universally recognized as a mafia leader, Minister of Interior, Süleyman Soylu, assigned him police protection. This state protection accompanied him on his trips abroad, and he was even given a signal-blocking jammer so that his phones could not be tapped.
Peker also tells us that a member of parliament was beaten by his mafia men at the police detention centre until he had to be hospitalised in order to punish him for insulting Erdogan’s wife.
Peker’s allegations about former interior minister and head of the deep state, Mehmet Ağar, are even more devastating. He claims that the former minister’s son, Tolga Ağar, who is currently an AKP deputy, raped Yeldana Kahraman, who was a student in Elazig and also a journalist, and that when Kahraman filed a criminal complaint she was found dead the following day! According to Peker, Mehmet Ağar had his son removed from the scene by helicopter, Kahraman’s criminal complaint petition was destroyed, and the incident was covered up as a suicide.
Last June, the Colombian defence minister announced that 4 tons 900 kilos of cocaine confiscated in Colombia had been destined for Turkey. Sedat Peker claims that this cocaine had been on its way to the port of Izmir, which is under the control of Mehmet Ağar. He also claims that the port of Marina Yacht, owned by an Azeri businessman in Bodrum, was seized by Mehmet Ağar. While responding to these claims, Mehmet Ağar has attempted to defend himself by arguing: “If not us, the mafia would confiscate this.“ And continues his claims, which are all big scandals.
Sedat Peker was released from prison in 2015, since when he has been treated as a “respectable” businessman, with very close relations with many politicians, including Erdogan. He has held election rallies for Erdogan attended by tens of thousands of people; and he made a public death threat to the academics who issued a peace declaration. In November 2015 he was awarded the title of “Great Hakan of Turkishness” by the Ministry of Culture, and in May 2017, Milliyet, one of the oldest newspapers in Turkey, pronounced him the most benevolent businessman of the year
In one of the videos there is a picture of a note that reads “Weapons going to Syria”. So far, Peker has not said anything about this. The speculation is that this is a message to Erdoğan. It has been understood to say, “If you don’t take care of me, I’ll harm you too.”
We know that, ever since its establishment, the Republic of Turkey has resorted to illegal methods, especially with respect to the Kurds. Sometimes these have been implemented by people or groups that would be generally recognized as connected with organized crime. At other times, the perpetrators have been officially part of the state. There are countless examples, but let’s look at some government-sponsored crimes from the recent past. In the 1990s, around 17,000 extrajudicial executions were carried out in Turkey. The victims were mostly Kurds – politicians, journalists, businessmen, and many others. Most of these murders were carried out by paramilitary organisations founded and led by Mehmet Ağar, who was Minister of the Interior at the time. In North Kurdistan (southeast Turkey), the government sometimes made use of an organisation they had themselves established under the name of Hezbollah. Sometimes they used an organisation called JITEM, which they set up under the command of the gendarmerie. And sometimes they made use of their connections in the underworld.
These links were exposed by a fatal car accident that occurred in Susurluk, in 1996. In the driver’s seat was a police director. Travelling with him were a deputy from the ruling party, the DYP, and Abdullah Çatlı, a criminal leader who was officially being sought under a red warrant. The license for the fake ID and gun found on Çatlı had been issued by Mehmet Ağar, then the Minister of Interior. Ağar resigned from his post in response to pressure from the opposition and from wider society, but he escaped greater scrutiny, arguing, “We have carried out a thousand operations and so have managed to take terrorism under control. If you pull out a brick, the wall will collapse.”
Ms Tansu Çiler, who was prime minister at that time, announced, “I have a list of businessmen who support terrorism”. This was the pretence she used to justify the kidnapping and subsequent killing of many Kurdish businessmen.
Also in the name of “fighting terrorism”, around 5000 Kurdish villages were evacuated. Most were burned down with no legal process and no recompense. In this way, around 4 million people were forced out of their homes to struggle for survival in the metropolitan areas of western Turkey.
We can also look at the actions of the AKP government under Erdoğan in the recent period – and especially after the intervention of the Turkish state in the Syrian war and the end of the two-year peace negotiations with the Kurdish movement. Erdoğan has committed many actions that can be considered crimes against humanity. He has supported many terrorist organizations – notably Al-Nusra and Daesh – in order to counter the struggle of the Kurds in Syria and prevent them from gaining any sort of status.
Almost all of the jihadists who went to Syria from abroad went via Turkey. When, despite Turkey’s actions, the Kurds defeated Daesh, Erdogan got the green light from Russia to invade Afrîn, and from the United States to invade Ras al Ayn and Til Abyad; and everywhere they have captured they have implemented policies of ethnic cleansing. In these regions, the houses of Kurds and other minorities have been seized by jihadists with the support of the Turkish state. Their fields have been confiscated and all their wealth has been looted. In these occupied lands, which are legally within the borders of Syria, the Turkish lira is used in violation of international law, place names have been converted into Turkish, and Turkish education is provided in schools.
Regular illegal shipments of weapons have been made from Turkey to these regions. When the journalist Can Dündar reported on this, he was prosecuted and tried, and faced an assassination attempt in front of the courthouse. He is now in exile in Germany. (Remember the note about the guns going to Syria in one of Sedat Peker’s videos).
Erdogan has sent thousands of jihadist mercenaries from Idlib, Afrîn, Ras ul Ain and Tıl Abiyad – all currently under Turkey’s control – to Libya and Nagorno Karabakh. Some of these jihadist fighters have shared videos of abuses they have committed. We are now hearing that hundreds of jihadists have been brought from Syria to fight in Turkey’s ongoing invasion and occupation of Southern (Iraqi) Kurdistan.
During the 2015 election campaigns, Daesh carried out bomb attacks on Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) rallies. Many believe that these could not have happened without the knowledge of the state intelligence service. After the June election, when the HDP exceeded the election threshold to win eighty deputies and deprive Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) of its majority, Erdogan ramped up his war against the party and its supporters. Daesh bombs killed 33 young people in Suruç on their way to bring aid to Kobanî; and two bombs at a peace rally in Ankara killed 103 and injured around 500 more. In the election rerun in November, held just after these attacks, Erdogan secured his majority in the parliament.
In 2015-16 many Kurdish cities were destroyed under the name of “fighting terrorism”. Hundreds of innocent people were killed and around 500,000 people were displaced.
Erdogan described the failed coup attempt of 15 July 2016 as a “gift from God”. He used it as an excuse to clamp down on all opposition. He switched from a parliamentary system to a “Turkish-style” presidential system, gathering all power in his own hands.
He had 120,000 people fired by decree, put tens of thousands in prison, and he forced tens of thousands to live in exile. Contrary to the Constitution, the immunity of 150 members of parliament was lifted in single day. Many MPs, mayors, and party executives, including the HDP co-chairs, were put in prison. Erdogan dismissed the HDP’s elected mayors with an Interior Ministry circular and appointed state bureaucrats as trustees in their place.
In the 2019 local elections, the HDP mayors were re-elected, but they were again dismissed and trustees appointed in their places. While HDP Mayors have been put in prison, AKP mayors have used service passports to smuggle people into Europe, and have had no action taken against them.
In 2020, an amnesty law was enacted in response to the dangers of prison overcrowding during the pandemic, and many prisoners were released. While political prisoners – journalists, academics, members of parliament, party leaders, mayors, and representatives of non-governmental organisations – were excluded from the scope of amnesty, common criminals convicted of murder, rape, bribery, fraud and theft, were released.
One of those released was Alaattin Çakıcı, the leader of the largest crime organisation in Turkey. This mafia leader, who was convicted of killing his ex-wife, was released by the amnesty, but political prisoners who are in prison for their speeches in parliament remain in prison! Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the AKP’s governing partner, had previously visited Çakıcı in prison and openly sought an amnesty for him. After his release, he was accepted by the AKP-MHP government as a respected patriot and even given police protection.
During a discussion on Turkey at the Council of Europe in October 2020, the head of the British delegation Roger Gale, used the term “rogue state” for Turkish state. Mr Gale was the chairman of the conservative group in the Council of Europe, which was including the AKP, when this group made the current Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Çavuşoğlu, the chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly in 2010. Now that same person has defined Turkey as a “rogue state”.
When we look at this history, it is difficult to distinguish what is a gang and what is the state. Once the rule of law is destroyed, the state is no different from a gang. Sometimes the gangs act on behalf of the state, sometimes the state gets involved in the activities of the gangs. And the two of them get mixed up, as in Turkey now.
But today, we can say that Erdogan is the leader of the biggest criminal organisation in Turkey.
Fayik Yağızay is the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Representative to the European Institutions in Strasbourg.