U.S. expert examines meaning behind release of top Turkish Mafia boss

Ryan Gingeras, author of a book on the history of Turkey’s organised criminal gangs and their relationship to the state, “Heroin, organized crime and the making of modern Turkey,” talks Ahval about the recent release from prison of a top mob boss and the Turkish deep state.

Alaatin Çakıcı, a famous mafia boss who has been in jail since 2004 after being convicted of numerous crimes including the contract killing of his ex-wife, was released on Thursday following a new law designed to free as many as 90,000 inmates early to ease the spread of the coronavirus in overcrowded prisons.

Çakıcı, described as an ex-intelligence services hit-man, was first arrested following the 1980 Turkish military coup for the murder of 41 leftists. The mafia boss was then reportedly secretly employed as an agent by the Turkish security services, MİT.Figures like Çakıcı and Turkey’s other equally famous mob boss, Sedat Peker, enjoy celebrity status in the country, but Gingeras maintains it is doubtful they are as involved in organised crime to the same extent today. In fact, questions loom over exactly what it is they now do.

“I’m not sure if the term deep state is one that can still be applied to the case of Turkey”, Gingeras told Ahval contributor John Lubbock, referring to cover circles that have long wielded great influence over the political authority with origins dating back to the last days of the Ottoman Empire.

In the past, the deep state was used to demonstrate that the Turkish government was not in full control of the country. 

“You can’t say that about Turkey today. Turkey is a country in which the governing party is fully in control of the state and has compromised institutions that were historically relatively independent of civilian control and that would include the military,” Gingeras said.

“In some ways, [the AKP] destroyed the deep state, in some ways it became it, you could say it blew away the mythology of the deep state,” he added.

Successive purges of supposed deep state institutions, such as during the Ergenekon trials - an alleged clandestine terrorist organisation nested in the Turkish state - and the purges of Gülenists - a religious group accused of orchestrating the 2016 coup attempt - from the Turkish military, judiciary and other state institutions following the failed 2016 coup to topple the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, means that it’s hard to find anything in Turkey which could realistically be called the deep state, the author said.

As for where Çakıcı fits into the picture, Gingeras said, “I don’t think he necessarily has a place in it, other than it may be a tokenistic way to appease people on the far right in Turkey, it may be a tokenistic way to provide a media moment for the government… the melodrama around him is a made for TV event.”

Nonetheless, Çakıcı continues to enjoy star status in Turkey, with Twitter users posting tapes of the mafia boss’ “greatest hits” from the 1990s following his release.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.