Sunday, May 28, 2006


"With more than 350,000 Turkish troops and security personnel in southeastern Turkey, you'd have thought that they might be able to keep a lid on it all. To a certain extent they have, but only just. Not too cool on the old human rights bit, though. Always a fourth force in Turkish politics, the military has staged three coups in modern Turkish history. There are two things the military hate: Kurds and Islamists. In 1997 it forced Necmettin Erbakan and his Islamist-led government to resign without actually leaving their barracks. Turkish intelligence (known as MIT) also operates out of Sulymanya, where it has an office dedicated to monitoring the PKK, which has an office a little further down the road. DP wonders what happens if they ever get stuck in a traffic jam together. A couple of icy smiles, perhaps?" ~

George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," but in the case of the recent Council of State attack, it doesn't appear that anyone has forgotten Susurluk. On the other hand, it may be that too many people have forgotten the details of the Susurluk Affair, and subsequent events.

For those who don't know--or don't remember--the Susurluk incident occured on November 3, 1996, when a Mercedes-Benz crashed into a truck on a highway in Susurluk. All but one of the passengers in the Mercedes died at the scene, but they were no ordinary passengers. Sedat Bucak, the only survivor, was a Kurdish feudal landlord with thousands of village guards under his command, as well as being a former True Path Party (DYP) Member of Parliament. Coincidentally, Tansu Ciller was not only the leader of DYP at the time, but also Turkey's Prime Minister.

But Sedat Bucak was a relative small fry. The stunning discovery in the overturned Mercedes, and the thing that turned a traffic accident into a national scandal, was the body of Abdullah Catli, in the car with a dead former Istanbul police chief and the erstwhile DYP parliamentarian. Abdullah Catli was on the lam from police (from Interpol, to be exact), had been a convicted international drug-trafficker, and was head of the Gray Wolves. More detail on the accident can be read here. The Susurluk Affair briefly pulled back the curtain to reveal Turkish government and military involvement with the international drug trade and other Turkish mafia activities, Gladio operations, the dirty war in Turkish-occupied Kurdistan, and numerous extrajudicial murders. Abdullah Catli was the pivot around which all of this dirty business turned.

After all the initial fuss and bluster, the Susurluk Affair was concluded with the conviction of two, low-ranking police officers--and that's something to remember about the current bluster surrounding the Council of State attack.

In March, 1997, the MGK began its "soft coup" to remove Tansu Ciller's government from power. The MGK was less interested in Ciller's corruption--legendary even by Turkish standards--than it was in her political partner's version of Turkish political Islam, as articulated by the Refah Party, the precursor to Erdogan's AKP. Necmettin Erbakan had forged a coalition government with Ciller in July, 1996, only a few short months before the Susurluk Affair threatened to blow the lid off the Turkish pressure cooker. One could say that the pashas wasted no time in shifting focus away from the military's involvement in the dirty dealings that Susurluk was poised to reveal:

In early June 1997, the latter phase of the "soft coup" occurred, and that was the ousting of Erbakan from his office with the charges of "undermining the secular basis of Turkey's modern republic and its pro-Western stance in foreign and military affairs." In May, fifty-eight members of the armed forces were dismissed for being "involved in illegal activities with fundamentalist organizations" ("Turkish Generals Purge Pro-Islamic Officers," 1997, p.A4). Before resorting to this action, the generals had been deciding on defense matters such as the attack against the Kurds in Iraq. They were also infuriated when Erbakan would not reduce the number of religious schools and private Koran schools (Kinzer, 1997).

In November 1997 Turkey's public prosecutor brought Refah to the Constitutional Court on the charges of being "a rallying point for antisecular activities." Although the evidence presented was criticized as "pretty thin," on January 16, 1997 Erbakan, five of his cabinet members and one mayor were removed from politics for the next five years. The Turkish High Court banned Erbakan's party on the basis that it promoted a "subversive agenda," and was ultimately aiming at overturning secularism and introducing Islam, thus going "against the principles of the secular republic" ("What's the Turkish Struggle?", 1997, p.62).

Note that the public prosecutor brought charges in November, 1997, the first anniversary of the Susurluk accident. 1997 is a significant year for another reason. The Susurluk Affair not only held the promise of revealing the extent of the pashas' engineering of the dirty war against the Kurdish people, but it would have initiated a bit of a domino effect, also revealing the extent of US involvement. Thus, in October, 1997, then Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, approved the creation of the list of foreign terrorist organizations, also known as The List®. Among the thirty organizations included on The List® was the PKK. As the pashas shifted the focus, so did the US State Department, only two years after the same department officially admitted, for the first time, that Turkey had engaged in gross human rights abuses against Kurds.

The pashas have, on the other hand, found Islamists useful for certain purposes, such as described in this article from 2004:

The [Turkish] Hezbollah originated in southeastern Turkey, the poorest part of the country, in the 1980s and spread its tentacles to the major urban centers farther west where it fought running battles with leftist political factions. Southeastern Turkey is also the area where the Kurdish population is concentrated and where the Marxist Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) was waging its secessionist insurgency against the Turkish state during the same period. The strongly Islamist Hezbollah, presumably drawn largely from ethnic Turks, was ideologically and politically opposed to the PKK's Marxist and separatist agenda.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Hezbollah adherents, armed and trained by the military, and acting as vigilantes and death squads, were responsible for killing as many as 500 PKK cadres and members of the Kurdish intelligentsia. However, with the winding down of the Kurdish insurgency and the capture of its leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999, the PKK threat has all but evaporated in the predominantly Kurdish areas in southeastern Turkey. This has meant that armed Islamist cadres were left without a job to do and were subsequently targeted by security agencies. Consequently, they have reverted to their original extremist agenda and have turned against the establishment that had fostered them earlier. In this sense, the Turkish Hezbollah bear an uncanny resemblance to the CIA-created and supported mujahedin in Afghanistan who were left without a cause after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. The former have come to haunt the Turkish secular establishment just as the latter came to haunt the American establishment.

It would seem that the words of Mark Twain appear to apply to the PKK: "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. "

Turkish propaganda likes to blame the training of Turkish Hezbollah on PKK, but there are a few difficulties with that claim. One is that the more savy journalists, like Stephen Kinzer and Jonathan Randall, make no mention of a Hezbollah connection with PKK. Neither does Professor Paul White, who has done some excellent scholarly work on the PKK. Another one is that, during the 1980's, the entire political milieu in which PKK received its initial training was not conducive to cooperation with Islamists. Neither did PKK's Marxist-flavored ideology tend to lead to cooperation; it wasn't until the 1990's that PKK began to make concessions to religion. A third reason is that it was during the 1980's that the Special Teams (Ozel Timler) were set up with US assistance. Since the US was used to the idea of working with Islamist elements in Afghanistan, there is no reason to think that they would not have encouraged Turkey to do the same.

Turkish Hezbollah burst onto the public scene in much more dramatic way than the Susurluk Affair, in a four-hour shootout with police in Istanbul, in January, 2000. The shootout was carried live on TV. When the dust had settled, the leader of the more extreme faction of Turkish Hezbollah was dead, but far more disturbing was the discovery of a mass grave on the grounds of the house that Turkish Hezbollah had been using. As it turned out, the mass graves were not an aberration:

The captured individuals soon turned informant and the incident was followed by a year-long series of police raids throughout Turkey (from Istanbul to as far east as Van, near the border with Iran), during which the mutilated bodies of dozens of Turkish Hezbollah’s victims were discovered. These individuals had been kidnapped, tortured, and buried alive, as was shown on video recordings made by the group. State security forces confiscated the tapes, and the government refused to release them to the public due to the brutality of their content. During the raids, more than 60 victims were found and hundreds of suspects arrested.

Elsewhere in that reference, it is mentioned that most of the victims of Turkish Hezbollah were Kurds and moderate Muslims, something which Stephen Kinzer also notes in his book, Crescent and Star. Stephen Kinzer further notes Tansu Ciller's connection with Turkish Hezbollah, in the form of state-supplied weapons, from page 100, Crescent and Star:

When newspapers reported that weapons found at Hizbullah hideouts had come from a military arsenal in the southeast, Tansu Çiller, who had been prime minister when most of the "mystery killings" were committed, proudly admitted her responsibility. "Yes, it was my signature on the order to deliver those weapons," she said. "We met and made a decision. We decided that terror was the main issue and that whatever was necessary to stop it would be done." To the suggestion that she might have exceeded her authority by hiring one terror gang to fight another, she replied simply and no doubt accurately: "The military chief of staff, the governors, the police--everyone worked together on it."

How much more deeply was Ciller's government, with MGK approval, involved with Turkish Hezbollah? We may never see actual evidence, since evidence has a funny way of mysteriously vanishing into thin air in Turkey. Or, failing that, it's simply ignored. Still, inquiring minds want to know.

So, what do we have here and what can it tell us about the future?

We have the initial incident in 1996, which came to be known as the Susurluk Affair, an event that threatened to expose the Deep State with all its vile connections among the Turkish military, civilian government and mafia. At the same time, the same forces harnassed the Islamist element, trained and employed it against the Kurdish people and national movement. The pashas used the more mainstream Turkish Muslim party (Refah) as the excuse to conduct a soft coup, in order to deflect attention from the exposure that the Susurluk Affair threatened and to reassert the MGK as the real ruling body of the state. While the pashas tried to deflect attention with the Islamists, the US backed their decision by shifting focus to the PKK by including it on The List®.

Since then, the radical Islamists got out of control and, by doing so, proved their intimate relationship with the Deep State.

Names that were prominent in the news in 1996 are making their way back into the news again, with the Council of State attack, from TDN:

Retired army Captain Muzaffer Tekin, who has links with both Arslan and many individuals who were part of the Susurluk scandal, was taken to the prosecutor's office on Friday for interrogation.

Tekin, who is suspected of being the leader of the gang that orchestrated the attack on the court, is reported to have had close relations with former Special Forces chief İbrahim Şahin and retired Major Gen. Veli Küçük, both of whom were key names in the Susurluk scandal.

Everyone seems to be skeptical as to the sincerity of those vowing to get to the bottom of the Council of State Attack, including Fikri Saglar, a former member of the parliamentary commission charged with investigating the Susurluk Affair, and Akin Birdal, former head of IHD and survivor of an attack ordered by one of the state's assassins, Yesil aka Mahmut Yildirim aka Ahmet Demir. Bianet interviewed both men about the connections between the recent Council of State Attack and Susurluk. Saglar stated: "To open the Susurluk file means challenging the system. Neither Erdogan nor Baykal have such a concern". Birdal: "Agar and the National Security Council should be put on the agenda... Without Susurluk and its continuation unveiled, there can't be democratization."

"The file known as the Susurluk file is related to the system. Because of this Erdogan does not have the strength. The only thing he has his mind set on is changing the secular democratic republic to moderate Islam. As for Deniz Baykal [the oppositional CHP leader], when he remembered that the soldiers are also in the Susurluk file, he said nonsense. Much too distant from what the opposition should be doing. They have no concern in changing the system" Saglar said.

Another blast from the past mentioned in the Bianet article is one Mehmet Agar, another former DYP parliamentarian, Interior Minister and security director. Huseyin Baybasin fingered him in a 1997 interview, as being heavily involved with Abdullah Catli. Huseyin ought to know, since he had run with the same crowd.

The next thing to watch for is a soft coup attempt. It may be that Ozkok has already initiated that, when he called for more pro-secular protests following the Ankara funeral and demonstrations. Buyukanit will seal the coup by finishing off the AKP after August, in a similar way that Refah was finished off. To deflect attention from the military's involvement with the Council of State Attack, we should also watch for increasing activity against the Kurdish people, the groundwork of which began to be set into place last December, with official visits of US officials to Ankara and Buyukanit's visit to Washington, followed by the springtime visit of General Peter Pace. All of this activity was capped off with Condoleeza Rice's official visit, at the end of April. That was when Turkish troops deployed along the border with South Kurdistan, something that may indicate the US has given its blessing to the pashas' aims, perhaps in exchange for cooperation on Iran. But then, the pashas like to burn those kinds of candles from both ends, don't they?

We can also be fairly certain that there will be no serious investigation into the Council of State Attack. It will be shelved just like the Susurluk Affair and just like the Semdinli bombing. Any convictions made will be for image, and these will inconvenience only those at the bottom of the food chain.

And so it goes . . .

For those interested in more information, there is a press release from DHKC, from January, 1997, containing information gleaned from the Turkish media at the time. There is a NYT article from the time, by Stephen Kinzer, and an article discussing Ciller's corruption.


philip said...

Thanks for another fantastic essay, Mizgin. I always get so much education here!

Heval said...

Thank you very much for another well-thought and brilliant post.

Mizgîn said...

Thank you; You're both very welcome.

Rob Wood said...

Too many people with too many vested interests.

Nice article.