Political Violence, the ‘War on Terror’ and the Turkish State

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Political Violence, the ‘War on Terror’

and the Turkish State


This paper looks at the impact of the “war on terror” on political violence in Turkey. It begins by tracing the role of NATO in the management and support of Turkey’s militarised government since Ankara joined the Alliance in 1952. Here, it suggests that a triangular concert of agents from the Turkish state’s intelligence and special-forces organisations, operatives from Washington and right-wing activists and paramilitaries has been an important feature of regime formation and maintenance. By the mid-1990s, though, these covert structures came under increasing social pressure, leading to a period of considerable reform. However, the ‘war on terror’ and the West’s subsequent turn towards a greater emphasis on security – particularly with regard to Muslim-majority countries – has, this paper argues, begun to undo, enervate or obstruct the implementation of many of these reforms. The result, it is concluded, is that elements of the Turkish state unhappy with recent policies towards Turkey’s traditional triumvirate of enemies – leftists, ‘Islamists’ and separatists – have been emboldened and, since the collapse of the PKK’s unilateral ceasefire in 2004, are beginning to return Turkey to the “dark days” of the early 1990s.

Dr Tim Jacoby

The Institute for Development Policy

and Management

The University of Manchester

Arthur Lewis Building

Oxford Road

Manchester M13 9QH


Political Violence, the ‘War on Terror’

and the Turkish State
The more the attention of the masses is focused on terrorist acts, the more those acts reduce the interests of the masses in self-organisation and self-education. But the smoke from the explosion clears away, the panic disappears, life again settles into the old rut, the wheel of capitalist exploitation turns as before; only police repression grows more savage and brazen. And as a result, in place of the kindled hopes and artificially aroused excitement comes disillusion and apathy.

Leon Trotsky

For Anatol Leiven, the events of 11 September, 2001 ‘ushered in a struggle of civilisation against barbarism’ (2001, p. 1). As NATO prepared for the epochal wars to come, many countries, particularly those with Muslim majorities, were quick to review both their own security arrangements and to position themselves solidly on the side of the righteous. Turkey, as the only Muslim-majority member of NATO and long plagued by its own “barbarians”, was thus an especially worthy ally. For its “civilised” elite, the attacks on Washington and New York came at a time of considerable change and uncertainty. The catastrophic earthquake of 1999, the ongoing EU accession reform process and rising levels of religiosity had acted in concert to activate and politicise civil society. It was, however, the sharp decline in political violence from 1999 to 2004 which represented the most profound challenge to the militarised bureaucratic elite which had dominated Turkish politics since the inception of the republic during the 1920s. Hitherto, the insurgency in the 13 predominantly Kurdish speaking provinces of southeast Anatolia administered under emergency legislation from 1984 to 2002 had killed more than 5,000 soldiers and injured another 11,000. Civilian causalities had been similar – 5,000 dead and 10,000 hurt. Amongst Leiven’s “barbarians”, 23,000 were dead, 3,000 captured and 6,000 detained at an (official) overall cost of almost $15 billion (Mango 2005, p. 46).
Such a litany of misery has prompted a considerable body of analytical work, but little effort has been directed at placing political violence in Turkey within a broader geo-political context. More general studies have, instead, mostly focussed on non-state actors; communist insurgency (frequently extrapolated to include “leftism” more generally), atavistic “jihadism” (commonly linked to phantasmal networks of so-called “Islamists”) and ethno-nationalist separatism (including many forms of pro-Kurdish activism).1 While international actors (such as the Soviet Union, Saudi Arabia and Turkey’s recalcitrant neighbours) are often presented as destabilising provocateurs to be contrasted with the restraining, well-intended role of the West, few studies include a critical consideration of the state’s anti-insurgency policies and fewer still seek to link these with the foreign policy imperatives of Ankara’s NATO allies.2 By contrast, this paper seeks to understand the impact of NATO’s “war on terror” on Turkey, and its current rise in political violence levels, by looking at the full history of Ankara’s relationship with the Alliance. In tracing the West’s sponsorship of the Turkish state’s counter-insurgency measures back to the Second World War, it argues that, rather than confirming President Bush’s mantra that “9-11 changed everything”, Turkey’s recent return to armed hostilities reveals important continuities with earlier periods of conflict.
NATO, fascism and the origins of Turkey’s stratocracy
Turkey’s highly strategic location rendered it an important area of concern for the Great Powers long before the war on “terror”, Afghanistan and Iraq. Having disastrously failed to keep control of its western seaboard during the early 1920s, they concentrated attention upon ensuring that the new republic remained resident within their own geo-political bloc. Initial fears of pro-Soviet leanings were allayed by the murder of the Turkish communist party’s entire leadership in 1921 and the consistent repression of such organisations ever since (Gökay 1993). Following the Second World War (during which the Turkish government maintained a broadly pro-fascist neutrality), the Marshall Plan transferred $137 million to Ankara with, as President Truman pointed out in 1947, the aim of ‘effecting that modernization necessary for the maintenance of its national integrity… [and] the preservation of order in the Middle East’. The quid pro quo here was a commitment to police the West’s southern flank and, with the end of Marhsall funding in 1952, Turkey was absorbed into NATO (just three years after its formation and three years before the admittance of West Germany). As such, Turkey, like NATO’s founding signatories (Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, United States, Canada, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and the United Kingdom) agreed that, should one its allies be attacked, it will take, ‘individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area’ (Article 5)
In keeping with many other NATO members (Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Greece, Italy and Germany have all acknowledged participation), Turkey became home to a CIA-backed counter-insurgency unit which, according to General Doğan Güreş, was housed in the American Aid Delegation building in Ankara (Ganser 2005, p. 93). Colonel Alparslan Türkeş, former liaison office between the Turkish armed forces and the Nazi Wehrmacht, helped to establish the unit (initially named Seferberlik Taktik Kurulu – the Tactical Mobilisation Committee) before joining the NATO mission in Washington in 1955 (Çelik 1994, p. 1). His extensive contacts with right-wing paramilitary groups were an important element in both policing domestic socialism and generating a broader sense of uncertainty (and thus popular support for the security services). An early example of the latter was the bombing of Mustafa Kemal’s former home in Thessalonica in 1955 which, Sabri Yirmibeşoğlu (a junior officer attached to the counter-insurgency unit in Ankara and later full general) later admitted, was the work of the Tactical Mobilisation Committee. With both the director of the CIA, Allen Welsh Dulles (who happened to be in Istanbul at the time) and Prime Minister Menderes suggesting that it was the work of communists, it succeeded in provoking a mass round-up of “sympathisers” and a series of revenge attacks on Greek businesses and homes in Izmir and Istanbul that cost 3 lives and destroyed more than 3,500 properties (Güllapoğlu 1991, p. 104). This dual purpose was institutionalised (and encouraged) by the signing of a military accord between Turkey and the United States in 1959 which extended the geo-political focus of NATO’s collective security to include direct assistance ‘in the case of an internal rebellion against the regime’ (Fernandes and Özden 2001, p. 12).
Much would, of course, depend upon the source of such a rebellion. The 1950s witnessed a considerable rise in left-wing activity within the Turkey’s public sector. As high levels of inflation proletarianised much of the bureaucracy, concerns were raised over the prominence of liberal literary and political networks and an associated growth in unionisation (rising more than 500 per cent between 1948 and 1958) – particularly amongst the large numbers of migrants arriving in western Anatolian cities from the rapidly mechanising agricultural lands of the south-east (Jacoby 2004). The resultant change in urban demographics (parts of many conurbation became ‘permanent strongholds of Kurdish identity’), coupled with a sharp decline in the pay and conditions of the armed forces, led to a rise in political activity within the armed forces and, ultimately, prompted General Gürsel (then Chief-of-Staff) to the overthrow the civilian administration in 1960 and begin a process of enshrining an institutionalised political and economic role for senior commanders (McDowall 2004, p. 402).3 As part of new constitution ratified in 1961, a military dominated National Security Council (MGK, Milli Güvenlik Kurulu) was created with considerable executive powers. Having hanged three members of cabinet and imposed staff command’s authority by exiling or executing mid-ranking officers thought to have become overly politicised, the generals stayed on as permanent members of the senate. By controlling the presidency and by threatening further interventions if their interests were not respected, they nurtured ‘an attitude of benevolence bordering on complicity’ from the civilian leadership (Vaner 1987, p. 249). Through the establishment of a vast Army Mutual Assistance Association (OYAK, Ordu Yardımlaşma Kurumu) in 1961, the coup also secured the presence of the officer corps within Turkey’s economic elite.4
Another key pillar of this emerging stratocracy was the tacit promotion of right-wing activism. Türkeş, who had been an important – if dangerously over-zealous – organiser of the coup, was recalled from his posting/exile in New Delhi in 1963 and permitted to enter politics. In 1965, he took over the Republican Villagers Nation Party (Cumhuriyetçi Köylü Millet Partisi), subsequently changing its name to the National Action Party (MHP, Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi). Promulgating an extreme form of Pan-Turkism, it disseminated racist pamphlets, forged links with the World Anti-Communist League and, through its direct-action wing – the Grey Wolves (Bozkurt) – became entrusted with ‘the dirty work of execution and terrorising the Turkish left wing movements and Kurdish activists’ (CILDEKT 1995, p. 9). In doing so, it received support from the newly formed National Intelligence Agency (MİT, Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı). According to Danielle Ganser, the members of this organisation ‘could hardly be distinguished from their Grey Wolves colleagues’. They were, he continues, ‘institutionally united because both were commanded by the notorious and secretive CIA-sponsored Special Warfare Department’ (the new name (from 1965 onwards) of a reorganised and considerably enlarged Tactical Mobilisation Committee) (2004, p. 230). The new department’s burgeoning links with Türkeş’ operatives enjoyed considerable patronage from Turkey’s NATO allies. In addition to an overall military aid allocation of $5.8 billion between 1950 and 1979 (in which ‘arms supply and training programmes helped to integrate the Turkish military, police and intelligence services into those of the United States’), the CIA, for instance, covertly transferred guns and explosives to Grey Wolf units through its agent, Frank Terpil (Brodhead, Friel and Herman 1985, p. 28).5 These became an important element in undermining the civilian governments of the late 1960s which, following a series of protests against (and occasional attacks upon) American interests, had, in the view of the American diplomat, Robert Fresco, ‘simply become incapable of containing the growing anti-US radicalism’ (cited in Brodhead and Herman 1986, p. 62).

* Source: USAID (2008). All values are in historical dollars

** Source: SIPRI (2008a). All values are at 1990 prices.6

Particularly disquieting for the authorities was a perceived rise in Kurdish national consciousness. Political organisations, such as the New Turkey Party (Yeni Türkiye Partisi), founded by elites from eastern Anatolia and local independent candidates achieved important electoral successes within Kurdish-speaking areas during the 1960s, commonly polling more votes than the Republican People's Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi) founded by Mustafa Kemal in 1923 (Kirişci and Winrow 1997, pp. 107-109). This was accompanied by the emergence of “Eastism” within urban left-wing groups. Associations like the Revolutionary Eastern Cultural Society (Devrimci Doğu Kültür Ocakları) grew up alongside the larger and already-established Federation of Revolutionary Youth (Dev-Genç) and Turkish Workers’ Party (TİP, Türkiye İşçi Partisi). Although small, their influence was apparent at TİP’s 1970 congress where delegates declared that ‘the fascist authorities representing the ruling classes have subjected the Kurdish people to a policy of assimilation and intimidation which has often become a bloody repression’ (cited in Romano 2006, p. 43).
By March 1971, the CIA’s patience was exhausted and, according to Ralph McGehee (who worked for the agency from 1952 to 1977), the CIA assisted staff command to overthrow another civilian government and draw up ‘plans for mass arrests of opposition figures similar to the pattern followed in Thailand, Indonesia and Greece’ (1999, p. 47).7 During these raids, CIA-trained commandos were despatched to the southeast where, operating from ‘counter-insurgency centres which had been set up by Turkish officers trained by the US in Panama’, they ‘rapidly became associated with arbitrary brutality and torture’ (Nezan 1993, p. 78, McDowall 2004, p. 409). To sustain the focus on left wing and separatist activities, MİT was placed under the authority of Alparslan Türkeş who, despite his party obtaining only three deputies and 3.4 percent of the vote in the elections of 1973, was appointed deputy prime minister. Ideally placed to demonstrate the ‘danger from the Left’ by instigating attacks against Deve-Genç and TİP members, MHP’s armed paramilitary phalange stepped up its acts of violence as ‘the government tolerated, and at times encouraged, them’, thereby exerting ‘a political influence totally out of proportion to its following in the country’ (Ahmad 1977, p. 347, Schick and Tonak 1987, p. 369).

* Source: SIPRI (2008b). All values are at 2005 prices.

** Source: UCDP/PRIO (2008) and İHD (2008).

By the end of the 1970s, violence levels had risen sharply enough for Chief-of-Staff, General Kenan Evren to conclude, after 5,241 people had killed and another 14,152 injured during 1979 and 1980, that, despite the presence of martial law in 19 provinces, ‘a disguised war was actually being waged in Turkey’ (cited in Jacoby 2005, p. 645). Amid ‘a general loss of confidence among sections of the bourgeoisie’ (as well as the International Monetary Fund – with whom the government were negotiating an unprecedented rescue package of $1.5 billion) and having dispatched General Şahinkaya to Washington to gain American support, hosted four visits from the NATO Commander, General Rogers, and received loan guarantees of $182 million from the World Bank, Evren authorised yet another coup (Paul 1981, p. 4, Birand, 1987, p. 187, Barkey 1984, p. 54).8 A new constitution was ratified which, coupled with 628 additional pieces of legislation between 1980 and 1983, enshrined a much stronger role for the military elite by associating their supervisory role with catch-all allusions to national security and the ‘indivisible integrity’ of the Turkish state (Article 14) (Muller, 1996: 179). During the next four years, resistance was dealt with through the arrest of 177,565 people – of whom 64,505 were detained, 41,727 imprisoned and 326 sentenced to death (Bonner 2005, p. 50). The majority of these were processed by newly created “state security courts” made up of a combination of centrally appointed military and civilian judges (Cizre 2003, p. 219).

As Figure I illustrates, Evren, who stayed on as President until 1989, received considerable assistance from the United States. Indeed, the combined value (please see the methodological caveats in the footnote to Figure I) of annual American military assistance and legal arms sales to Turkey rose from $413.2 million in 1980 to $1.3205 billion in 1987. Following the intensification of the Kurdish Workers’ Party’s (PKK, Partiya Karkareni Kurdistan) campaign during the late 1980s, this support reached a 1993 peak of $2.460 billion (SIPRIa). Accompanied by a rapid rise in violence intensities in the south-east (as Figure II illustrates) such a huge budget permitted the state to increase its military expenditure considerably. It also allowed the use of Bozkurt paramilitaries to be significantly stepped up. Many of those MHP activists purged from state structures in the immediate aftermath of the coup (of which there were estimated to be around 200,000) reappeared as members of the “Uniformed Gangs” (Üniformalı Çeterler) and Special Forces (Özel Timleri) that were deployed to the 13 provinces of eastern Anatolia administered under emergency rule (Jacoby 2003, p. 676). Facilitated by Congress’ authorisation of the “Joint Combined Exchange Training Program” in 1991 (which, Chalmers Johnson concludes, constituted ‘little more than instruction in state terrorism’), these units were able to incorporate more up-to-date weapons (the American-made M-16 rather than the older and heavier German G-3 assault rife issued to regular forces) and to take advantage of training opportunities at the CIA’s CSG-9 camp near Bonn (Johnson 2000, p. 74, Çelik 1995, p. 87). Frequently seen wearing the wolf insignia of the MHP, the duties of such groups (as specified by General Sabri Yirmibeşoğlu – the junior officer connected to the bombing of Kemal’s former house in Greece in 1955) included ‘murder, bombing, armed robbery, torture, kidnapping, encourag[ing] incidents which invite retaliation, tak[ing] hostages, us[ing] sabotage and propaganda, disseminat[ing] disinformation and us[ing] force as well as blackmail’ (cited in Fernandes and Özden 2001, p. 12).
‘As the counter-insurgency campaign escalated the government terror gangs indulged in the luxury of utter recklessness… and began fighting amongst themselves’ (Clark 1999, p. 3). In 1996, for instance, the arrest of a heavily armed, 24-strong group planning to assassinate government parliamentarian and head of an important network of anti-PKK “village guards”, Sedat Bucak, was found to include 11 policemen (including four police chiefs) and four soldiers (Aslaneli 1996). This was followed by the murder of Ömer Lütfi Topal, a wealthy Kurdish casino owner alleged to be a covert supporter of the PKK, a month later. Three policemen were implicated in this shooting, but were transferred to Bucak’s security team on the instructions of Interior Minister, Mehmet Ağar (Yörük 1996). In November of that year, Bucak was involved in a car crash while returning from a meeting to discuss the future of Topal’s casinos in the resort town of Küşadası. Three people died in the accident – his driver, Istanbul Deputy Police Chief Hüseyin Kocadağ (previously responsible for organising the Özel Tim deployment to the south-east), a model, Gonca Us, and a former national leader of the Bozkurts wanted for drugs offences in Switzerland and implicated in the murder of Topal, Abdullah Çatlı. Assault rifles, explosives, pistols, silencers, listening devices and fake identification papers signed by Mehmet Ağar were recovered form the car. Ağar resigned from the Ministry, but, like Bucak, was protected by the immunity from prosecution awarded to all MPs in Turkey (Meyer 1998). Prime Minister Erbakan promised ‘to get to the bottom of Susurluk’ and commissioned MİT to investigate. Having received an interim report which pointed to the involvement of 58 public officials, he concluded that that the investigations of links between criminals and the “deep state” (or derin devlet) ‘should definitely be deepened and widened’ (cited in Couturier 1997, p. 1). His coalition partner (and leader of Ağar and Bucak’s party), Tansu Çiller, disagreed, however. She ‘became the ardent defender of those involved in the death squads saying some of these people were heroes who had fought against the enemies of the state’ (Cevik 1997, p. 1). The military elite concurred and, pointing to the growing religiosity of his party (Refah Partisi, or Welfare Party) as the key reason for concern, they removed Erbakan from office, closed down his organisation and ended his political career.9
The AKP and the challenge to derin devlet
During the second half of the 1990s, though, Congress had become increasingly concerned at the activities of the derin devlet and thus more reluctant to continue to arm the Turkish state indiscriminately. Accusations (from influential think-tanks such as the Cato Institute) that ‘human rights do not appear to be a priority when it comes to Turkey’ forced the Clinton administration to acknowledge that there was a ‘widespread and credible belief that a counterguerrilla group associated with the security forces had carried out at least some “mystery killings”’ and that it was ‘highly likely’ that these activities had involved the use of American weaponry (Carpenter 1999, p. 3, Komisar 1997, p. 26). Amid a fall in military assistance from $432.5 million in 1996 to $5.7 million in 1998, the White House came to the conclusion that, as former State Department liaison officer, Alan Makovsky, notes, ‘greater democratization might increase stability in Turkey and… would remove a primary impediment to security ties, including arms sales’ – a key concern as Ankara succeeded in securing over $3 billion worth of weapons from France and Germany between 1995 and 2002 (SIPRI 2008a, SIPRI 2008b, Makovsky 2000, p. 254).
There too, though, legislators were reluctant to endorse unconditional support. Growing security concerns over their minorities following the attacks on Washington and New York in 2001 had consolidated the view that, if Turkey was to become an ‘example of a strong, stable, modern, moderate, and tolerant Muslim nation’, it ‘could serve as a counterbalance to the forces that breed and nurture extremism, hate and violence… in its region’ (Pagan 2005, p. 11). Somewhat contradictorily, though, Turkey has also become regarded as ‘a barrier – a strategic glacis on the European periphery holding Middle Eastern risks at bay’ (Larrabee and Lesser 2002, p. 150). This dual function – exemplar and sentry – explains the incoherent European tendency to press for a civilianisation of Turkey’s regime while continuing to arm its security sector. Moreover, the fact that ‘full membership would mean the loss of its status as a buffer state between Europe and the instability in its southern region’, has resulted in a ‘containment policy objective of anchoring Turkey to the EU, as a stable and secular country with a large market, while keeping a clear preference for delaying the prospects of Turkish membership in the foreseeable future’ (Drorian 2005, p. 433, Arıkan 2006, p. 141).
Nonetheless, the Justice and Development Party (AKP – Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi), which, in 2002, had become the first party in Turkey since 1987 to secure a clear parliamentary majority, was able to use a pro-EU discourse to present a challenging manifesto of social reform ‘encompassing all aspects of Turkish socio-political life’ (Michaud-Emin 2007, p. 25). In particular, the AKP ‘increasingly asserted its control over the military, …further shifted the balance of civil-military relations towards the civilians and encouraged public debate in this area’ (European Commission 2004, pp. 53, 23). Despite the fact that the AKP had its roots in Erbakan’s banned Refah party (and thus represented an important departure from the politics of the establishment’s nomenklatura – not least because its victory was estimated to have returned around 180 MPs of Kurdish heritage) the military elite found itself out-manoeuvred (Baran 2008, p. 56).10 As the self-proclaimed ‘vanguard of reform and the harbingers of enlightenment’, they became ‘rhetorically entrapped’ by the AKP’s logic of EU harmonisation (Sarıgil 2007, p. 50, Hale 1994, p. 54). Future Chief-of-Staff Büyükanıt was, for instance, forced to acknowledge in 2003 that ‘during the deliberations on the… [last] reform package, we conveyed our views to the government. Some were accepted, others were not. Now that Parliament [has] enacted them into law, it is our duty to comply with them. We only hope that our concerns and worries prove to groundless’ (cited in Heper 2005a, p. 38).
These worries received a sympathetic ear at NATO, which, having taken the unprecedented step of invoking Article 5 of the Washington Treaty (cited above) immediately after the attacks of September 2001, certainly regarded the AKP’s failure to gain parliamentary authorisation for the American fourth infantry division to use Turkey as a base from which to attack Iraq in March 2003 as grounds for concern. The decision of Prime Minister Erdoğan’s predecessor, Bülent Ecevit, to deploy troops to support the American war in Afghanistan in return for an additional $65.5 million of military aid (2001-3) had been widely welcomed and thus heightened the sense that what Paul Wolfowitz called a ‘big, big mistake’ ‘represented a significant break in the shared strategic vision for the United States and Turkey’ (Walker 2007, p. 98). US officials expressed surprise that the Turkish military had not exercised its usual ‘strong leadership role’, while President Bush warned that the Turks would ‘have to pay the costs’ of their rebuttal; the most immediate of which was the $26 billion of grants and loans offered to facilitate acquiescence (cited in Belmain 2004, pp. 53, 60). In the medium term, ‘it effectively forced the U.S. to become more reliant on Iraqi Kurdish militias’ and raised doubts regarding Turkey’s changing loyalties – as former Nixon speechwriter, William Safire, put it (with a degree of hyperbole typical of contemporary war-fever), ‘the new, Islamic-influenced government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan transformed that formerly staunch U.S. ally into Saddam's best friend’ (2003, Çağaptay 2004, p. 47).
Given that many senior soldiers ‘feared that the failure of the motion would make Washington less willing to listen to Turkey’s concerns about the possible emergence of a Kurdish political entity in northern Iraq and could have a negative impact on US sales of weapons and military equipment’, it also opened up questions over the impact of the accelerating EU accession reforms on the military elite’s capacity to influence the government (Jenkins 2007, p. 349). Attention was particularly focussed on the Chief of Staff, Hilmi Özkök, who, having assured American state officials that the election of the AKP was ‘not a cause for worry’, had declined to petition parliament on the grounds that ‘according to the Constitution, the military can make such recommendations only to the government’ (Heper 2005b, p. 218). Since it was the generals who had designed the constitution following the 1980 coup, such reasoning failed to convince many – including Secretary-General of the MGK, General Tuncer Kılınç, who, having made his feelings clear, was “retired”. Özkök ‘was also believed to be a devout Muslim’ and ‘although no-one was sure of the extent of his piety or whether it would affect his commitment to safeguarding secularism’, his unprecedented practice of holding his (increasingly cordial) weekly meetings with the Prime Minister alone and persistent rumours that he had personally obstructed two coup attempts during 2004 led some to assert that ‘he failed to understand the threat posed by the JDP [AKP]’ (Jenkins 2007, pp. 348, 351, Baran 2008, fn. 3).
This threat was, in the minds of Turkey’s secular elite, accentuated by the activities of a small, violent group dubbed the Kurdish Hizbullah by Turkish officials. Its tendency to follow the killing of more than 500 journalists, human rights activists and PKK “sympathesiers” with statements blending discourses on religion with more orthodox fascist themes was used to discredit Refah and to substantiate an idea of creeping and coercive Islamisation. In the absence of any evidence of such a link, writers, such as the former adviser to the Israeli Minister of Defence, Ely Karmon, hypothesised ‘that even if there was no structural or formal connection between the Islamic movement’s [supposed] political and violent streams, there was an objective ideological alliance and a de facto cooperation between them toward achieving the goal of establishing a Turkish Islamic state’ (1998, p. 115). In fact, evidence from the Turkish Parliament’s Commission on Unsolved Murders suggests that Hizbullah’s operatives were trained by the military in the predominantly Kurdish province of Batman (which was found to have illegally imported $2.8 million of weaponry that was then ‘transferred to the Hizballah’) during the early 1990s (considerably before Refah came to power) as part of the Üniformalı Çeterler and Özel Timleri deployments (Human Rights Watch 2000, Aras and Bacık 2002, p. 153).11 Nonetheless, claims that the organisation represented ‘the armed protector of the pro-Islamic Welfare Party’ contributed to the downfall of the Erbakan government and led the MGK to declare that fundamentalism (irtica) was ‘the country’s number one “domestic threat” – relegating the all-time front-runner, “Kurdish separatism”, to a mere second place’ (Criss 1995, p. 21, Aydıntaşbaş 2000, p. 20).
Despite an extensive crackdown on non-violent organisations with religious identities, during the late 1990s it was not until the PKK’s capitulation that Hizbullah became superfluous to its “deep state” handlers. Within a few months of Öcalan’s capture, a series of operations (totalling 1,763 by November 2002) had been undertaken, resulting in the detention of nearly 5,000 individuals, the deaths of Velioğlu and his deputy and the arrest of his successor (Nugent 2004, p. 73). Although MİT’s exhaustive analysis of the 600,000 pages of documentation recovered in these raids revealed links with neither Refah nor its progenies, the AKP was, as Emrullah Uslu notes, reported to have an unspecified but apparently ‘close association with certain prominent Kurdish Islamists’. This came under close scrutiny following the bombings of British and Jewish targets in Istanbul in 2003 (in which 62 people were killed) that, as Uslu continues, were said to have been carried out by a cell with ‘common roots in the radical Kurdish Hizbollah organization’ from the south-eastern town of Bingöl (2007, p. 132, 124). The facts that this attack took place only a few months after 950 “militants” were released from prison under a government-backed amnesty and that the organisation has succeeded in establishing a non-violent wing with bookshops in Elazığ and Batman seemingly unopposed by the state has contributed to a sense that, as Zeyno Baran notes, the AKP is ‘concerned first with uniting people – Turks and Kurds alike – under the umbrella of Islam, and then only second with safeguarding the integrity of national borders’ (2008, pp. 60-61, Çağaptay and Uslu 2005).
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