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Key figure in Turkey’s illegal arms shipments to Syria rendered from Ukraine by MİT

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Nuri Gökhan Bozkır, a former Turkish military officer who was a key figure in the authorities’ illegal weapons transfer to Syria and is accused by the Turkish government in the unsolved murder of a Turkish academic, was rendered from Ukraine by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT), Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Wednesday.

Bozkır was a major who served in an elite group attached to the Special Forces Command (ÖKK) in the Turkish military before he was dishonorably discharged in 2007.

After 2007 he reportedly started to supply so-called associated military materiel — equipment, food and humanitarian aid — to countries in which there were armed conflicts.

Bozkır went to Ukraine in 2015 and never came back. He applied for asylum in Ukraine in 2019 and said he was used by MİT in weapons smuggling to Syria and that his life would be at risk if he were extradited to Turkey.

In an interview with Ukrainian news website Strana, Bozkır said that between 2012 and 2015, he dispatched a total of 49 weapons shipments to Turkmens in Syria.

Syrian Turkmen tribes were the main recipients of materials from the former military officer’s company in 2012, when the civil conflicts in Syria escalated into open war. Around that time, Bozkır reportedly received an offer from Khalil Harmid, the field commander of the Turkmen militia, to provide them with arms instead of humanitarian supplies.

Harmid reportedly gave Bozkır a guarantee that the Turkish authorities would be sympathetic to that kind of business arrangement and introduced him to MİT, which would monitor the process of supplying small arms, ammunition, shoulder-fired missiles, explosives and spare weapons parts to Syria.

“So I was the one who spent several years transporting weapons to Syria for the Turkmen forces that fought against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad,” he said.

Bozkır says Turkish authorities accused him of the murder of Turkish academic Necip Hablemitoğlu, who was killed in 2002 in front of his house in Ankara, after he turned down a business proposal from an influential businessman close to the family of President Erdoğan in 2018.

Bozkır was detained in Kyiv at the request of Turkey on July 10, 2019, but Ukrainian courts have not found grounds for his extradition. The former soldier had a residence permit in Ukraine as well as a legal business. He applied for political asylum; however, by the time he was brought back to Turkey, the Ukrainian authorities had not yet made a decision on the request.

Bozkır was handed over to the Turkish police on Thursday, according to Turkish media.

Since a coup attempt in 2016 the Erdoğan government has employed extralegal methods to secure the return of its opponents and critics after its official extradition requests have been denied. The government’s campaign has mostly relied on renditions, in which the government and MİT persuade the relevant states to hand over individuals without due process, using various methods. The victims have faced a number of human rights violations including arbitrary arrests, house raids, torture and ill-treatment during these operations.

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