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Turkish spy chief-turned-FM awarded state medal for ‘distinguished service,’ sparking controversy

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Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, a controversial figure known for his tenure as head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT), marked by allegations of torture, enforced disappearance, abduction, rendition and the forced repatriation of numerous critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan from abroad, was awarded the State Medal of Distinguished Service on Wednesday, a move that brought his past actions into the spotlight and ignited controversy.

Before being appointed foreign minister in June, Fidan served as undersecretary of MİT, from 2010 to 2023.

President Erdoğan bestowed the medal on Fidan before a meeting of the country’s National Security Council (MGK) on Wednesday.

“I accept this medal on behalf of my comrades who made the ultimate sacrifice while faithfully executing your [Erdoğan’s] orders in Libya, Karabakh, Syria and Iraq, side by side with me,” Fidan said when accepting the medal, prompting controversy over his acknowledgment of Turkish intelligence’s involvement in conflicts abroad.

The remark also prompted speculation of a possible implicit message to Erdoğan, as Fidan stressed that whatever was done during his tenure was carried out under Erdoğan’s “orders.”

The former spy chief was alleged to be behind the abduction of scores of Turkish dissidents abroad through various methods, with kidnappings and forced renditions primarily of individuals suspected of links to the faith-based Gülen movement, inspired by the views of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen.

Local mafia groups and intelligence organizations were reportedly employed in abductions that occurred mainly in African, Balkan and Southeast Asian countries.

The Gülen movement is labelled as a terrorist organization and accused by the Turkish government of masterminding a failed coup on July 15, 2016, which was suppressed overnight and claimed the lives of 251 people. The movement, which strongly denies involvement in the failed putsch or in any terrorist activity, has been facing an unprecedented crackdown on its members, which escalated after the coup attempt.

MİT confirmed in its yearly report for 2020 that it had conducted operations for the forcible return of more than 100 people with alleged links to the Gülen movement.

“… [M]ore than 100 members of the [Gülen movement] from different countries were brought to Turkey as a result of the [agency’s] increased operational capacity abroad,” the report said.

Turkish intelligence officials, including Fidan, were accused by critics of not preventing the 2016 coup attempt, despite having prior knowledge. No one was held accountable for negligence, despite revelations of a meeting between key officials, including Fidan, prior to the abortive putsch.

Fidan’s role in the July 15 coup came was put further into the spotlight after Richard Moore, the chief of MI6 who was the UK’s ambassador to Turkey during the 2016 coup, congratulated Fidan for the award with a tweet in Turkish.

“Congratulations, Mr. Minister, my dear friend Hakan. More than deserved,” Moore tweeted, prompting speculation among critics who claim that the UK has the Erdoğan government’s back despite the poor human rights record and a bellicose stance toward neighbors.

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