A former senior police official who was involved in terrorizing Kurds and extrajudicial killings was effectively given a get-out-of-jail-free card when a Turkish court ruled for his acquittal on terrorism charges in a scandalous decision.
Former Police Department Special Ops Unit head İbrahim Şahin was accused of organizing “death squads,” which investigators claimed planned to assassinate a large number of people as part of the activities of a clandestine network nested in the security, military and intelligence apparatus of the Turkish government in 2008. He was tried, convicted and received a lengthy prison sentence, but the case was overturned when the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan intervened, securing the release of Şahin and most other convicted neo-nationalists in the Ergenekon case. In a new trial with judges and prosecutors who were hand-picked by the Erdoğan regime, Şahin was acquitted of terrorism charges.
In the original case investigators found that in 2009 Şahin, who already had a criminal record, set up elite murder units called S-1 made up of special ops officers selected by him. The modus operandi of the murder units resembled that of gangs which carried out assassinations between 1991 and 1996, in which he was a major suspect.
Wiretap intercepts submitted to the court show Şahin was in communication with people in a bid to recruit loyalist operatives from the Turkish police, military and National Intelligence Organization (MIT). In a phone conversation on March 20, 2008 Şahin told Taylan Özgür Kırmızı, a suspect in the Ergenekon case, that the General Staff had set up a special unit that would be commanded by him and would report to no one. “We will be responsible for domestic cleansing,” he said, in an apparent reference to what he did in the 1990s with extrajudicial killings. He was seeking men with a hundred percent “Turkishness” who would take orders directly from him.
He met with Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ, who provided him with a special line for communication, indicating that Şahin’s operation was being supported by the top leader of the Turkish military at the time.
On December 1, 2008 Şahin asked in a phone conversation for the name of an Armenian jewelry trader who had moved to Kayseri province. He proceeded to put the murder plot into action, and the target was Minas Durmazgüler, reportedly a spiritual leader of the Armenian community in Sivas. In a text message sent to a person named Fatma Cengiz, a suspect in the Ergenekon case, on December 28, 2008, he said there was a mission order and that Armenian must be killed.
The prosecution claimed that a hitman identified as Garip İrfan Torun was given a Glock pistol by Şahin to kill Durmazgüler. The police also arrested Şahin’s two men, identified as Bekir Çelik and Erhan Gönenci, part of the plot to kill the Armenian. The police found that Gönenci had gathered intelligence about would-be victim Durmazgüler under Şahin’s instructions and relayed the information to the former police official.
Below is a document handwritten by Şahin that shows he targeted all journalists who defended slain Armenian Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, revealing the names of journalists who asked for police protection after the murder.
A cache of documents seized from his home during the execution of a search warrant indicate that Şahin was profiling Armenians, Kurds, Jews, Christians and people who he thought supported those groups. Among the people he made a note of were Nobel laureate novelist Orhan Pamuk, author Elif Şafak, journalists Ece Temelkuran and Burak Bekdil, slain Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink and many other writers and journalists. In his notes, US academic Henry Barkey was described as a CIA agent and the European Union as a Christian club. One of his notes listed the names of journalists who asked for police protection because of threats.
The 11-page evidentiary file that shows Şahin has profiled people for possible hits and a hand-drawn map that indicates the location of an arms cache buried in Ankara:
A hand-drawn map seized from his home led the police to light anti-tank weapons (LAWs), explosives, ammunition and hand grenades that were found buried underground in the Gölbaşı district of Ankara.
Şahin was arrested on January 7, 2009. He was convicted in August 2013 and sentenced to 49 years, four months in prison. However, he was freed in March 2014 with the help of the Erdoğan government.
Below is a poster urging a mobilization against author Elif Şafak for her alleged insults of Turks. She was declared an enemy of Turks. The document was seized from Sahin’s home:
Ayhan Çarkın, a former special operations officer who worked with Şahin, confessed to prosecutors and the press about his participation in killings carried out by shady groups inside state intelligence and special operations units. Çarkın said everyone in the National Police Department’s Special Operations Unit had knowledge of extrajudicial killings being committed. He said a team of 150 people took care of the executions as well as other “dirty business.”
Çarkın said of the death squad that he was part of, “We were monsters.” He also said Şahin was an idol to most of the special operations officers. Çarkın shared the details of many of the operations and murders he participated in, including the murder of three young people who were members of the left-wing Turkish Workers and Peasants Liberation Army (TİKKO), several others who were members of the Marxist Revolutionary Path (DEV-YOL) and the murders of two students — Hüsamettin Yaman and Soner Gül — who were political activists in custody.
“My son is now at the age they were killed. I cry about it whenever think of them. They told us they were cop killers.” He said it again about Ayhan Efeoğlu, another student he had executed: “We thought they were cop killers.” He said he had hung a photograph of Efeoğlu above his prison bed. “I apologize to him every day,” he said.
In his defense, Şahin said he had been tricked into forming the S-1 units and wasn’t clear about the identity of the people who had given him the order. He said he had been used because of his “health situation.” Şahin claimed to have partial amnesia and other memory-related problems. The shady network that backed Şahin even had a medical report at the Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK) falsified to help him escape criminal liability. The report stated that Şahin suffered from both short and long-term amnesia, adding that he needed to be constantly monitored. The report underlined that the patient’s orientation, general awareness of his surroundings and sense of time were distorted, noting that he was not aware of the season, month or date.
In December 2010 it was revealed that Şahin’s associates used another patient’s record to to produce falsified medical report to convince the court. The ATK said it made a mistake and issued a new report testifying that he was fit to stand trial.
Note criticizing the acquittal of author Elif Şafak and targeting Dink for commenting on her case:
Şahin admitted in his testimony that he had done the preliminary work to form the S-1 teams, which the prosecution said would be death squads carrying out assassinations, bombings and other attacks. Şahin testified that he believed the S-1 teams were an official structure. He said he was called to the General Staff, where it was explained that the military was setting up a new team as part of counterterrorism efforts and that he was a likely candidate to head this new entity, about one month prior to his arrest in the Ergenekon investigation.
Şahin is also remembered for his alleged involvement in the 1996 Susurluk affair in which unseemly links between police officers, mafia bosses, politicians and big-time criminals first became public knowledge due to a fatal car crash in the township of Susurluk.
Intelligence note tracking NGOs and activists who had gathered to promote reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia. The note was sized from Şahin:
In the retrial of the Ergenekon case, the new prosecutor dropped the terrorism charges against Şahin, on Nov. 30, 2018, and instead sought a conviction on other unrelated charges, which would mean he would not serve any time in prison. The judges went along with the prosecutor and accepted the falsified medical report. On July 1, 2019 he was convicted on charges of possessing dangerous materials without a license, a firearms violation and recording personal data. The court sentenced him to 11 years, three months in prison. Given the time served in the original trial in which he received nearly 50 years, Şahin will most likely not serve a single day longer in prison. It is also possible that the conviction could be thrown out in appeal.