State authority near obsolete in Turkey as mobsters step in ‘to protect the nation’ - Hamit Bozarslan

The Turkish mafia’s sudden rehabilitation in public life suggests the emergence of a new political climate in which the very concept of the state is no longer relevant, according to Hamit Bozarslan from the School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) in Paris.

Speaking to the Hot Pursuit podcast, the director of studies at the EHESS’ Center for Turkish, Ottoman, Balkan and Central Asian Studies told Ahval editor-in-chief Yavuz Baydar that there was strong continuity between the Turkey of today and the 1990s.

“During the notorious 1990s we saw widespread corruption involving state officials and mob organisations based on drug trafficking. This alliance also involved murdering Kurdish businessmen, intellectuals and politicians,” Bozarslan said.

Allaattin Çakıcı, one of Turkey’s most notorious mobsters, was recently released from state custody, along with dozens of other figures associated with organised crime, as part of an amnesty to reduce prison overcrowding during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Çakıcı is closely associated with the leader of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahçeli, who has wielded significant influence as a coalition partner in President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government.  

The increasingly close association between mobsters and government officials reflects a climate change in Turkey’s political regime, which makes is difficult to say there is any longer a state, Bozarslan said. Turkey’s government is better understood as a “cartel” which constitutes an alliance of different components, he added.

Earlier this month, Sedat Peker, another high-profile figure from the criminal underworld began releasing a series of videos purporting to reveal scandals involving high-profile political figures including Interior minister Süleyman Soylu.

The videos showed state authority was slipping away, Bozarslan said. “As Sedat Peker’s revelations indicate, we do not have any more a state with its own internal regulations and mechanisms of arbitration and decision making. Instead, we now have mobsters fighting and undermining state authority,”

According to Bozarslan, Peker’s public statements are rooted in the belief that the survival of the nation under threat and action is needed to rescue it.

 

“(Peker) does not speak on behalf of himself, but rather on behalf of the nation. The mobster leaders and corrupted state officials believe that they are tasked with a historic mission to save the nation.

 

“They promote the idea that institutional state structures are only shackles to be removed when the nation has been jeopardized,” Bozarslan said.

The scale of connections between politicians and organised crime came to stark public attention in 1996, when a car crash in the small city of Susurluk revealed uncanny links between the victims and then Interior Minister Mehmet Ağar.  

The public uproar that followed the ‘Susurluk scandal’ saw several prominent state officials removed from power. In many cases, they are believed to have been replaced by followers of Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen.

Once close allies of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Gülenist were eventually implicated in the 2016 failed military coup. Thousands of the group's alleged members were subsequently purged from state institutions.

Into this vacuum has stepped mobsters with long-standing links to the Turkish state, who are now claiming to protect the nation, Bozarslan said. “The eschatological discourse of the state tells its power holders that they have access to the means of coercion, along with paramilitary forces, and financial support based on para-economic structures.”