Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) appears to have brushed aside threats against Turkish author and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, claiming it had no information that might suggest his life was in danger, secret documents have revealed.
The assessment was made in 2006 when Pamuk, the recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature, was targeted by nationalist and conservative groups in Turkey, with police intelligence contradicting the MİT assessment and saying he might in fact have been in danger. Pamuk was already in hot water because of his pro-Armenian views and faced court proceedings for allegedly insulting Turkishness in December 2005 in an interview with a Swiss journalist during which he criticized the treatment of Armenians and Kurds by the Ottoman Empire and its successor, the Turkish Republic.
Despite MİT’s claim that it did not consider his life to be at risk, the Istanbul Governor’s Office assigned a protective detail to Pamuk, unlike Hrant Dink, a Turkish journalist of Armenian origin who was shot dead by an ultranationalist teenager in broad daylight on January 19, 2007 in the same city. Both Dink and Pamuk had been targets of vicious campaigns by nationalist circles in Turkey and faced criminal prosecutions launched by state prosecutors.
The secret documents showed that police intelligence identified a specific threat against Pamuk from an al-Qaeda-affiliated Turkish group, the Great East Raiders Front (İBDA-C), which was responsible for dozens of deadly bombings and murders in Turkey in the 1990s. The group is known to be active in recruiting Turkish jihadists for the conflict in Syria and other countries.
The İBDA-C has been provided political cover by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who in 2014 helped free its late leader, Salih Mirzabeyoğlu (real name Salih İzzet Erdiş), from jail, where he was serving serving a life sentence. Erdoğan admitted in a TV interview that he had ordered his people to do whatever necessary to help him get out of jail, congratulated him over the phone as soon as he was released and had a private meeting with him in his Istanbul office.
Turkish police intelligence noted that the İBDA-C publication Kaide targeted Pamuk, saying, “We made a note of his [Pamuk’s] remarks.” The police believed he might be in the crosshairs of IBDA-C militants. Pamuk was called by the police on December 20, 2005, asking if he wanted personal protection, which he declined. He asked to be kept abreast of developments if specific information surfaced that suggested he was in danger. He signed a statement on December 22 to that effect, affirming his rejection of the protective detail.
Asked by the governor’s office on December 22 whether Pamuk might be in danger, the MİT Istanbul regional office responded the next day in a secret communication that they had no specific information or knowledge of a threat against the author by any terrorist group. It also underlined that they had no suggestion his life might be at risk, downplaying the nationalist euphoria in Turkey that made Pamuk a public enemy. MİT’s assessment stands in sharp contrast to the police intelligence assessment. Given the fact that an angry mob attacked him and his car as he was exiting the courthouse in Şişli, where he had attended a hearing on the insult charges, it was clear that he was a target and that his life was at risk. Yet, MIT thought otherwise.
Nevertheless, on December 21, 2005 the police concluded that he was in danger and petitioned the governor’s office to assign personal protection under a law that allowed authorities to proceed without the personal request of the targeted individual. A month later, on January 26, 2006, Pamuk filed a request asking for protection, and the protective detail that had earlier been assigned to him was extended.
Another plot that targeted Pamuk for death was devised by a neo-nationalist group working with convicted gang leader Sedat Peker. A wiretap intercepted by investigators on October 2, 2007 at 20.26 hours included a conversation between two suspects, identified as Muhammet Yüce and Coşkun Çalık, in which they discussed what would happen to them if they were caught after the hit. They said Peker would make sure they were transferred to the prison where he was incarcerated and that they would stay there in comfort and be paid handsomely for the contract.
Fifteen minutes before this phone conversation, Yüce sent an SMS message to Çalık saying: “We are going to take care of journalist Orhan Pamuk and receive TL 2 trillion ( roughly $1.6 million at the rate of exchange in effect at the time). We are going to make the necessary preparations.” In the message Yüce said his associate had already talked to people who were involved in the murder of journalist Dink and emphasized that Peker and another mafia leader, Alaattin Çakıcı, both supported their plan.
Police interrogated Çalık and asked about the telephone conversation. In his statement Çalık said the first contract was for the murder of Kurdish politician and member of Parliament Ahmet Türk but that he felt uneasy about that assassination and feared his family could face reprisal by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). When he explained this to Col. Fikri Mehmet Karadağ, another shadowy figure in the neo-nationalist network, the colonel asked them to kill Pamuk instead. He also added that in the event of their capture, Yüce said Peker would ensure their well being in prison. The police discovered the assassination plot and thwarted it.
The threats against Pamuk continued in the ensuing years. A secret military document dispatched by the Istanbul Gendarmerie Command on July 12, 2008 revealed that Emrah Yeman of Ağrı province had plotted to kill him and that a public prosecutor in Izmir had launched an investigation into the allegations. The intelligence note in the investigation case file stated that Yeman enlisted a 15-year-old teenager named Ayse Özbey to commit the murder.
On July 7, 2008 the police department obtained fresh intelligence that suggested a hit on Pamuk by the pro-Iran Turkish group, Hizbullah. The note stated that Hizbullah was looking for a sensational attack and that Pamuk was singled out as a target. The chatter picked up by police intelligence showed several people affiliated with Hizbullah had made preparations and that a hitman would report to Batman province on July 10. The intelligence was shared with the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office and security measures around Pamuk’s house were beefed up.
Slain Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was gunned down under similar circumstances in 2007 when he was not provided protection by the governor’s office, and the role of intel agency MİT was never investigated. Dink was threatened by an intelligence agent before the murder, yet the government of President Erdoğan shielded MİT from a judicial investigation that was looking into the alleged roles of elements within the country’s security establishment which helped contribute deliberately or negligently to the murder of the journalist.
Despite repeated motions by lawyers for Dink’s family, the authorities also blocked any employee of the intelligence agency from testifying in court, even as a witness.
Some of the confidential documents regarding the threats against Pamuk are posted below: