Shadowy forces called “derin devlet,” or the deep state, that have long been nested in Turkey’s intelligence and security apparatus were behind a mob attack targeting main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu during the funeral of a slain soldier on Sunday in Ankara’s Çubuk district.
The deep state — which comes in all forms and shapes and extends to both extremes of the political spectrum — serves the person who holds the reins of critical state agencies and helps shore up the leaders of their choice by devising plots and schemes to sway public opinion, shape politics and build a narrative to dominate the nation’s agenda. The motivation is to insure its own survival, cling to power and continue pushing their vision for Turkey through scheming and plotting behind the scenes, often with impunity.
Today the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is an accomplice to the crimes of this clandestine group that keeps wreaking havoc in Turkey. The fact that eight suspects out of nine who were detained in relation to the attack on Kılıçdaroğlu were released immediately tells the tale of impunity. Even a woman who was trying to provoke the crowd into burning down the house the CHP leader was forced to take shelter in was freed. This sends a clear message to perpetrators and their masterminds that they can get away with a crime even in the case of a politician whose party received 25 percent of the vote in recent elections. Erdoğan and his allies have committed gross human rights violations in Turkey’s Southeast targeting Kurds and have perpetrated crimes nationwide by detaining over half a million members of the peaceful, civic Gulen movement on false charges. Instances of enforced disappearance by the intelligence agency are on the rise, while torture and ill treatment in detention centers and prisons are rampant. The dark forces that operate under the protection of the Erdoğan regime are not done with Turkey yet.
We have seen how these forces played out in 2006 during an attack on the Council of State by nationalist Alparslan Arslan, who killed the court’s 2nd Chamber chief judge Mustafa Yücel Özbilgin and wounded three other members in a shooting spree. The masterminds who hatched the plot were later caught, tried and convicted, putting a stop to the clandestine business. But the government let all of them go in a secret deal with Erdoğan, who they despised but with whom they managed to make a deal to save themselves from legal troubles. The courageous prosecutors and law enforcement officials who put their necks out to cleanse the state of these despicable figures paid a price with dismissals and unlawful imprisonment.
A day after the attack took place against the country’s highest administrative court, on May 17, 2006, the Vatan daily, an anti-government newspaper at the time before later turning pro-Erdoğan, ran a headline that read “Anger for politicians, applause for soldiers,” and said: “Public anger spilled over during the funeral of slain judge Özbilgin. People spat and threw water at the ministers present, [then-Justice Minister Cemil] Çiçek escaped through the back gate of the mosque while [then-Interior Minister Abdülkadir] Aksu took shelter in the mosque.”
An angry mob was bussed to the Council of State building to hold demonstrations before and after the ceremony. The protests grew when then-Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Gül arrived on the scene. When Chief of General Staff Gen. Hilmi Özkök and top army commanders showed up, the crowd applauded them. This was what was intended. The government would be insulted, and the military would be hailed and the message would be received. The body of Özbilgin was later taken to Kocatepe Mosque, where the protests increased. Bickering and insults were replaced with physical attacks. Gül, Aksu and Çiçek as well as Deputy Prime Minister Abdullatif Şener, Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül and Environment Minister Osman Pepe were protested.
The protest and attacks were not spontaneous, and they were closely coordinated by deep-state elements. They were preceded by three attacks on the leftist Cumhuriyet daily’s headquarters in Istanbul, on May 5, 10 and 11, 2006. Later the investigation found that the attacks were indeed the work of neo-nationalist elements attached to deep state structures. Retired Lt. Gen. Veli Kücük and retired Col. Muzaffer Tekin, who were in contact with active duty officers and powerful figures in non-military circles, were arrested on charges of masterminding the Council of State attack. They reportedly ordered the Council of State attack and the bombing of the Cumhuriyet headquarters during a meeting at a flat in Ataşehir.
In the meantime, however, Turkey was dragged into a debate over presidential elections with a series of what were called at the time Republican Rallies that were organized, again, with the help of neo-nationalist groups. The parliament was deadlocked in debates about a quorum of 367, and the military issued a stern warning to the government in what became to be known as the April 27, 2007 e-memorandum. Things calmed down when the leaders of these groups were apprehended starting in 2008 in a series of landmark cases called the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer trials. Most were convicted and received various sentences at the end of long trials.
However, the embattled Erdoğan, who was initially the target of these forces, had to make a deal with these devils in the aftermath of 2013 corruption investigations in order to save his government from collapse and free his family from legal woes. In exchange, he promised to secure the release of the gang members from prison and overturn their convictions, which he delivered on with the help of the partisan judiciary he controlled. The police investigators, prosecutors and judges who had gone after these deep state elements were initially reassigned and later dismissed. Many were jailed on fabricated charges, and some had to flee to seek asylum in the West.
Now the neo-nationalists work hand-in-hand with Erdoğan to plot against any group that presents a threat to their coalition with the Erdoğan government. They are in survival mode and willing to do any and every thing necessary for their continued existence. That makes them quite dangerous. For now they are bent on protecting Erdoğan’s regime from threats from the opposition until the Turkish president becomes too big a liability to carry, which may have already started. When the break-up comes, we might very well see a clash among Erdoğan’s Islamists and nationalists led by Devlet Bahçeli, the head of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and neo-nationalists led by Vatan (Homeland) Party leader Doğu Perinçek.
The attack on the CHP leader, which sent a chilling message to all critics and opponents, should be interpreted from this angle to provide a better reading of Turkey and what to expect next, which from all appearances will be unpleasant. With the economy in tatters, Erdoğan and his coalition partners need domestic and external provocations to distract the public’s attention away from household budget difficulties. They need artificial conflicts to shift the attention away from the real troubles on the home front. The irresponsible remarks by Turkish leaders in the aftermath of the attack on the opposition leader signal that it is open season on this front.
Comments by Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, who was responsible for security at the funeral, clearly put the blame on the CHP. Soylu accused Kılıçdaroğlu of aligning with what he called “terrorists,” in reference to the Kurdish party that helped the CHP win the Istanbul Municipality. “Going into partnership with the Peoples’ Democratic Party [HDP], which is the political branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party [PKK], and then blaming the events on the interior minister is a symptom of memory loss,” Soylu said. He also rejected claims of an organized network being behind the attack and also protected Justice and Development Party (AKP) members who were bussed to the funeral and planted at various locations to stoke the fury against Kılıçdaroğlu.
Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, who was also at the funeral, addressed the mob, saying, “My valued friends, you sent your message and showed your reaction.” His justification of the attack drew the ire of many in Turkey. Erdoğan’s nationalist ally Bahçeli went even further by accusing the CHP of provoking the people and asked what Kılıçdaroğlu had done to provoke a man into punching him in the first place. Osman Sarıgün, the truck driver who punched the opposition leader, turned out to be a member of Erdoğan’s party. In his statement Sarıgün repeated the the government narrative and said he was bothered by the CHP leader’s comments. In the meantime, media outlets controlled by the Erdoğan government were quick to blame the victim in the mob attack, accusing Kılıçdaroğlu of engaging in what they called a provocation.
If the same playbook is followed by Erdoğan and his neo-nationalist thugs in the intelligence and security services, Turkey will likely see an escalation in an intimidation campaign targeting opponents, dissidents and critics. Perhaps assassinations and bombing attacks contracted to groups under the control of the deep state will be the next order of business on the to-do list of these shadowy forces in Turkey.