May 08 2018

The story behind a police chief’s death

On the morning July the 31st 2017 Hakan Çalışkan, the Police Chief of Istanbul’s Silivri district, was found dead in his office. He had shot himself.

A report, published earlier this week in Turkey’s Cumhuriyet newspaper, suggests Çalışkan’s death was a consequence of infighting between opposing factions within Turkish bureaucracy, revolving around Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu.

According to the report, events that precipitated Çalışkan’s suicide began with the arrest of a friend of Soylu’s son, who was taken into custody after a routine police check in Silivri revealed that he was wanted. Following his detention, the friend contacted Soylu’s son to request help. Next, Ekrem Gülen, who leads the Police Protection Branch, called Çalışkan and asked that the arrested person be released. Çalışkan initially refused to comply, noting that the arrest procedure had reached official status. But the man was nevertheless released after Çalışkan was reportedly told that, “The individual has ties to the Minister and his release is being sought.”

This might have been the end of the story, but for the intervention of another Çalışkan, Istanbul’s chief of Police Mustafa Çalışkan, reported to be an enemy of the interior minister. On learning of the release and the story behind it, Mustafa Çalışkan requested that an official investigation be opened into the sequence of events.

Hakan Çalışkan thus found himself caught between a rock and a hard place, being simultaneously pulled in two opposing directions by superiors. According Cumhuriyet, he killed himself because he was unable to cope with the stress of the situation.

Senior figures within the police directorate next tried to shut down an investigation into Hakan Çalışkan’s death. However, they were unable to do because another rivalry, this one between Soylu and Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, who happens to be Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son in law. Albayrak or his allies, it is implied, successfully managed to apply counter-pressure to keep the investigation into Hakan Çalışkan’s death open. Officers involved in this investigation are claimed to be trying to establish the extent of Soylu’s involvement in events leading up to the unlawful release.

In response to Cumhuriyet’s claims, Soylu’s interior ministry secretary, Türkay Öksüz, said in comments made to the newspaper that Soylu and his son had no involvement in the events in question, and further suggested no connection exists between Hakan Çalışkan’s suicide and the arrested person’s release.

Following the publication of the story, Interior Minister Soylu is reported to have opened legal proceedings against Cumhuriyet and the reporter, Ahmet Şık.

Cumhuriyet is one of Turkey’s few remaining independent newspaper and has come under increasing pressure in recent years as the authorities have attempted to muzzle its critical coverage. Its former editor Can Dündar currently lives in Germany, with an arrest warrant outstanding against him in Turkey. In April this year, an Istanbul court sentenced 13 journalists working for the paper, amongst them Şık, to jail terms of up to seven-and-a-half years on terror related charges widely regarded as baseless.

Such treatment is nothing new for Şık, whose investigative reporting has often attracted the authorities’ ire and who has, in consequence, been in and out of prison for much of the last decade. Unlike the many journalists in Turkey who have succumbed, with varying degrees of willingness, to the government’s campaign to silence critical and investigative reporting, Şık has remained defiant. The same may be said for Cumhuriyet newspaper.