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Turkish politics once again dominated by the mafia

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The parliaments of France, Germany and the Netherlands have consecutively moved to ban and dismantle a movement called the Grey Wolves, or Ülkü Ocakları in Turkish, a nationalist group with a considerable base in Turkey. While their organization faces growing calls for prohibition in Europe, the situation in Turkey is quite the opposite. Mafia boss Alaattin Çakıcı, known as the most adamant Grey Wolf, has been dominating the Turkish political scene.

For years Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been governing the country in tandem with Turkish nationalists. The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), led by Devlet Bahçeli, is an ally of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Bahçeli is also a close friend of Çakıcı.

Çakıcı was imprisoned in 1998 on a variety of charges ranging from a series of homicides to international drug trafficking. Bahçeli visited Çakıcı in prison, publishing their pictures together, and was instrumental in lobbying efforts for Çakıcı’s release. Ultimately, in April 2020, Çakıcı was freed based on an early release law enacted to ease prison overcrowding amid the spread of COVID-19. The legislation, spearheaded by Erdoğan and Bahçeli, did not include political prisoners.

After leaving prison, Çakıcı started to meet with former ministers, police chiefs, army generals and figures from the underground. It is possible to see pictures of such meetings in the Turkish media on an almost daily basis. Çakıcı then started to release statements on most every topic on the country’s political agenda.

Among the Grey Wolves, Bahçeli’s leadership has been a source of contention for a while. The lack of leadership prompted a division within the party that ended with Meral Akşener leaving the MHP to establish the İYİ (Good) Party. In a small period of time, the İYİ Party started to surpass the MHP in the polls. Çakıcı’s growing shadow over politics is important for Bahçeli’s struggle to keep the Grey Wolves together.

The connections among the mafia, the state and the Grey Wolves date back decades. Several documents show that Çakıcı and his friends were behind the assassinations of anti-Turkey Armenians in Europe, perpetrated on behalf of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT). While reforms in Turkey between 2000-2010 aimed at moving closer to the European Union weakened the movement, they have recovered their strength over the past five years, with the alliance they formed with Erdoğan. After Çakıcı’s release from prison, nationalist mafia groups increased their influence over politics.

Most recently, Çakıcı explicitly threatened Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the chairman of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). The threat was met with silence by Erdoğan’s circle, while MHP leader Bahçeli openly defended Çakıcı.

Mafia dominance over politics was last observed during the 1990s when prominent politician and then-Prime Minister Mesut Yılmaz was beaten by a mafia group. Pictures of a bloodied Yılmaz after the incident is engraved in the public memory.

Çakıcı’s release from prison marked their comeback to the political scene. While almost all opposition parties condemned his threats against Kılıçdaroğlu, the prosecutor’s offices, which are under Erdoğan’s control, are reluctant to take action against Çakıcı, who was convicted of multiple murders in the past.

The open support of Erdoğan’s ally Bahçeli is not the only reason for the inaction on the part of the prosecutors. Retired general and former special forces commander Engin Alan, former Interior Minister Mehmet Ağar, and former MİT executive Korkut Eken also support Çakıcı and have recently had their pictures taken with him. The mafia has thus become a third partner to the AKP-MHP alliance.

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