ⓘ Deep state in Turkey


ⓘ Deep state in Turkey

The deep state is alleged to be a group of influential anti-democratic coalitions within the Turkish political system, composed of high-level elements within the intelligence services, the Turkish military, security agencies, the judiciary, and mafia. For those who believe in its existence, the political agenda of the deep state involves an allegiance to nationalism, corporatism, and state interests. Violence and other means of pressure have historically been employed in a largely covert manner to manipulate political and economic elites and ensure specific interests are met within the seemingly democratic framework of the political landscape. Former president Suleyman Demirel says that the outlook and behavior of the elites who constitute the deep state, and work to uphold national interests, are shaped by an entrenched belief, dating to the fall of the Ottoman Empire, that the country is always "on the brink".

The ideology of the deep state is seen by leftists as being anti-worker or ultra-nationalist; by Islamists as being anti-Islamic and secularist; by ethnic Kurds as being anti-Kurdish, and by liberal democrats as anti-democratic and anti-liberal. As pointed out by former prime minister Bulent Ecevit, the diversity of opinion reflects a disagreement over what constitutes the deep state. One explanation is that the "deep state" is not an alliance, but the sum of several groups that antagonistically work behind the scenes, each in pursuit of its own agenda. Another explanation contradicts the reduction of the deep state to an interest network and defines it as a type of domination based on the high military autonomy levels that enable the security apparatus to disrupt formal democratic institutions in the foreground by employing a sui generis repertoire of informal institutions in the background, i.e. putsch threat, autocratic cliques, mafia, organized crime and corruption. Rumours of the deep state have been widespread in Turkey since Ecevits term as prime minister in the 1970s, after his revelation of the existence of a Turkish counterpart to Italys Operation Gladio, the "Counter-Guerrilla". Many Turks, including elected politicians, have stated their belief that the "deep state" exists.

More recently, the term "deep state" has been used to describe politics in other nations including Egypt and the United States.


1.1. Background Descriptions and countries

  • the term derin devlet "colloquially speaking" refers to "`criminal` or `rogue` element that have somehow muscled their way into power" according to Ryan Gingeras;
  • a "presumed clandestine network" of Turkish "military officers and their civilian allies" who, for decades, "suppressed and sometimes murdered dissidents, Communists, reporters, Islamists, Christian missionaries, and members of minority groups - anyone thought to pose a threat to the secular order" Dexter Filkins;
  • "The expression `deep state` had originated in Turkey in the 1990s, where the military colluded with drug traffickers and hit men to wage a dirty war against Kurdish insurgents", Journalist Robert F. Worth;
  • the "shady nexus" between the police and intelligence services, "certain politicians and organised crime", whose members believe they are authorised "to get up to all sorts of unavowable things" because they are "custodians of the higher interests of the nation", Hugh Roberts.
Middle East
  • the "hard core" of regimes in Syria, Egypt and Yemen who resemble the Mamluks of Egypt and the Levant 1250–1517 in that they proclaim themselves servants of the putative rulers while actually ruling themselves that staged successful counter-revolutions against the Arab Spring in those countries, Jean-Pierre Filiu, From Deep State to Islamic State.
  • Robert Worth argues the term "deep state" is "just as apt" for networks in many other states in the region other than Turkey where governments have colluded with: smugglers and jihadis Syria, jihadi veterans of the Soviet-Afghan War Yemen, and other criminals working as irregular forces Egypt, Algeria;
  • used to refer to Egyptian military/security networks, particularly the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces after the 2011 Revolution. They are "non-democratic leaders within a country" whose power is "independent of any political changes that take place." They are "often hidden beneath layers of bureaucracy" and may not "in complete control at all times" but have "tangible control of key resources whether human or financial".
United States

  • A" hybrid association of key elements of government and parts of top-level finance and industry", particularly Wall Street and Silicon Valley, "that is effectively able to govern the United States" in their own interests "with only limited reference to the consent of the governed”, but without conspiracy, Mike Lofgren, an ex-Washington staffer who has written a book on the issue.
  • A "more or less hidden" security hierarchy’ or security state’ "that not only acts in parallel to the former but also monitors and exerts control" over the regular state hierarchy’ Ola Tunander;

1.2. Background Historical

Charles Tilly wrote of an "interdependence between the historic processes of war-making and state-making and organised crime. Banditry, piracy, gangland rivalry, policing and warmaking all belong on the same continuum’"

Jean-Pierre Filiu, in From Deep State to Islamic State notes a resemblance between the Mamluks of Egypt and the Levant 1250–1517, and the alleged security service "deep states" of todays Middle East. In both cases they proclaimed themselves servants of their states putative rulers - the Caliph in the case of the Mamluks, and "the People" in the case of contemporary Algeria, Egypt, Syria and Yemen - while actually ruling themselves.


1.3. Background Ottoman Empire

Turkish secret societies date back to the Ottoman Empire. Sultan Selim III reigned 1789–1807, for example, founded a secret committee, essentially a personal army to protect himself since he had been attacked following the wars against Russia and Austria of 1787 to 1792. Even his second-in-command, the Grand Vizier, remained unaware.

Conspiratorial coalitions became particularly active during the Committee of Union and Progress era 1889–1918, when they planned the deposition of the Sultan. One infamous hitman, Yakup Cemil, was employed by the state, and shot on Enver Pashas command after he was no longer needed. Some say that these societies were instrumental in Turkification following the demise of the Ottoman Empire. The secret policy of Turkification was allegedly carried out by covert groups in order for its instigators not to be discovered.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk 1881–1938 availed himself of secret societies the Sentinel Association, for example that today would be considered special forces units to further the republican cause. Some hold that todays alleged deep state is a continuation of these societies.


1.4. Background Counter-Guerrilla

After World War II, an organized and institutionalized form of the deep state was set up with American guidance to counter a possible Soviet invasion, under the Special Warfare Department Turkish: Ozel Harp Dairesi, or OHD. The OHD, termed the "Turkish Gladio" by some, was described by its former leader Kemal Yamak as a stay-behind resistance group.

Speaking to Derya Sazak of the daily Milliyet, former Republican Peoples Party representative Suleyman Genç said that the OHD exerted such influence that it hampered the Turkish Armed Forces, and identified the OHD as the core of the deep state. Genç pressed for a parliamentary inquiry on the phenomenon in 1978, but party chairman and prime minister Bulent Ecevit insisted he drop the matter, after talking to the OHD chief, Kemal Yamak, who said that the OHD would not interfere in civilian affairs and that politicians should not probe further. Gençs house in Karyağdı Street, Ankara was subsequently bombed on 5 January 1979.

Murat Belge of Istanbul Bilgi University says that the deep state became increasingly active during the multi-party period, as factions within the state vied for power.


1.5. Background Grey Wolves

Kendal Nezan of the Kurdish Institute of Paris said that Abdullah Çatlı, a Grey Wolves leader who was killed in the Susurluk car crash, "is reckoned to have been one of the main perpetrators of underground operations carried out by the Turkish branch of the Gladio organisation and had played a key role in the bloody events of the period 1976–1980 which paved the way for the military coup d’etat of September 1980. As the young head of the far-right Grey Wolves militia, he had been accused, among other things, of the murder of seven left-wing students." Çatlı was seen in the company of Avanguardia Nazionale founder Stefano Delle Chiaie, while touring Latin America and on a visit to Miami in September 1982.

Apart from Çatlı, ultra-nationalists used by the Turkish intelligence agencies included Mehmet Ali Ağca who attempted to assassinate the Pope, Haluk Kırcı, Ibrahim Çiftçi, Tugay Maraslı, Yahya Efe, Oral Çelik, Mehmet Sener, Alaattin Çakıcı, Nurullah Tevfik Ağansoy, Ali Yasak, Abuzer Uğurlu, and Bekir Çelenk. In the 1990s, these people, who maintained contacts among security forces, were involved in various illegal activities which were uncovered during the 1996 Susurluk scandal.


1.6. Background 1990s onwards

In 1992, the commander of the OHD, General Kemal Yilmaz declared that the special department was still active in the Kurdish–Turkish conflict.

Formations such as the Doğu Çalısma Grubu 1993 alleged Turkish military coup, Batı Çalısma Grubu 1997 military memorandum and TUSHAD are alleged by various sources to have continued clandestine work in the military and beyond. These groups have broadly aimed to defend Turkey against Islamism and separatism particularly Kurdish separatism, but links with ultra-nationalist-linked mafia groups Susurluk scandal have also been seen, and links with Kurdish groups such as Kurdish Hizbollah. These various groups may have links with the Ergenekon organization pursuing a similar agenda in matters such as the 2003 "Sledgehammer" coup plan, but the details are unclear.

In 2008, dozens were indicted and arrested in the Ergenekon investigation for conspiring to oust the Justice and Development Party in 2009.

Ex-special forces soldier Ayhan Çarkin who worked for deep state claimed that deep state was behind the Basbağlar massacre.


2. Acknowledgement of its existence

The first to publicly point at the existence of an influential, secret coalition, was Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, who in 1974 revealed the "Counter-Guerrilla". Until then, the United States had been funding the Special Warfare Department Turkish: Ozel Harp Dairesi, or OHD under Joint United States Military Mission for Aid to Turkey JUSMMAT program; a Truman Doctrine-based initiative. When annual aid negotiations fell through, the commander of the OHD, General Kemal Yamak, asked General Semih Sancar, then the Chief of General Staff to ask Ecevit for a slush fund of 1 million dollars. It was at that point Ecevit learned of its existence, and demanded a briefing. His inquisitiveness and attempt to rein in the organization resulted in an assassination attempt at Izmir airport in 1977. In his memoirs, Yamak said that Ecevits party itself contained OHD operatives, who were selected and educated at a young age by the chief of staff. When Ecevit obliquely asked Yamak about the extent of the partys infiltration Yamak told him not to worry, as the "boys were upright and specially educated.does that not make them better members of parliament? Besides, have any of them been implicated in a scandal?"

Former President and General Kenan Evren, who led the 1980 military coup related in his memoirs a meeting with the then-Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel on May 5, 1980, stating that Demirel asked him to use the staff of the OHD in the fight with the terrorists apparently hinting at the incident in Kizildere village on March 30, 1972. Kenan Evren refused, stating that he would not allow renewed rumours about counter-guerrillas. Kenan Evren made similar remarks in the daily Hurriyet of November 26, 1990. Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Tansu Çiller embraced both "those who died for the state, and those who killed for the state" as heroes.

Former President Suleyman Demirel described the deep state as synonymous with the military, and capable of subordinating the legitimate state in times of turbulence. Kenan Evren himself confirmed the suspicions, in an interview with journalist Yavuz Donat.

The newest allegation comes from then Prime Minister, and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In the television show Iskele Sancak on Turkish TV channel Kanal 7 on 26 January 2007, he stated his belief in the existence of the deep state:

I dont agree with those who say the deep state does not exist. It does exist. It has always has - and it did not start with the Republic; it dates back to Ottoman times. Its simply a tradition. It must be minimized, and if possible even annihilated.

Some see the Ergenekon investigations, under Erdogans watch, as the execution of this purge.


3. Organizations

The following clandestine organizations, some of which may be defunct, are sometimes associated with the deep state:

  • Ergenekon
  • Operations Department
  • Tactical Mobilization Group
  • Turkish Revenge Brigade
  • Gendarmerie Intelligence and Counterterrorism service
  • Counter-Guerrilla
  • Special Warfare Department
  • Special Forces Command

4. Incidents

A number of incidents have fueled the discussion on the deep state. Some of them have since been traced to the Counter-Guerrilla, which led a covert war against Communism. A few of the rest are:


4.1. Incidents Susurluk scandal

The Susurluk scandal developed after a car accident on 3 November 1996 near Susurluk in Balıkesir province. In this accident, former Deputy Chief of Istanbul Police Huseyin Kocadağ, the leader of the Grey Wolves Nationalist Action Party’s youth organization Abdullah Çatlı, and a woman named Gonca Us died; DYP Sanlıurfa MP Sedat Bucak, who was also the leader of a large group of village guards in Siverek, was injured. Curiously, Çatlı was carrying a fake passport under the alias "Mehmet Ozbay", the very same alias used by Mehmet Ali Ağca, the assassin who had shot Pope John Paul II. This coalition exposed the connections between the security forces, politicians and organized crime, and led to the resignation of interior minister Mehmet Ağar of the True Path Party.

A parliamentary investigation commission established after the accident published a 350-page report in April 1997. The Commission’s report maintained that the state organs used the Grey Wolves and that some state forces initiated the right-wing / left-wing armed conflicts in the 1970s in the Republic of Turkey.

Nurullah Tevfik Agansoy, who was the hitman of one of the ulkucu "idealist" mafia leaders, Alaattin Cakici, had made statements claiming the involvement of Ozal family in the Civangate scandal which led to a war of words between himself and Cakici. The duel was concluded in September this year in Bebek, Istanbul with Agansoys assassination but the hitmans death only to lead more scandalous question marks. Two special protection officers of Deputy Prime Minister Ciller, who were with Agansoy during the incident were also killed in the shooting. Their presence has not been explained.


4.2. Incidents Semdinli incident

On 9 November 2005 a bookstore was bombed in Semdinli district, Hakkari Province killing one man and injuring others. The owner of the bookstore spent fifteen years in prison for providing logistical help to the Kurdistan Workers Party PKK. This was eighteenth bombing in the province since July. Local people caught the attackers who turned out to be two non-commissioned army officers and a former PKK militant on the payroll of the Turkish Gendarmerie. The PKK turncoat threw two hand grenades into the bookstore. The incident attracted huge media attention and created a public uproar. In response, the government promised that all individuals responsible for the attack would be identified and punished. The three suspects were later charged, tried and convicted at a civilian court. They each received around 40 years of prison sentences.

The stakes of the legal process suddenly increased when Prosecutor Ferhat Sarıkaya, who prepared the original indictment, alleged that there were connections between high-ranking military officers and suspects Gendarmerie Sergeants Ali Kaya, Ozcan Ildeniz and Veysel Ates, the PKK turncoat; however his investigation was cut short. In reaction to this indictment, the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors in the Ministry of Justice dismissed him from the profession and disqualified him from working as a lawyer. In September 2007, the case was transferred to a military court and the three suspects were released and returned to their official positions. The legal process following the incident showed that lower courts can play a crucial role in holding security forces responsible for human rights violations and provide access to politically weak groups despite the resistance of the high judiciary. Yet the government failed to fulfill its initial promises and did not provide protection to the lower courts that remained under immense pressure from the high judiciary and military command.


4.3. Incidents Assaults on Cumhuriyet and the Council of State

In 2006, a secularist judge in the Turkish Council of State was shot dead, and the Istanbul office of the Cumhuriyet newspaper was attacked by grenade. Appearing before court, a president of a chapter of the nationalist Ulku Ocakları named Alparslan Arslan said he had committed both crimes. Arslan added that the next targets were well-known journalist Mehmet Ali Birand and popular game show host Mehmet Ali Erbil.

Arslan claimed to have planned the assaults himself, however this was cast into doubt in 2007, when a gang allegedly conspiring to overthrow the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party was uncovered. A year later, prosecutors indicted 86 high-ranking suspects - and Alparslan Arslan, who was said to be working for the gang. The charges range from possession of firearms to running an armed terrorist organisation, including both of Arslans attacks. The bombing of the newspaper was previously thought to be the work of Islamic fundamentalists, but is now described as part of the first stage of Ergenekons campaign to stoke division and unrest. The groups motives are currently unclear, but it has been said that they sought to sever Turkeys ties with the West; Russian ideologue Aleksandr Dugin described them as "pro-Russian".


4.4. Incidents Hrant Dink assassination

Hrant Dink, an ethnic Armenian journalist was killed on 19 January 2007 outside the office of his newspaper Agos. The juvenile killer Ogun Samast was later arrested with the weapon in Samsun. After his arrest, a video clip was released showing him posing with two police officers in front of and holding the Turkish flag. Among the suspects believed to have assisted Ogun Samast was Erhan Tuncel. On 7 February 2007 the Anka news agency reported on the ties of Tuncel to nationalist circles and the fact that he had been working as a police informer and staff member of the Gendarmeries intelligence service, JITEM.

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