Erdoğan’s Novelty: Setting the Repression

It is beyond doubt that an autocrat should have a variety of tactics so as to keep his time-horizon as broader as possible. In one hand, he should allow elections so as to create a democratic façade and thus enhance the regime’s legitimacy, in other, should develop a kind of “emergency preparedness toolkit” against worst scenarios with a particular potential of overthrowing.

Although pieces of evidence in the last decade demonstrated the extent to which Erdoğanist roots derived from the apparatuses of Turkish-style “Deep State” largely represented by the twin precedents, JİTEM (controversial Gendarmerie Intelligence Organization) and Ultranationalists, his model offers some true novelty.

First, novelty is especially true as regards to the size and nature of the “coalition” put against dissents, and Islamist narrative within which the process is camouflaged. In that coalition-making process, as an Islamist leader, -who uses and abuses Islam as a cover for his dictatorship- Erdoğan naturalised the connection commonly made between Islam, State as a secular power, and Violence.

Islamism has particular importance as a tool enhanced by Erdoğan and his intellectual advisors with a look at being in the office as a “system” based upon the exploitation of religious sentiments -a system that tends to distort the original message of religion and that has an inherent tendency to generate crises.

This system is very coherent with Erdoğan’s effort to intimidate the Gülenists by attaching a religious meaning to alleged sufferings that patriotic citizens experienced in the struggle with the coup plotters. However, Erdoğan has found less Gülenist fallen while his efforts have often turned into an exorcism, where he, through the use of violence, was trying to remove the evil Gülenists from Turkish body social.

Second, pro-Erdoğan coalition exactly differs from the previous social engineering projects of Turkey both in size and victimisation patterns adopted with the following reasons.

Subsequent to the July 15 coup attempt, under the autocracy of Erdoğan, different -even contesting in some extent- players of the political theatre i.e. the legislative, judiciary, and executive branches of the State, the ruling party and its right-wing alliances, army, police, intelligence, leading gang and mafia groups, celebrities, religious establishment, mainstream media, academia, trade unions, and business oligarchy have altogether positioned themselves primarily against Gülenists. They were the alleged coup plotters, terrorists, traitors, and heretics in religious terms.

This progress made Erdoğan himself the only one who benefits from the coup attempt while pushing Gülenists further into the margins of the society. From the perspective of T. Khalil (2016) studying on dissenting people put at the target of the state in South Asia, they have thus become “homo sacers (accursed men) -men and women who are no longer covered by legal, civil and political rights; men and women who cease being citizens and become bare lives; men and women who can be abducted; men and women who can be held incommunicado in secret detention facilities; men and women who can be tortured to death.”

Thus, the interests of this “oversized” coalition ultimately became essentially a joint enterprise that may later give birth to violent repression -if not civil war- through off-the-book operations.

In this article, with reference to some major steps that have been taken towards oppression and covert operations, we will attempt to explore three key items packed into the Erdoğanist toolkit, by the effects they may produce:

  1. Paramilitary death squads derived either from the instability of Syria or pro-AKP youth clubs (seedbed effect),
  2. A primary service provider to equip them with necessary skills like cold-blooded execution (SADAT-type effect), and,
  3. Legal immunity for those who are killing in the name of the Erdoğan regime (impunity effect).

Assuming that an autocrat does not risk losing the election and instead uses any means to guarantee the continuation of his regime is the point of departure for this article which also seeks to identify some significant aspects of his “preparedness.”

“Train-and-Equip” Programme for the Jihadist Fighters: For What?

During the 2010s, Erdoğan of Turkey undertook a series of constitutional/political changes that gave him personal control over the executive and judiciary branches and reshaped the country as an aggressive power in the Middle East. The latter was accompanied by a foreign policy based on a neo-Ottomanist narrative that is associated with the U.S. neo-imperialism. Today, is such enough to satisfy Erdoğan?

It is fair to answer: no, never. So, no emergency kit is complete without a paramilitary force with an absolute loyalty not to the State, but to the ruler at the top. Given the traditionally “defensive” structure of the Army, and Police prevailing with the “law enforcement” function, he needs some ancillary force in order to maintain one-man-rule at home.

On the 21st of February 2015, news agencies announced an agreement signed between the U.S. and Turkey aiming at training and equipping the “moderate” Syrian militias against Assad regime. Whether militias concerned are moderate is another question and is being hotly debated in other media (for example, see the article by Patrick Cockburn in the Counterpunch). As B. Turbeville (2015) put it, since at least 2010 both countries have been complicit in the arming, funding, directing, training, and facilitating terrorist death squads in Syria. And that was fully compliant with Erdoğan’s long-run political agenda.

Since then, Turkey has hosted a number of terrorist groups that, in appearance, have been at the forefront of the war against Damascus. The military operations Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch were fresh cases in which they had an opportunity to display the degree of their brutality and repression. Both operations also acknowledged that, as well as being a landing spot for many ISIL militants fleeing Syria, Turkey has turned to the crucible of jihadist mobilization.

Nevertheless, many tend to assume Turkey employs these militants for special operations in Syria against Assad and/or Kurdish rebels. If such is the case, why does not this lead us to the following question?

In a country in that almost 70% of citizens’ lives in debt, namely near the edge of subsistence, and of 10.6% is jobless (19% in youth) in the last quarter according to the official statistics, why a regime devotes its resources to such a heavy-cost and risky program?

A report from the Institute for Economics and Peace, The Economic Value of Peace-2016, showed that economic impact of violence and conflict for Turkey, in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms, was about $129 billion in 2015. This is equivalent to 9.7% of GDP or $1.700 PPP per annum, per person. The report ranks Turkey 50th out of 163 countries. It is also worthy to note that the expenditure occurred in responding to the refugee inflows since the start of the Syrian crisis (about $30 billion as of 2017, a Parliamentary report notes) is not counted in the report.

Against this, from the annual activity report-2016 of the Ministry of Family and Social Policies, we learn what has been done for the victims of violence and conflict (martyrs, veterans, and their relatives in legal sense): (1) country-wide religious memorial services (mevlit) in mosques, (2) 500.000 pack of candy gifts (mevlit şekeri) handed out to participants, and (3) totally 5.079 ministerial condolence letters sent to the martyrs’ mothers.

Great! No word on the compensation or financial redress. Very impressive responses that suit best to an Islamist regime only.

Before this miserable picture, we should also be asking: for which purpose governmental capacity is being assigned to build extra-legal entities at the cost of putting citizens’ security at risk, as well as being recognized as a “gang state” engaging in acts of aggression against its neighbours?

Maybe, to facilitate the overthrow of the Assad regime: as increasing evidence showed, rather than particular interventions of countries like Turkey, this depends in part on the cohesion of involving figures and interactions between the global powers. Or maybe, to ensure border security: this precisely requires adopting the opposite policy, i.e. taking measures mitigating the permeability of the borderline.

Such naïve answers, therefore, remain like attempts to square the circle. There should be another explanation to invest in violence and conflict through death squads.

From the political perspective, Campbell (2002) links the appearance of death squads to a crisis of the modern state and considers them as one instance of a much broader process of “subcontracting” that characterizes nearly all states in the twentieth century. The emergence of death squads, therefore, signals a deep crisis within the state. So, they differ from other tools of repression in a number of significant aspects, notably in the way they mix state and private interests and in the way they call into question the legitimacy of the state.

As far as the organizational aspect is concerned, we have first seen these jihadist groups taking part in the cross-border operations alongside the Army units. It is evident that they are formed as entities having their own hierarchies and they are not part of Turkish military organogram. Paramilitary activities have to be autonomous of the armed forces, because “plausible deniability” is critical to the military if it wanted to preserve the image of legitimacy necessary to secure both foreign and domestic trust. Connections with the state agents like military, police, and intelligence, however, should remain unofficial for strategic and tactical reasons (Mazzei, 2009).

Apart from the hierarchical autonomy, new-born jihadist fighters [Erdoğan and his surrogates in media call them all “Free Syrian Army” which is indeed a kind of umbrella gathering wide range of Salafi-jihadi groups including ISIL and Al-Nusra] essentially differ from the “provisional village guards” of which tasks and responsibilities are described by the Law no. 442 on the village administrations [N.B.: as of 3rd October 2016, article 8 of the Decree Law no. 676 replaced the term provisional village guard with the “security guard”; they are no longer “provisional”]. Since there is no legal framework to apply, jihadist groups deserve to be described as extra-legal organisations.

Furthermore, they do not display a homogenous category in nationality terms. They are being gathered not only from among Syrian origin people but also from a wide range of nationalities in Central Asia and Europe including Azerbaijan, Russia (Chechnya), Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, China (Uighur Turks) and of course Turkey. No common sense of national self-exists to take place in a domestic rebel.

Then, the most obvious question, of course, is who is to rule? Who gathers these less-homogenous fighters under the same pattern of operation?

What feature distinguishes them is being affiliated to Erdoğan through National Intelligence Agency (MİT). What we have seen, however, is a kind of paramilitary unit designed for JİTEM-style covert operations going beyond empowerment of traditional security forces. From some incident they involved in Syria, we can grasp -more or less- their modus operandi: operate like a death squad, mass killing machine. Incidents also revealed that no regular control in place to be applied by the Army personnel to ensure a bit discipline to some extent.

It would, therefore, be a great delusion to see them as some ad hoc formation which will expire when the Syrian crises ended. It is very known that once an organization established, it will in time elude the tasks declared and tend to exist for its sake and its fruits. Turkish readers may recall how the “provisional” village guards recruited from among Kurdish tribesmen to “protect” villages against the PKK gradually turned into local paramilitary forces stealing, killing, kidnapping and raping with impunity.

On the other hand, in legal terms, Turkey-U.S. agreement concerning the train-and-equip program has not been submitted to the Parliament; neither was it published as an annex to a Cabinet decree. However, we know, in September 2014, the U.S. Congress authorized the Train-and-Equip program for “moderate opposition forces in Syria as one of several lines of the effort to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)” with a budget of $500 million.

We also know from the Statement dated 9th October, 2015 implying the failure of the strategy, -to pull fighters out of Syria, teach them advanced combat skills and return them to face the ISIL- Pentagon, after only thirteen months, abandoned the program and instead directed its efforts to provision of equipment packages and weapons to the selected rebel groups on the ground. However, as understood from the recent operations, Erdoğan regime continues to work with the jihadist fighters, bringing them to Turkey for training before infiltrating them into Syria.

Seen from the financial angle, corresponding costs to Turkey encompass not only training and equipping expenditures but also accommodation, subsistence, healthcare, and occasional transfer services to be covered by the hosting country. This also requires specific budgetary arrangements or covert financial transfers. However, despite more than three years passed, concerning the total cost of the Train-and-Equip program, neither representatives of the Erdoğanist regime have shared any figure with the public nor this matter was discussed in media and parliament.

Who will pay the bill? Who are the principal financiers or sponsors for this big-ticket program? Qatar or Saudia, or both? No exact official response has been received so far. What we exactly know is that all the costs are ultimately to be paid by the taxpayers even though such seems to cause no concern on their side at the moment.

From an economy-politic perspective, escalating the level of repressive violence, to some extent, may be a reasonable choice to prolong the lifetime in the office. As Mason and Crane (1989) suggested, that is indeed the case when the marginal economic security of non-elite households (commoners) was eroded by economic and demographic transformations that accompany dependent modes of development. Such a shaky economy renders them more vulnerable to subsistence crises and therefore more susceptible to opposition parties.

At this point, violence and mass terror to be selectively directed against opposition may reduce voters’ willingness to engage in support of the opposition. Although they hold some criticisms of the ruling party, feel the alternative to ruling party was chaos or violence. They value stability over democratization. Such an ad hoc violence, however, rather than police and/or army with their classical organisation, can be best achieved in practice through death squads specialised in terror.

For the pro-Erdoğan front, the experiments right after the general elections of 7th June 2015 on which AKP failed to take office alone proved that the masses are prone to be terrorized into compliance. The experiments with vehicle-suicide bombings also showed how violence contributes to the overthrow of civil society and herding ordinary people.

The main lesson learned from this process which ended on 2nd November of 2015, date of -constitutionally mandatory- election on which the AKP regained the office was, however, the necessity of sorting out the conditions under which violence deters or, alternatively, stimulates voter support for the opposition.

So, as repression and violence become more pervasive and more arbitrary, its deterrent effect on opposition support should diminish because the likelihood of becoming a victim is no longer related to one’s support or non-support of dissents (Mason & Crane, 1989). That was the case in Southeast Turkey where security services brutally crushed mostly unarmed civilian Kurdish population throughout the years of 2016-17. Therefore opposition grew up with new siders and thus remained prevalent in that part of the country.

From the psycho-sociological point of view, systematic disenfranchisement of certain parts of the population, if it is conducted by security forces through curfews, arbitrary jailing etc., may be a trigger of social upheaval.

Dissociation, traumatization or victimization may also play a key role in motivating individuals to join armed groups as a way of actively dealing with their trauma and negative feelings of victimization (Ferguson & Burgess, 2009). If no one from the Gülenist community took up arms regardless of the brutality and oppression they collectively faced after the failed coup of 15 July, this is obviously an exception needs to be a matter of scientific research.

Autocrat, in any case, taking the “deniability” notion of Campbell (2002) into consideration, should value own death squads over terrorism by the public security forces [For deniability, see the below section].

At present, under the shadow of the upcoming snap election of 24th June which is both Presidential and Parliamentary, the overwhelming fear at the Erdoğanist camp is that the head of political office would change (be it through elections or arms) and would investigate the theft and confiscations of the property involved by the Erdoğanist oligarchy.

Once such a fear occupies the minds at the top, repression and violence substitute for the rule of law. As the samples from the political history showed, when they felt short time-horizons, autocrats become capable of turning to their nastiest levels of repression, and ultimately mass killings. Besides other factors, a looming economic crisis may narrow this horizon. It is in such an atmosphere that paramilitary death squad activities tend to flourish.

Optimistic voters may have pleasure with the “hot money” that has been transferred from the Gulf. The truth, however, gives no pleasure indeed: A recent study by Global Financial Integrity found that the total “illicit financial flow” that entered Turkey from outside in 2014 accounts for 13% of the total trade size, $399.787 million. No problem at first sight.

Bear in mind that, in countries like Turkey with a hegemonic ruling party, huge amount of illicit financial inflows are allowed only to serve the greedy rulers at the top and somehow elude national accounting and taxation procedures. Such inflows give nothing to the economy other than short-run recovery in its balance of the current account. Therefore, this percentage, to a large extent, represents total social-economic costs falling on taxpayers.

Erdoğan, through its surrogates in the media, evaluated the time between 7th June and 2nd November of 2015 creating a self-fulfilling narrative that the country is under the danger of becoming divided. As could be recalled, this narrative was being accompanied by bombing-suicide attacks with indiscriminative character, and praise of “martyrdom” that makes the tragedy of violence more acceptable to some degree.

But, for today and near future, to strengthen the “Presidential system,” Erdoğan needs to direct the scope to internal and external enemies which he already listed as pro-PKK Kurds, leftists, Gülenists, Israel, and Western forces. For enemies inside, it is the paramilitary death squads to which this strategy suits best. Those who seek peace can only be repressed with this means.

In brief, thanks to the instability in Syria, in addition to the existing armed units, i.e. the Army, the Police -with a highly militarised form-, and the South-eastern Security Guards, Erdoğan has added the last wagon to the long train of repressive violence in Turkey: SADAT-trained death squads.

SADAT: Precursor to the Erdoğanist Death Squads

The police and army, being under the governmental authority, also because of the nature of their capabilities and responsibilities, are restricted, in some extent, to operate as primary counter-insurgency forces in all countries and remain as “law enforcement” bodies. This restriction ultimately leads autocrats to invoke some patriotic formations like mercenary terrorists or death squads without the constraints of being a government entity.

In a broad sense, death squads can be defined as “pro-government groups who engage in extrajudicial killings of people they define as enemies of the state, whose members are either directly or indirectly, connected with the government and/or security forces. There is usually overlap in membership and various forms of collusion -including the provision of weapons and intelligence- between the death squads and the security forces” (Sluka, 2000b).

Death squad phenomenon is not unique to Turkey, but takes its roots from the post-colonial world: ORDEN (Organización Democrática Nacionalista) in El Salvador (1970-80s), Grupo Colina of Peru during Fujimori (1990-2000), French-supported Red Hand against Algerian nationalists, and Operation Black Eye against Viet-Kong are well-known samples. They were responsible for countless assassinations and disappearances through the 1960s to 1980s across the globe.

From the overall findings in the literature, it seems safe to conclude that, initially, many of death squads were inspired by the organization set up following the CIA-inspired overthrow of pro-Marxist governments in Latin America. Suppression of Communist insurgency was one of the most significant factors leading to these extra-legal formations. By the time, various kinds of opposition movements (ethnic or religious minorities in Africa and Southeast Asia) were included into the menu.

Such arguments answer the question of why and how death squads emerge. The major factor for the use of death squads, however, lies in need of states to deny that they are breaking established norms of behaviour. The modern state is bound by a whole range of internal and external norms that place strict limits on a state’s variety of options -if respected. Only death squads and other covert means provide plausible deniability of state involvement in violent acts (Campbell, 2002).

Another finding also becomes crystal clear in the literature: Turkey of Erdoğan is not alone on the planet. As the anthropologist J. Sluka (2000a) argued, individual states engaged in campaigns of state terror are part of an “international structure” or network since state terror is a global phenomenon and local cases are only comprehensible within this encapsulating context.

Having organized under the auspices of the MİT, SADAT Inc. or “International Defence Consultancy” (“SADAT Uluslararası Savunma Danışmanlık İnşaat Sanayi ve Ticaret A.Ş.” in Turkish) apparently is not included into the national budget, nor were there any laws, regulations, hearings, or official meetings leaving a paper trail detailing its creation.

However, at first sight, SADAT does not appear as a dark organisation of the Erdoğan regime, nor is itself not a death squad or paramilitary force for Erdoğan, but a private company, of which the Corporation Charter was published in the Journal of Turkish Trade Registry on 28th February 2012. SADAT, in actual sense, has been functioning with a notary approved contract since 22nd February 2011.

By the way, a report by the SoS draws attention to the meaning of “SADAT” which is not an acronym: in Arabic, it is the plural form of the word Seyyid which literally means “the Big Boss, Patron, Grand, and Chief”. Majuscules are to evoke this bigness. [Turkish readers may recall the phrase “Sadat-ı Kiram” that refers to honourable big men in the Sufi orders]. Then, who is the Big Boss? SADAT is directly tied to Erdoğan from scratch, though it operated and evolved in more of a quasi-State fashion.

We learn from the Corporation Charter that, SADAT, under the chairmanship of Adnan Tanrıverdi, a -cashiered- brigadier general, Chief Military Advisor to Erdoğan since August of 2016, was established in İstanbul with a capital of 643.000 Liras [this amount was marked up to 880.000 Liras on 15th July of 2016, with a further 30 shareholders] by 23 Turkish citizens most of whom retired soldiers with various ranks.

In Turkey conditions, this amount of capital can be considered normal for companies with advisory and training capability. As can be seen below, proper facilities, logistical arrangements, and equipment necessary for training promised, however, dwarfs the capital concerned.

64 of retired soldiers who served within the military network, as well as being known to have close affiliations with the AKP are also recruited as military expert or advisors. Training and expertise fields can be seen from the SADAT website.

Both shareholders and other staff can fairly be believed to be more likely to be loyal to the State and had presumably received some degree of relevant training, with a trainer capacity as well. At first, their track record under the official chain of command clearly links SADAT to the State agents.

Seen from this angle, SADAT cannot merely be considered as a private entity competing in the market, but rather the one designed to serve as the structural and conceptual precursor for Erdoğan’s paramilitary groups linked with the State by their decisiveness to stop whatever potential success the opposition might have. The following sample may give an insight into the position SADAT occupies at the top of the State.

Concerning the operation Olive Branch in Afrin of Syria, a security summit chaired by Erdoğan was held on January 23 of 2018. The founder of SADAT, Adnan Tanrıverdi (most likely with the title of the security advisor), alongside the Prime Minister, Chief of General Staff, deputy prime ministers and head of the National Intelligence, attended the meeting.

From the Trade Registry of 26th August 2016, right after the abortive coup of 15th July, we learn he left the chief executive position but remained among the members of the executive board. On the same date, his son Ali Kamil Melih Tanrıverdi was elected as the Chief Executive of SADAT. His writings in the BlogSpot affirm that son resembles his father: Ali Kamil is also sympathetic to extremist Islamist ideologies.

In its website, SADAT declares its purpose as “assisting in the self-sufficient military force of the world of Islam” by serving in the fields of military training and maintenance. As SoS report rightly identified, this makes the Erdoğan regime SADAT’s prominent client, who is ultimately interested in advancing his own benefits under the mask of helping Muslim populations and countries. Then, how works SADAT to this end?

SADAT, from its website, offers a detailed list of training with a particular emphasis on the unconventional warfare i.e. psychological warfare and operations, ambush, sabotage, raid, destruction, road closing, assassination, rescue and abduction, terror, type of street actions, and operation techniques consisting of secret activities as well as courses on aviation and individual combat trainings. Yet we could not find any price list for the training SADAT provides.

During the course of trainings, SADAT trainers, in addition to training facilities or camps necessary by the nature, normally would be in need of using numerous high-priced tools and equipment such as weapons, bombs, ammunition, helicopters, aircrafts, speedboat, electronic simulation kit, naval mines, land and water vehicles, night vision devices, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) equipment, among other items. Most of them can only be found in the inventory of the Army, and of the Police in some extent, and –in legal terms- they need to be “registered.”

Furthermore, whether military or not, no private actor in Turkey is allowed to import, install, operate, and use of this equipment in the legal sense. However, in its website, SADAT still refers to the legislation such as the Law no. 5202 on “the Safety of Defence Industry,” the Law no. 5201 on “the Supervision of Industrial Facilities Producing Combat Vehicles and Equipment, Weapon, Ammunition and Explosives,” and other secondary regulations.

SADAT however, within its 16th August 2017 dated denunciation to the prosecutor concerning some allegation raised by a news platform, still introduces itself as a company operating in line with the provisions of the above laws which are totally irrelevant to what it does.

In brief, legal framework concerning the defence industry does not leave any room to SADAT-type “service” companies in the defence sector. That is to say, not service providers but suppliers can operate in the sector under the supervision of the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Furthermore, lack of legal framework for any sector does not necessarily imply that this sector is open to private actors. In Turkey, natural persons are not allowed to purchase an attack helicopter for example. As well, it is very illegal to organise training with military or paramilitary character.

SADAT’s illegality is also revealed by its correspondences with the MoD on the scope of the Turkish defence industry. According to its informative booklet, “SADAT Gerçeği” (SADAT Reality), SADAT submitted a document concerning the supervision of defence consultancy and military training services to the MoD in 2012. However, MoD, in its response, underlined that any legislation does not cover the defence industry service sector in Turkey and they had no supervision task in this respect.

Further to this attempt, SADAT, submitting a draft law to several ministries in 2013, requested that the defence industry “service” sector be included into the above mentioned laws, but received no response.

All these constraints necessarily lead SADAT, through protection by Erdoğan, to be linked with the Army and/or Intelligence services. It is, therefore, a natural necessity for such a company to use the Army-owned weapons and facilities in its “commercial” activities. As a shred of evidence, some media reported that, in addition to training camps in Kırşehir, Hatay (Apaydın, adjacent to Syrian refugee camp), and Tokat provinces, Turkish Naval Forces’ Ulaşlı training camp in Gölcük (Kocaeli) was in use of SADAT for a while.

Many observers have reported that training, logistics, and transfer affairs of the jihadist fighters gathered from different countries listed above were being organised by SADAT while Turkish consulates in Russia provide Turkish passports for the fighters from the Caucasus region.

Several media reports also argue that SADAT-trained death squads were responsible for many civilian killings during the coup attempt of 15th July, including the brutal killings of cadets and conscripts who already had surrendered to the police. However, the prosecutor has not initiated any procedure to investigate the allegations concerning lynching, killings, and beheadings while many murders and disappearances remained uncovered.

Although SADAT utterly rejects these allegations, activities are foreseen to be realised and provisions within its Charter refutes its denial: In its website, SADAT, with a haughty tone, declares a mission of “establishing the cooperation among the Islamic countries in the sense of military and defence industries…”

Consistent with this mission, SADAT website contains some naïve scenario written by Adnan Tanrıverdi, for example, a 20-day war to defeat Israel through donations by each Islamic country to Palestine one submarine, one warplane, one tank etc. This is followed by some Islamist narrative concerning the alleged potential of the Islamic world in one side, describing the Western states as “imperialist”, “crusader” countries in another side.

Furthermore, article 3 of the Charter describes the aim and subject of SADAT as;

  • taking the interest of the Republic of Turkey, to provide defence consultancy, organisation, and training of the friendly countries in need, and provisioning weapons, ammunition, device-equipment, food and livery for them (sub-para 3.1),
  • to create a climate of cooperation for defence and defence industry among friendly countries, […] marketing for the products of Turkish defence industry, […] to provide inter-state organizations on the relevant matters (sub-para 3.2),
  • to build and operate sporting, training, firing and simulation systems and facilities concerning personnel, vehicle, ship, plane, helicopter, material, and weapons that may be needed by a security force, and to provide practical training therein (sub-para 3.5)

It is obvious that, apart from being highly nationalist and pro-state, from the political point of view, such objectives can only be expressed at government-level. Probably because of this reason, one year later from its establishment, on 28th February 2012, the first two sub-paragraphs were amended but the mission remained unchanged.

In the opposition side, whether SADAT is doing wrong things has been a matter of concern since the foundation of the company. As an example, SoS report assertively argues;

On 15th July 2016, SADAT immediately mobilized pro–Erdoğan paramilitary groups as soon as the tanks started to roll in the streets at the beginning of the self–coup. These groups comprised paramilitary forces like “Ottoman Hearths” [Osmanlı Ocakları] whose members received unconventional warfare tactics from SADAT against regular troops […]. For countervailing against the revolting factions of the regular army, SADAT played a crucial role in favour of Erdoğan’s rule through its operatives as well as the Ak Youth militias […].

It was also argued that SADAT is affiliated with the jihadist organisations al-Qaida, al-Nusra, and ISIL while Eissenstat (2017) claims that it is also providing protection to the Erdoğan regime inside Turkey.

Against these, SADAT, in the SADAT Gerçeği, claims that they have not provided any training services to any country or group, nor they operate any training facility. If such is the case, it must be a kind of charity organisation!

Without further assessing the above allegations flying around this organisation, it is very clear from its Charter that the primary purpose of SADAT is to provide training on specific unconventional warfare topics. SADAT, on the other hand, seems to become a central element in Erdoğan’s survival strategy targeting dissents. We can, therefore, link the hard-edged, violent, paramilitary image of SADAT to his long-run political agenda. This linkage is especially the norm in particular moments security forces could not operate overtly on the ground.

As for the pro-Erdoğan youth organizations like Ottoman Hearths, initially, such clubs often serve to build strong party ties at the neighbourhood level and as a source of patronage for party loyalists (Eissenstat, 2017). What pro-Erdoğan clubs did, however, that they were initially designed as pivotal civilian forces to suppress dissidents during anti-Erdoğan protests. That was the case in Gezi Park protests in June 2013 where they first time caught public attention. The motivation behind was also the same when they assaulted the pro-Kurdish HDP (People’s Democratic Party) buildings and some media outlets.

From this point of view, these organisations are not paramilitary in the real sense but rather, gatherings mobilised through social hatred Erdoğan’s forceful personality and intolerant stance against opposition shaped. This is very compliant with the patriarchal social order motivating males in macho cultures that prize honour and courage. Erdoğan regime’s novelty is to combine this macho culture with a heavy-dosage Islamist ideology that turns its followers to dogmatists to eliminate all opponents in Turkey.

Nonetheless, we can maintain, it makes sense to see them as gatherings for generating a repertoire of possible ways of repression: (1) as Çubukçu (2018) put, “inflicting fear among citizens and to oppress political dissidents by granting immunity for the youths’ criminal offenses against Erdogan’s political enemies”, and (2) functioning as a “seedbed” in which SADAT-type organisations transplant the brightest ones for paramilitary purposes.

The latter is much related with the following: the post-15 July Erdoğanist security initiative wants to cherry-pick individuals from scratch and to secretly place them in paramilitary groups even while they maintained contacts with the MİT and security agencies including underground Deep State organisations. The interactions between SADAT and would-be-candidates from Syrian jihadists and pro-AKP youth organisations are characterised by this new initiative which is built out of a recognition that military and police services are incapable of confronting the issues raised by Erdoğan’s war on dissents.

On the other hand, such security initiatives are not unique to Turkey and in fact –more or less- resemble those of some Muslim countries. For example, in 1971, to repress the insurrection in East Pakistan (modern Bangladesh), West Pakistani generals decided to raise a special counter-insurgency unit, al-Badr. Its members were pro-Pakistan Bengalis, recruited from the ranks of Islamist groups like Jamaat-el-Islami and its student wing. They were trained to undertake “specialised operations” -abducting, torturing and executing political opponents especially Bengali intellectuals (Khalil, 2016).

Such was also right for Indonesia of 1965 where members of Ansor [derived from the term Ansar in Arabic, “the Helpers” that refers to Muslim Madinan inhabitants who sheltered Prophet Muhammad and his companions, Mohajirin], the youth organisation of the conservative Muslim party, Nahdat-ul-Ulama (Muslim Scholars), helped the army forces in mass killings of “Communist” and front group members, and suspected sympathisers (van der Kroef, 1987).

From the angle of international relations, as R. Yellinek (2018) recently highlighted in this platform, PPJ, the above interactions may create also a real danger to the European countries: “the fact that Erdoğan operates a private militia means that he can do everything he wants without the limitations and reviews from the other government arms.” However, at present, this seems to cause less concern on their part.

Legislate-to-Kill: Immunity by the “Black Laws”

Both paramilitary and security forces that engage in extrajudicial killings and disappearances, as well as torture of actual or suspected members of the terrorist organization or their sympathizers need to be immune from prosecution and other legal proceedings. So, their operations may sometimes include the indiscriminate bombing of villages, random arrests of men, torture and killing of the detained, murders by death squadrons, stealing and destroying the property of the local residents including arson attacks on their houses, and rape of both men and women.

Codifying such immunity into law is therefore vital for the deployment of death squads across the country as well as applying lethal forms of violence with impunity. In other words, “legislate-to-kill” precedes “shoot-to-kill”. Needless to say, such is in stark contrast to the right to life described under article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights imposing a general duty to protect person’s life.

Erdoğan regime, however, through legislation mechanisms, clearly turned Turkey to a country where lives are put of specific risk by state action or inaction. Under the dust of the on-going killings and destruction of cities across the Kurdish populated provinces in the Southern Anatolia, Erdoğan, on 14th July of 2016, just one day before the abortive coup, promulgated the Law no. 6722 that granted the security forces and government officials blanket immunity from prosecution and other legal proceedings for “any casualty, damage to life and property, violation of rights, physical or mental damage” during the operations against terrorists.

Article 12 of the Law no. 6722, adding a new paragraph to the article 11 of the Law no. 5442 concerning provincial governance, empowers the Cabinet, when the capability of the general law enforcement bodies, i.e. police and gendarmerie remain insufficient to repress upheaval or serious threat to public order emerges, to assign the Turkish Armed Forces to war on terror under the coordination of the governors.

The article also reads that, in their operations, Turkish Armed Forces can do “search without warrant in houses and offices.” Such is legally considered within the scope of the military service and duties and the courts cannot issue an order to seize, detain and arrest those who involved crimes. Damages are paid by the government. Claim for damages caused by breaches driven by decisions, transactions, and activities involved by both military and civil personnel can only be directed to the State. That is the norm even for the individual breaches like offense, tort, or other responsibilities they involved.

Under these circumstances, if deemed necessary, to initiate a prosecution process is subject to the approval of the local or central superiors identified within the article. These immunities are also applicable to the security guards and voluntary security guards in the South-eastern Anatolia.

This article was indeed designed to terrorise the population and shield agents of the state from censure or prosecution for abuses. Such provisions are also de facto licences for torture, murder, enforced disappearance, and other forms of violence. As such, it seems to be a deliberate part of the whole scenario involving the abortive coup and subsequent crackdowns.

Whether enacted by parliament (law) or by the cabinet (decree law), if any law ensures that “no suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings shall be against any member of the army, police, and other security apparatuses for anything which is done or intended to be done in any operation”, it is a Black Law.

The term black law was first used by Mohandas Gandhi to describe some British colonial laws legitimising preventive detention of suspects without trial for up to two years, arrest and search without a warrant, in camera, juryless trials with an unusually low burden of proof, and stricter control and censorship of the press. And black laws, in his viewpoint, “must be resisted to the utmost” (Khalil, 2016).

In essence, the Law no. 6722 was also a black law that neither suspended fundamental rights nor granted extraordinary powers to the security forces. Instead, it retroactively created a “state of exception” through absolute legal immunity for security forces and a model for militarising law and order by deploying the Army “in aid of civil power”.

Relying on the legal shield granted by the Law no. 6722, special operation teams under the Army and Police, with the participation of the security guards (former provisional village guards), committed a semi-genocidal campaign and atrocities in the South-eastern region.

Since the abortive coup of 15th July 2016 Turkish security forces have been perpetrating horrific human rights abuses across the country: torture, extrajudicial execution, enforced disappearance, the use of lethal force against unarmed civilians and the forced displacement of residents. Such abuses mainly took place in Kurdish regions of the country under the 7/24 basis curfew conditions while thousands without any connection with the Gülenists but targets of personal animosity or rumours were jailed or dismissed in the whole country.

Furthermore, hatred by the top guys of the body politic through mass media also encouraged a process of civic degradation that left dissents vulnerable to aggression, mass killing, torture, disappearance and other forms of inhumane treatment.

All these campaigns led the Erdoğan regime to a new black law: right after the coup attempt, on 25th July 2016, the Decree Law no. 668, article 37 granted absolute immunity in legal, administrative, financial, and criminal terms, for those who are making decisions, performing duties, and involving actions in the scope of the decree laws issued under the state of emergency. This shall also be the norm –retrospectively- for officials already involved repression of the coup attempt and subsequent terrorist activities. Public officials were thus provided unaccountability for their possible unlawful actions.

However, the story did not end there. Erdoğan was ambitious to exempt his militant supporters in the streets from prosecution for their criminal behaviours including torture, kidnapping, and mass killings. The free movement of perpetrators in public should be ensured while survivors are systematically kept at the stake.

To this end, on December 24, 2017, by the article 121 of the Decree Law no. 696, a sub-paragraph was inserted into the article 37 of the Decree Law no. 668. Within this paragraph, regardless of whether they have an official rank or they perform an official duty, as the norm for public officials, the government granted immunity to “civilians” who were deemed to have acted against the July 15 coup attempt and to those who acted to suppress subsequent terrorist activities. Immunity rule, leaving no room to bring perpetrators to court, has thus become expanded to spontaneous vigilant acts of patriotic citizens.

As a final point, all the black laws, when they enacted immunity for the criminals, create an impunity effect with which state uses the criminal-justice system to absorb state-backed violence against dissents or minorities. M. Chatterjee (2017), with reference to judicial course of the anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat, India, in 2002, describes the impunity effect as a form of legality allowing the state “to inscribe, frame, and repackage violence to make it legally unaccountable” as well as reinforcing and deepening a form of state power based on the explicit subordination of minorities.

In that sense, the impunity effect is not the breakdown of the law but is what the law itself imposed. Impunity effect makes you unable to overcome the perpetrators protected by the laws, to claim any financial redress for your damages, if you survived. Impunity works “as a barrier to the recovery of survivors” (Rauchfuss and Schmolze, 2008).

In sum, the crucial point concerning the proliferation of violence in any country is its impunity under the law. And Erdoğanist black laws best suit this logic of state terror in Turkey.

Conclusions

What central to this article is the conclusion that, through a trilogy comprising paramilitary death squads, SADAT-type service providers, and legal immunity for perpetrators, Erdoğan has developed his standards towards the maintenance of the authoritarianism in Turkey. And now he seems to be prepared for the worst scenario: being overthrown, either by an election or coup. At least, we know he would respond to challenges to his tyranny with off-the-book operations.

Therefore we suggest the above trilogy is tasked to defend the existing order against any worst scenario. Military attacks on the border regions of Syria is thus nothing more than an attempt to buy time for Erdoğan regime to re-strategize his long-run political agenda. That is why Erdoğan has honoured certain universal values like the rule of law, democracy, freedoms, just in the breach.

How the persecutions of Erdoğan regime could evoke so little opposition, so much consent across the society and less sympathy for the victims, however, cannot be explained merely by a perplexity or fear of being punished by the regime. Such entails anthropological interrogations that could ultimately uncover the hatred and violence which became conflated with a decayed social order. As Rauchfuss and Schmolze (2008) put it clearly, under this culture of impunity a recovery of society is impossible.

The Erdoğan regime is today in power and seemingly immovable in the near future. Inside, its implicit source of support, rather than voters, comes from the political opposition remaining still in its comfort zone. Islamism and recently-engaged nationalism have also served as important sources of inspiration and intellectual support for his long-term agenda while the Left has offered very little in terms of a political vision of what that future might be like or how to get there.

Under these circumstances, what will happen remains to be seen in the course of the early election on June 24. But we expect that, rather than non-competitive voting process, Erdoğan era will expire when his foreign and domestic “enemies” combine their powers against him.

Until that time, being aware of that the Presidential immunity does not cover his crimes, Erdoğan may officiate the exorcism séances at the Palace.

 

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