Commentary Magazine


Turkish Promotion Suggests State-Sanctioned Murder

Almost two years ago, I did a presentation for analysts at the National Counter Terrorism Center looking at determining which Iranian actions may be termed rogue exploits. I’ve since refined that talk, and presented it for a number of carrier strike groups heading to the Persian Gulf.  The talk goes into a number of assassinations and terrorist attacks from the early 1980s to the present.

While diplomats and pundits are willing to excuse the worst Iranian actions as simply the act of rogue agents or officers and while the Islamic Republic is happy to maintain its own plausible deniability, without exception it is possible tell which actions were state-sanctioned and which were rogue by looking at their aftermath. In two famous cases—the Mehdi Hashemi affair and the aftermath of the Khorramshahr missile base incident—the perpetrators ended up dead, even though they were politically connected. They had conducted rogue operations and, even when successful, they paid the ultimate price.  In other cases—the Qassemlou Affair, the Mykonos Café attack, the AMIA bombings, the British small boat incident, among others—the perpetrator got promoted.

As an out-group in the study, I considered the same trend in Turkey.

When members of the 173rd Airborne Division intercepted a rogue Turkish Special Forces unit in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2003, allegedly seeking to assassinate local politicians, American forces captured and hooded the rogue unit. The Turks screamed bloody murder and denied that their own forces had been up to no good. Turkish-American relations—already at a low-point—tumbled even further. And yet, despite all of Ankara’s protestations of innocence—national security and military correspondents for major Turkish newspapers confided what they could not report openly: None of the Turkish personnel involved in the incident received subsequent promotion. They were apparently rogue activities, and treated as such.

It is against this backdrop that the Turkish government’s promotion of a policeman photographed honoring Turkish-Armenian writer Hrant Dink’s assassin is particularly revealing. Dink, of course, was a prominent intellectual long persecuted in Turkey’s repressive intellectual environment. In January 2007, he was gunned down outside his office. A decision handed down five-years later was met with widespread disbelief when judges ruled the murder was, in effect, the act of a lone gunman. That Yakup Kurtaran has now been promoted to be deputy manager of public security in Malatya should certainly raise eyebrows about the degree of state sanction for his behavior.

This past year, Turkey fell below even Russia in terms of media freedom, according to Reporters without Frontiers. Kurtaran’s promotion suggests that the rating is no fluke. Turkey’s government, police, and judiciary simply do not respect intellectual freedom and, indeed, seem to endorse efforts to quash it or celebrate those who do.