Recent incidents in Europe indicate that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s “long arm” has again started operating on the continent, this time through activities other than the state-sponsored extraterritorial abductions that had attracted condemnation in 2018.
Turkey had not been conducting extralegal activities in Europe since 2018, when six Turkish nationals were illegally handed over by Kosovo to the Turkish intelligence agency (MİT).
New Turkish moves in Europe that targeted two self-exiled journalists and two academics took place in September.
Abdullah Bozkurt, who has been living in Sweden since 2016 due to a number of court cases against him, was attacked on September 24 by three men outside his apartment. Bozkurt sustained injuries to the face, head, arms and legs. Swedish authorities are still searching for the perpetrators, who fled after the attack.
Managed by Bozkurt, the Swedish-based Nordic Monitor news website produces exclusive, document-backed stories on rights violations in Turkey. The attack came a day after he reported on a MİT secret rendition flight from Kazakhstan during which an Erdoğan critic was tortured.
Bozkurt had been receiving threats for a while. Pro-government Turkish columnist Cem Küçük during a live broadcast in June had openly called on MİT to assassinate Bozkurt.
Bozkurt held a press conference following the attack and vowed that Nordic Monitor would be increasing its exposure of human rights violations in Turkey in order to further boost awareness around the world.
On September 17 an Istanbul court ruled that the assets of Can Dündar, an exiled Turkish journalist living in Germany, would be seized and he would be declared a fugitive unless he returned to Turkey within 15 days.
“In a four-minute hearing, the court took away what it took my family and I 40 years to build up,” Dündar told ARTI TV.
Dündar was convicted in 2016 after he, as editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet daily, reported that Turkey had provided Islamist groups in Syria with weapons. Following his release on appeal, he fled to Germany after narrowly escaping an armed attack. He still lives in Germany under police protection.
Another figure under police protection is Berivan Aslan, who was the target of an alleged assassination plot in Austria. Surrendering himself to Austrian intelligence, Feyyaz Ö. testified he was a MİT operative ordered to assassinate Aslan and to cause chaos among the Turkish and Kurdish communities in Austria. Aslan, an academic and politician known for her minority-related efforts in Austria, had previously revealed a network of MİT agents in several Austrian provinces.
Burak Çopur, a Turkish-German professor of political science at Essen University in Germany, told the Ahval news website in September that his family in Turkey had received a warning call from MİT. The caller told Çopur’s family, reportedly without revealing his identity, that their son should stop criticizing Erdoğan and defending Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
The academic said previously on Twitter that he was also under fire from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) as he was defending the rights of the Gülenists, a faith-based group inspired by Fethullah Gülen, a self-exiled Turkish cleric living in the US. The group is considered a terrorist organization by Ankara.
Çopur had also warned that Turkey might forcibly transport critics from Germany to Turkey, as was the case in Kosovo, where some Kosovar officials oversaw an extralegal operation.
On October 5 German Green MP Cem Özdemir posted a tweet calling on German authorities to put an end to Turkish threats and blackmail, in reference to Dündar and Çopur.
“Erdoğan desperately tries to intimidate his critics. I wonder what the [German] federal government is doing against these [threats]. What concrete precautions has it taken for Dündar and Çopur? I would like to know,” Özdemir tweeted, referring to a written inquiry submitted to the German government.
In July 2019 Tunca Bengin, a columnist for the pro-government Milliyet newspaper, quoted an unnamed MİT official as saying that Turkey had “kicked around 100 Gülenists to the curb” in 18 countries in the space of three years.
When asked about the possibility of the assassination of Gülenists abroad, the MİT officer said it was near-impossible for agents in countries such as Germany but could be done by people who were already residents there. Interestingly, Feyyaz Ö., the suspect in the planned assassination of Aslan, is reportedly an Italian citizen of Turkish origin.
The United Nations Human Rights Office sent a letter to Turkey on May 5 demanding information on “state-sponsored extraterritorial abductions.” Authored by the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID), the UN rapporteurs said Turkish authorities “resorted to covert operations, in cooperation with law enforcement agencies from the third countries,” when they fail to achieve extradition through legal means.
In response, Turkey’s envoy to the UN Office in Geneva told the UN not to allow itself to be abused by FETO, an abbreviation used by the Erdoğan regime to refer to the Gülen movement as a terrorist organization.
Correctiv, a German-based initiative promoting investigative journalism, presented a research report to the Council of Europe in December 2018 detailing the extent of MİT’s international abductions of Gülenists.
According to the research, MİT also kidnaps Gülenists in Turkey and tortures them in extrajudicial detainment centers, or black sites.
During a speech in January at the inauguration of MİT’s new headquarters dubbed the KALE (Castle) in the capital city of Ankara, Erdoğan openly vowed that MİT would be focusing on more undercover operations abroad.
Since the extraditions in Kosovo were carried out illegally, the country’s interior minister and secret service chief were later sacked. The Moldovan government was fined 25,000 euros by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in 2019 for each of six abducted Turkish citizens. Nevertheless, all the people deported are behind bars since they were convicted in Turkey for alleged links to the Gülen movement.
Since a coup attempt in July 2016, the Erdoğan regime has been stepping up pressure on dissidents, in particular Kurds and Gülenists.