A transportation and logistics company that was working with Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) in shipping arms to jihadist groups in Syria has been exposed in confidential documents.
The cache of documents, obtained and reviewed by Nordic Monitor, identified the Ankara-based tourism, transportation and automotive firm Çalıkıran (Çalıkıran Turizm Taşımacılık Otomotiv Sanayi Ve Ticaret Anonim Şirketi) as the company that was used by the intelligence agency. The revelation came when the Turkish government was caught making an illegal arms transfer to jihadist groups in Syria under a scheme that was off the books and unauthorized and in which weapons were secretly transported in a truck by MIT agents.
A tractor-trailer full of heavy arms was intercepted by security forces on January 1, 2014 at 16:40 near the Turkish village of Torun on the highway between the towns of Kırıkhan and Reyhanlı in southeastern Hatay province, near the Syrian border. A Turkish prosecutor issued a search and seizure warrant after he was informed by the gendarmerie that an intelligence tip had been received at 16:00 indicating that a truck full of arms and an escort car were on their way to cross the Turkish-Syrian border. The tip was very specific and even provided license plate numbers 06 BR 8860 for the truck and 31 Y 5060 for the escort car.
When the prosecutors investigated both the tractor and the trailer, they found they belonged to Turkish firm Çalıkıran, which is based in Ankara’s Yenimahalle district, the same neighborhood where MIT headquarters are located. What is more, the license plate on the tractor, 06 BR 8860, was reported stolen, and a notice had been issued for it. There was no record of the plate on the trailer, 06 DE 3290. In other words, the intelligence agency leased trucks from the MIT-linked Çalıkıran firm and put a stolen license plate on the truck.
Çalıkıran is owned by a family of the same name and was established on December 17, 1993 by shareholders listed as Salim Zeki Çalıkıran, Abdullah Çalıkıran and Durali Çalıkıran. The head of the family is Durali, who helped grow the small business into a major company. Later Ihsan Bülent Çalıkıran and Hatice Çalıkıran joined the company as new shareholders. Ihsan is currently chairman of the board. It has grown under successive Erdoğan governments and has branched out into other cities and provinces. It offers variety of services, from VIP transport to special plans catering to clients’ needs.
The family is supportive of the Erdoğan regime and enjoys government contracts and tenders that require fleet services. Some of the busses rented by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to transport Erdoğan’s fans to election rallies in other cities and provinces were provided by Çalıkıran, as is the luxury Mercedes fleet that often shows up at Erdoğan’s palace to transport his guests or at rallies carrying his entourage. Ihsan Çalıkıran’s Twitter account shows he often retweets Erdoğan and government officials.
If the 2014 investigation into illegal arms shipments had not been quashed by Erdoğan, perhaps the probe would have extended to this company and its owners for its involvement in clandestine business dealings in a clear violation of Turkish law. Yet the public prosecutors who arrived on the scene of the intercepted truck to oversee its search and seizure were prevented from executing the warrant by the MIT agents who were accompanying the truck in a Fiat Linea. They neither showed their IDs nor provided official papers to prove they were authorized to transport the arms. A dispute between the MİT agents and the gendarmes erupted when the prosecutors ordered the gendarmes to open a container on the trailer.
More MIT agents were dispatched to the scene, and Yener Akbaydar, the regional head of MIT in Hatay, also arrived to talk to the prosecutors. The MİT agents had tried to convince the gendarmes to switch the truck’s trailer with an empty one and had threatened a fight after the gendarmes declined. Özcan Şişman, the provincial public prosecutor whose jurisdiction includes terrorism cases, rushed to the scene to intervene, but the gendarmes and police were unlawfully ordered by Adana Governor Celalettin Lekesiz to leave. Lekesiz, an agent of the executive branch, had no authority to issue orders to the gendarmes who were assigned to the prosecutors for the execution of the warrant, yet he was told to do so by Erdogan government officials in Ankara. As a result, the prosecutors were left alone with no gendarmes to back them up against the MIT agents and had to leave the crime scene under threat, unable to execute the search warrant and investigate the contents of the truck.
Then the Erdoğan government hastily pushed legislation through Parliament to reshape the HSYK, the judicial council that decides on the promotions, assignments and disciplinary proceedings for judges and prosecutors. With control of the judicial council in government hands, the prosecutors who investigated the truck were reassigned to other posts and later dismissed and jailed on fabricated charges of revealing state secrets as well as espionage. The case of the illegal arms shipments was classified and a blanket gag order was obtained for the publication of any materials concerning the incident.