by Ertugrul Kurkcu
|ISTANBUL, TURKEY. Human rights activists and opposition groups have argued for decades that an uninterrupted trail of mysterious killings and extrajudicial executions leads to the highest levels of the Turkish state. An extraordinary accident in November 1996 provided missing links in that chain of evidence. It also gave further proof of the continued existence of a Turkish incarnation of Gladio the US-orchestrated Stay Behind||
operation that placed covert groups around
Europe at the end of World War II.
The toll of death and terror from Turkey's bitter internal strife is horrific. In the last three decades, at least 28,000 people have died. The 5,000 casualties in the 1970s served as a major pretext for the 1980 military takeover when the Turkish armed forces overthrew Suleyman Demirel's conservative minority government. Since the 1984 start of the war between the Kurdish
guerrilla PKK (Partiya Karkeran
Kurdistan-Kurdistan Workers Party) and the
Turkish army, the country's human losses
including those of the government security
forces, Kurdish guerrillas, and civilians
have totaled around 23,000, officials say.
This toll is not solely the result of combat in the mountains and forests of southeast Turkey, where the PKK guerrillas are fighting for greater autonomy. Many of the deaths and much of the terror resulted from a broad
covert program aimed at assassination, forced
exile, or imprisonment of Kurdish nationalists
"businessmen," intellectuals, journalists,
local politicians, and public opinion leaders
who were suspected of providing political or
material support to the PKK.
A lurid glimpse of this underbelly of the Turkish state opened suddenly on November 3, 1996, when a Mercedes-Benz overturned in a traffic accident. The driver was Huseyin Kocadag,
|former Istanbul deputy police chief who was known for his part in organizing the first special counterinsurgency police teams in southeast Turkey. Their goal was to bring the war to the Kurdish guerrillas. Also killed was Gonca Us, a former beauty queen with links to organized crime. Sedat Bucak, a pro-government Kurdish village guard chieftain and right-wing DYP (True Path Party) parliamentarian, was seriously injured. Bucak is reportedly in charge of 2,000 Kurdish mercenaries, armed and paid by the government to fight Kurdish guerrillas.||But what raised eyebrows was the seemingly incongruous presence of another passenger one Abdullah Catli riding with the top police and government officials. Police had supposedly been hunting Catli, a convicted international drug smuggler since 1978, for his part in the killing of scores of left-wing activists. At that time, Catli had been head of the "Gray Wolves," the youth arm of the neo-fascist MHP (National Action Party). The presence of the bizarre group in the same car was the most graphic evidence|
so far of
collusion between the security forces and
semi-criminal assassins and of their unity
of purpose in targeting both leftists and
Further proof of the unseemly collaboration was provided by Interior Minister Mehmet Agar, head of the government's 120,000-person-strong police forces. In the wake of the scandal that followed the car accident, Agar was forced to resign his post. But in the course of his defense, he
admitted that as security chief
and interior minister, he had overseen "at
least 1,000 secret operations."
In the face of growing public resentment, Deputy Prime Minister Tansu Ciller had to accept Agar's resignation, but she continued defending the "gang" as the entire network of "licensed killers" is known in Turkey. Apparently referring to Catli, Ciller declared during a meeting with her True Path Party
deputies that "those who have fired bullets as
well as those who have been shot in the name
of the state are honest."
TRUE "FALSE" LICENSES AND
Kurdish children play with spent mortar shells.
small amount of cocaine.
The "Susurluk affair" named after the accident site gained further import when local gendarmes discovered two documents among Catli's belongings: a license to carry arms signed by Ciller's security aide, Mehmet Agar, and a "Green Passport" authorized only for senior public servants issued by the Interior Ministry. Both were made out in the name of Mehmet Ozbay but bore the photo of Catli, the fugitive drug trafficker.
|Although Interior Minister Agar denied that the documents were real, gendarmes and forensic specialists confirmed that the Green Passport was genuine, not forged, and that the related signatures on it were authentic. The special perks and privileges given Catli, a drug dealer and suspected killer, were not unique. Haluk Kirci, his accomplice in a series of murders during the Gray Wolves days, and Yasar Oz, another international drug smuggler, also carried similar documents||
signed by Agar.
The links between one of Turkey's most prominent security officials and organized criminals and fascist assassins were now incontrovertible. But the question remained: What was the common agenda that joined them together?
One explanation is a shared ideology. Agar's fascist sympathies are well- known. Although he is a deputy in the parliament of Tansu
Ciller's conservative True Path Party, he is
also considered an heir to the throne of
Alpaslan Turkes. After 30 years of unbroken,
unrivaled command of Turkey's neo-fascist
National Action Party (MHP), Turkes died in
early April. The party he led is notorious for
anticommunist campaigns throughout the 1960s
and 1970s which involved physical attacks
against left-wing activists, intellectuals,
and trade union leaders. Agar was one of his
But investigative journalists, members of the
parliamentary investigation commission to the
Susurluk affair, and prominent "witnesses,"
found a broader explanation for the
government-extremist-criminal alliance than
shared affection for fascism. They concurred
that Ciller, Agar, and other affiliates of the
"gang," even including Turkes himself, are
only a few of the many corrupt links in a long
chain of "counterinsurgency strategies"
overseen by Turkey's military high command.
THE MGK VS. THE PKK
Berkan, senior Ankara correspondent for the
national daily Radikal. "That year, the
Turkish armed forces high command underwent a
dramatic shift in its counterinsurgency
strategy in the combat against [the] rebel
Kurdish guerrilla PKK."
In 1984, seeking self-determination for Turkey's 15 million Kurds, the PKK launched its guerrilla war against Ankara.Since then, the Kurdish rebels and the Turkish army have been deadlocked in bitter war. According to
The second prong of the secret counter-insurgency strategy:
targeting civilians. Here people risked reprisals to
retrieve the corpse of a Kurd killed by the army.
semiofficial figures from then-Interior
Minister Nahit Mentese, the PKK forces grew
from 200 in 1984, to 10,000 active combatants
and some 50,000 militias and 375,000
sympathizers by late 1993.
According to Berkan, in 1992, faced with the guerrillas' growing strength, the Turkish army units which had previously pursued a reactive strategy, shifted tactics "to bring the war to the PKK." They would not wait, they proclaimed, arms folded, while the PKK raided
gendarme posts and army garrisons. Instead,
the army would seek out and attack guerrilla
strongholds in urban areas, cut the rebels'
local support in the southeast countryside,
and forcibly depopulate remote villages and
hamlets suspected of providing support to the
rebels. Adopting a euphemism the US made
infamous in the counterinsurgency wars it
sponsors in Central America, then-Chief of
Staff Gen. Dogan Gures designated the overall
operation "low-intensity conflict."
But the PKK was not simply a rural guerrilla
force that could be easily identified and
destroyed. It had considerable support both
inside the country and overseas among Kurdish
intellectuals and "businessmen" who were
believed to funnel profits from black market
operations to the PKK. Faced with a strong,
well-financed foe, the military launched a
two-pronged strategy: "While the army
ruthlessly fought the guerrillas in the
countryside, blows should have been inflicted
on PKK's individual financial and moral
supporters," Berkan quotes his anonymous
The second prong of this strategic shift targeting civilian
Turkish army armored vehicle chases Kurds In Cisre.
|PKK support was introduced to the National Security Council (MGK) in 1992. Berkan says that he had the opportunity to study some MGK files detailing the "new counterinsurgency concept" after they were leaked to him by an anonymous former security official. "These documents," he said, "alongside tactical military schemes, included a list of the prospective members of the would-be death squads, including Abdullah Catli, some of his notorious companions from the Gray Wolves days, and some special police team members."||For a year, the second prong was not implemented because of strong opposition, particularly from President Turgut Ozal and Gendarme High Commander Gen. Esref Bitlis. Then, in 1993, Ozal and Bitlis both died under controversial circumstances: The president succumbed to a heart attack for which he allegedly received tardy and inadequate treatment; Bitlis was killed in a mysterious plane crash. That same year, according to Berkan, the National Security||
the counterinsurgency schemes.
@BODYTITE = During the three fatal years that followed, 1993-95 with Tansu Ciller as prime minister and Suleyman Demirel as president, Kurdish civil society was shattered. Kurdish political, cultural and press organizations faced violent attacks. Their headquarters were bombed, scores of local Kurdish politicians, including pro-Kurdish DEP (Democracy Party) deputy Mehmet Sincar were killed by mysterious
assassins, other Kurdish
Asenior police official confirmed that collaboration among fascist assassins, criminal gangs, and security officials was part of MGK's new counterinsurgency strategy.
DEP deputies were expelled
from parliament and jailed or forced
into exile; and hundreds of Kurdish activists
The "gang" was particularly active in eliminating scores of Kurdish "businessmen" in an attempt to cut off the PKK's financial base. Behcet Canturk, Savas Buldan, Yusuf Ekinci, Medet Serhat, Haci Karay, and Omer Lutfu Topal were among those kidnapped and later found killed.
THE HIGH PRICE OF COVERT OPS
|By the time Ciller left office in 1995, Kurdish nationalism had been dealt a heavy blow by the two-pronged approach. Although the "gang" was becoming increasingly violent, its existence and the extent of operations remained elusive. Then in February, in the wake of the car crash, a senior police official provided further confirmation of Berkan's version of the collaboration among fascist assassins, criminal gangs, and security officials as part of MGK's new counterinsurgency strategy. Hanefi Avci,|
deputy intelligence department chief of
Turkish Security, testified before an
investigatory commission convened by
"Some officials believed that the Turkish security remained incapable of eliminating the PKK supporters as long as [the security forces] functioned within legal means. Thus, they arrived at the conclusion that the PKK could have been fought
"The first organization to be set up on this guideline was the JITEM (Gendarme Intelligence and Counter Terrorism) which was first established in the southeast. ... JITEM was effectively controlled by now Lt. Gen. Veli Kucuk. Alongside JITEM, two other units were carved out of the body of the MIT [Turkish Intelligence Organization] and Special
Police Teams and henchmen were
co-opted from among former PKK guerrillas who
had turned informer."
Gen. Teoman Koman, the current gendarme general commander, officially denies the existence of such a unit within his organization. "There exists a JITEM," Gen. Koman acknowledged, "but not as an official intelligence organization set up by the state. [Rather it is run] by some irresponsible elements within the gendarme. ... I banned the
usage of such a title as soon as I recognized
counter-terrorism efforts conducted under such
Noncommissioned gendarme Huseyin Oguz, an active counterinsurgency officer in the southeast, however, contradicted Gen. Koman. In testimony before the parliamentary investigatory commission, he asserted that JITEM has existed as an official unit linked to the Intelligence Department of the Gendarme General Command.
|According to Hanefi Avci, deputy intelligence department chief of Turkish Security, "One gang was headed by ex- Interior Minister Mehmet Agar and seconded by Special Police Teams boss Ibrahim Sahin and counterinsurgency specialist former army officer Korkut Eken, with whom Catli was directly linked; and another [gang] was headed by Mehmet Eymur, chair of the Turkish Intelligence Organization's (MIT) counterterrorism department." Shortly after his resignation, Mehmet Agar testified to that||
He confirmed that his "operations" were in line with his National Security Council-endorsed schemes of"bringing the war to the PKK."
THE "GANG" PATROLS
retreat, these [government-linked] units
degenerated into corrupt gangs which were
mainly concerned with grabbing the enormous
revenues from drug trafficking and money
laundering that had previously been controlled
by organized criminals of Kurdish origin."
Journalist Berkan concurred that the state-linked gangs effectively took over the drug trafficking routes and drove out the Kurdish "businessmen." It was not long before the massive profits about $20
billion a year set off a bitter war within the extra-legal
The large arsenal of assault weapons found in the crashed car fueled widespread speculation that when the"Susurluk" trio died, they may have been on "duty" against a rival "gang" based in their point of departure Kusadasi. The district is one of Turkey's prospective casino hubs. The suspicion was further confirmed when an Istanbul State Security Court prosecutor indicted Sedat Bucak, the
sole survivor of the Susurluk car crash. He
was charged with carrying a quantity of
unauthorized assault weapons beyond what could
be justified by self-defense. The prosecutor
charged that the passengers intended to
assassinate as yet unknown targets.
More light was soon shed on the role of Gray Wolf Abdullah Catli. Mehmet Eymur, MIT's counterterrorism department chief, and also his rival, counterinsurgency specialist Korkut Eken admitted that Catli
was not a simple"gang" henchman. Rather, he had a long-
standing official role and had been "used by
the state" during the 1970s, bitter conflict
between right- and left-wing activists.
TRACING THE "GANG" TO CIA The parliamentary investigation commission found irrefutable links between organized criminals, fascist assassins, and senior counterinsurgency officials. It also established the existence of a widely
organized gang within the state security
structures. Nonetheless, many critics charge
that the commission did not go far enough in
digging out the roots of the problem.
"The links between the illegal right-wing organizations and the Turkish security should be traced back to Gladio," says opposition CHP (Republican People's Party) Deputy Fikri Saglar in his minority report to the parliamentary commission. "Gladio" was a network of secret security organizations set
up largely by the US in almost all European
NATO-member countries after the end of World
"A secret clause in the initial NATO agreement in 1949 required that before a nation could join, it must have already established a national security authority to fight communism through clandestine citizen cadres. This Stay Behind clause grew out of a secret committee set up at US insistence in the Atlantic Pact, the forerunner of NATO."
|Under these Stay Behind programs, anticommunist elements, often overtly fascist, were organized, armed, and funded supposedly as a bulwark against Soviet aggression. Some had links to organized crime; many were involved in terrorist incidents aimed at undermining the left. After public exposure and the disintegration of Washington's major Cold War rival, most countries shelved the US-dominated counterinsurgency schemes.Italy("Gladio"), Belgium ("SDRA-8"),France ("Rose des Vents"), Holland ("P:26" or "NATO Command"),||Greece("Sheepskin"), Denmark,Luxembourg, Switzerland ("Schwert"),Norway, Austria, Spain, Britain ("Secret British Network"), Portugal, and Germany have all acknowledged that they participated in the covert network. But although Gladio became public knowledge in Turkey ("Special Warfare Department") years ago and former Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said "patriotic volunteers" staffed a US-funded unit that was ready to go into action in the event of a Communist takeover, Ankara officially denies that such an||
organization ever existed.
Some find this denial coming as it does from a NATO front-line member incredible and call for openness. "Unless the operations of the Gladio, the NATO-linked international counterinsurgency organization within the Turkish security system is investigated," says commission member Saglar, "the real source of the security corruption will not be effectively discovered. It is necessary to investigate the Special Forces Command,
previously known as Special Warfare Department
of the Chief of Staff."
Despite the continuing coverup, it is known that during the 1970s, the Turkish army's Special Warfare Department (Gladio) operated the Counterguerrilla Organization. The department was headquartered in the US Military Aid Mission building in Ankara and received funds and training from US advisers to create the Stay Behind squads. The Gray Wolves,headed by Catli, enjoyed official
encouragement and protection.
"In the late '70s, former military prosecutor and Turkish Military Supreme Court Justice Emin Deger documented collaboration between the Gray Wolves and the government's counterguerrilla forces, as well as the close ties of the latter to the CIA. The Counterguerrilla Organization provided weapons to terrorist groups such as the Gray Wolves, who instigated much of the political violence that culminated in a 1980 coup by
|the Turkish military that deposed Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel. State security forces justified the coup in the name of restoring order and stability. Cold War realpolitik compelled the Gray Wolves and their institutional sponsor, the ultra-right National Action Party, to favor a discreet alliance with NATO and U.S. intelligence. Led by Col. Alpaslan Turkes, the National Action Party espoused a fanatical pan-Turkish ideology that called for repatriating whole sections of the Soviet Union under the flag of a reborn Turkish|
empire. The Gray Wolves forged ties with the
Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations, a CIA-backed
coalition led by erstwhile fascist
collaborators from Eastern Europe. ...
Colleagues of Turkes controlled a Turkish
chapter of the World Anti-Communist League, an
umbrella group that functioned as a cat's paw
for US intelligence in Latin America,
Southwest Asia and other Cold War
As the Susurluk affair illuminated, the
|clandestine dynamic had not ended with the Cold War. Citing links dating back to the 1970s between Catli and the state security units, Saglar wrote in his report that "the gangs that were formed in 1993 were actually based on an already existing extra-legal mechanism which has been publicly known as counter-guerrilla during the 1970s." Saglar quotes government Deputy Niyazi Unsal: "The counter-guerrilla organization has survived until this day without losing any of its former influence. All those who testified at||
the investigatory commission, says
Saglar,"have introduced serious claims
regarding links between `gangs' and the
security units, that undeniably confirm moral
and material support to those gangs from among
high security officials."
Chief among those carrying Gladio's standard into the 1990s are the Gray Wolves. With little subtlety, Catli's companions in the neo-fascist Wolves proudly carried a banner in his funeral procession inscribed: "He fought
like a Sword and died like a sword!" (Gladio
means sword in Italian.)
"OUR BOYS HAVE DONE IT!" The crash of the Mercedes has not only provided answers about the relationship between criminal, fascist, and security elements, but has raised new questions. Fikri Saglar, in his minority report to the parliamentary commission, expresses concerns that the presence of Catli, the fugitive drug dealer in the Mercedes of a police chief 16
years after the military takeover, might point
to the fact that Catli and his kind had played
an effective role in the coup. "Catli, his
family and companions had left Turkey with
false passports provided by the security
officials immediately after the coup and under
apparent protection by the state," Saglar
charges, referring to Turkey's military rulers
of the 1980s.
Also being questioned is the role of the US and especially that of the CIA. Throughout the
Cold War era, Turkey was the frontline state
in NATO's Southeastern flank and Washington's
major regional military ally against the
former Soviet Bloc. It was then, and continues
to be, a vanguard post for US strategic
The close ties between the Turkish, US military, and intelligence circles, along with US concerns over Turkey's military cooperation, have been major obstacles in Turkey's path to broader democracy. Turkey's
|US-backed military has viewed movements for increased democracy with hostility and accused them of undermining the country's stability and consequently its military might. Turkey's pro-US conservative politicians and military rulers have continually targeted leftist, democratic, and labor movements that have striven for broader rights. Alongside official pressure, the military has frequently resorted to unofficial force to quell the massive opposition movements that began in the second half of the 1960s. During the last four||
decades, Turkey has been subjected to three
military coups, all of which have declared
their obedience to NATO obligations and all of
which have been unreservedly backed and even
encouraged by Washington. Ankara continues to
be the fourth largest recipient of US aid.
Saglar charges that US interest in Turkish affairs is not confined to official NATO relations and trade ties. He points to the
notorious message by the CIA's then-Turkey
Station Chief Paul Henze in Ankara to his
colleagues in Washington the day after the
1980 coup "Our boys have done it!" Henze
crowed. Saglar concludes that foreign
intelligence organizations including the CIA,
have coopted collaborators from among the
extreme-right and exploited them for their
Saglar's charge is lent credence by the fact that Yasar Oz one of the drug traffickers
|carrying the Green Passports signed by Mehmet Agar was arrested by the Drug Enforcement Adminstration in New York and immediately released. There is also evidence that Catli himself entered the US in 1982 in Miami with his "false" green passport. Traveling with him was Italian Gladio agent Stefano Delle Chiaie, who has been charged with involvement in the blast in Italy's Bologna Train Station in the 1980s.||
The "Susurluk affair" has capped an overwhelming body of evidence and testimony against major military and security officials. If Turkey were a functioning democracy, the immediate outcome would at the very least have been a series of prosecutions.
However, the Turkish military, which set up, conducted, and oversaw this uninterrupted
|deadly counterinsurgency operation against leftists and Kurdish nationalists throughout the last three decades, is in an enviable position. It has emerged from an embarrassing period during the first two months of the year when sweeping public protest rang in the streets of Turkey. Every night at 9 p.m., angry crowds called for "cleansing the country from the gangs." Since February 28, the military has regained confidence and restored|
|its reputation as the traditional watchdog of Turkish secularism. This recovery is largely due to an extensive media-backed drive launched by the military high command against the Islamist-led coalition. The army has positioned itself as champion of the secular republic against a fundamentalist "threat" posed by Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan's senior coalition Welfare Party (RP). The military high command has called on Erbakan and his party to enforce existing anti-fundamentalist laws and to draft new legislation for educational reforms, including||
closure of the religious seminaries which they
consider the hotbed of Islamist
Overnight, the carefully designed and precisely timed military drive has changed the public agenda from that of "cleansing the Turkish democracy of the gangs" to "safeguarding the secular republic against the fundamentalist threat." As a result, a considerable section of the opposition has realigned itself behind the military which has positioned itself as Turkey's hope for
maintaining Westernist secularism and
These days, few of the "modernists" recall the era of military juntas in the early 1980s when Turkey's military rulers adopted "a green belt strategy" after the revolution in Iran and the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan. The idea, promoted in some Washington circles, was to construct a bulwark alliance of US-backed Muslim countries in order to confine Soviet southward expansion, and to combat radical Islamist power in Iran and elsewhere in the region.
|It was in accordance with this "green belt strategy," and in the name of"secularism," that the army has seized on Erbakan's "Islamic threat" as a major justification for increasing its already substantial powers. To a large extent, this stance is hypocritical. "The constitution drafted by military rulers, for instance, deemed religious courses obligatory for all levels of pre-university education,||
and set up religious seminaries
which served as seedbeds for Islamist
ideology. This was much more than any civilian
government, in a political compromise with the
Islamists might have dared to try."
Turkey is now trapped between the two giants the "gang" and the fundamentalists
|both of which have been nurtured by the army to serve its needs. At the same time, as Turkey's secularist establishment seeks salvation by calling on the army for aid for a fourth time in the last four decades, the country seems to have lost its historical memory. Meanwhile, Turkey's key dilemma remains: How to set up and maintain a functioning democracy on Western standards in a majority Muslim country.|
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