An election amnesty for organized criminals?
Before departing for the United Kingdom on May 13, President Tayyip Erdoğan turned down an offer by his ally, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) head Devlet Bahçeli, saying a “general amnesty” was not on the agenda of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) ahead of the June 24 snap elections. Earlier on May 12, shortly after Bahçeli’s offer, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said the government currently has “no such plan,” before opposition parties started to express their reaction to the suggestion.
The statements from both Erdoğan and Yıldırım were sensible and correct, because what Bahçeli wanted was apparently not an amnesty for those who could be regarded as being in prison for political reasons. Rather, he was suggesting an amnesty for those who he called “victims of bad fortune.” The term is typically used in daily language in Turkish for ignorant and financially troubled people who happen to steal or kill amid a momentary loss of sanity or desperation, or for those who are deceived or pushed into crime by others. However, the names directly cited by Bahçeli and praised as “brothers” who love the country were Alaattin Çakıcı and Kürşat Yılmaz, well-known organized crime leaders whose files are full of criminal records.
When Çakıcı was arrested in Nice, France in August 1998, he had already been sentenced to more than three years in jail for running a criminal organization. He was on the run for giving orders to kill his former wife, Uğur Kılıç, the daughter of another mafia leader, Dündar Kılıç. After his escape from custody, Çakıcı was once again arrested in Graz, Austria in 2004 in connection to two additional crimes: Giving orders in 1996 to kill rival gang leader Tevfik Ağansoy and in 2000 raiding the Karagümrük football club, which was believed to be run by a rival gang called the “Ergin Brothers.” On top of his jail time, Çakıcı was also sentenced to more than three years in jail in 2016 for “insulting” President Erdoğan, the justice minister and the chief prosecutor of the time.
Yılmaz is also in jail due to his involvement in a number of crimes. Those crimes include the murder of two people – the former mayor of the Aegean resort Kuşadası, Lütfü Suyolcu, and businessman Kayhan Güvelioğlu - alleged extortion cases, setting up a criminal organization to forcibly break debt checks for commission, and printing counterfeit state lottery tickets. Yılmaz is referred to in the underground world and media as “Ülkücü Baba.” “Baba” means father (as in the Godfather in mafia literature), while “ülkücü” means a follower of the ultranationalist Ülkü Ocakları (Idealist Hearths), the youth organization of the MHP. They are popularly known by the “Gray Wolf” symbol that they have adopted from Turkish mythology. Yılmaz used to be a ranking member of the Ülkü Ocakları Association during the time of politically polarized street clashes in Turkey before the 1980 military coup, while Çakıcı has also long promoted himself as an “ülkücü.”
Bahçeli referred to these two notorious names shortly after requesting a general amnesty. He also criticized requests for the release of Selahattin Demirtaş, the presidential candidate of Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), who is currently jailed under arrest. Bahçeli rhetorically questioned why Yılmaz, for example, should not also be released if 100,000 signatures are collected for his candidacy, in a veiled reference to the candidacy of Meral Akşener, who resigned from the MHP to establish her Good (İYİ) Party.
The prompt rejection of Bahçeli’s suggestion by Erdoğan and Bahçeli came as a relief for many. But there are still some who are skeptical about the government’s rejection of Bahçeli’s amnesty call. Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Barış Yarkadaş speculated via his Twitter account that Bahçeli may have been playing “bad cop” and was actually preparing the psychological ground for a joint AK Parti-MHP alliance plan. He also claimed that a number of currently jailed journalists and writers could be included in the amnesty list as a kind of sugar coating.
A number of commentators have for the past couple of days drawn attention to the fact that Erdoğan was against an early election until early April, but ended up following the challenge laid down by his election partner Bahçeli when the latter suggested an early election.
Almost justifying suggestions that Bahçeli and Erdoğan are not 100 percent on the same page, the MHP head told pro-government broadcaster A Haber (after Erdoğan rejected his general amnesty suggestion) that he remained “persistent” in his demand and he “believed” such an amnesty would take place. This stance could endorse speculation that Bahçeli has been using his crucial support for the re-election of Erdoğan - who needs at least 50 percent on June 24 - in order to dictate his political agenda on Erdoğan’s election campaign.
Opposition parties had also voiced support for an early election, and there should be nothing wrong in hearing the will of the people in a fair and free election. But the release of infamous organized criminals in return for unwelcome presidential candidates is something else entirely. It is a political and security necessity ahead of the snap election that Erdoğan persists in rejecting the release of such people.