20 years after a journalist’s (unsolved) murder

20 years after a journalist’s (unsolved) murder

Uğur Mumcu was killed by a bomb planted in his car, which was parked in front of his house in Ankara on Jan. 24, 1993, exactly 20 years ago. He was a prominent investigative journalist and writer who used to focus on terrorism, narcotics, the mafia and their political connections in an intrepid manner. He became a brand name himself for daily Cumhuriyet for years up until his murder, Mumcu was the journalist who wrote a lot on sensitive issues like the assassination attempt against late Pope John Paul II as well as on possible links between Turkish and other neighboring secret services with the (then fledgling) outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). He was 51 when he was murdered, a year younger than my present age and one of the role models for political journalists in Ankara in the years following the military coup if 1980.

His wife, Güldal Mumcu, who is currently a member of Parliament representing the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and a deputy parliamentary speaker, published a book recently in which she accused the Turkish security and judicial system of covering up the motivation behind the murder. The case remains unsolved despite a few people being arrested following a police operation against Kurdish Hezbollah in 2000 (who were in fight with the PKK in the 1990s) on charges of assisting with the murder and being members of a never-before-heard-of organization called "the Tevhid-Selam" or "the Quds Army." The court ruling has satisfied no one; it remains as unsolved as ever in the public eye.

The most popular target for conspiracy theories is Iran. Iran was behind a series of assassinations in Turkey during the late 1980s and early 1990s and Mumcu was a staunch secularist who also wrote a lot about the financial links between international religious groupings, terrorist organizations and the mafia. In a private conversation years ago when this journalist asked a high-rank security official about the Mumcu murder, the implicit answer gave a reference to Iran. The security official said the issue ‘had been settled and the file was considered closed’ for them.

It is not considered closed for Güldal Mumcu. Nor for me or many of his colleagues given the fact that 1993 witnessed a series of unfortunate incidents that have affected Turkish politics even today, 20 years later.

Almost three weeks after Mumcu’s murder, Gen. Eşref Bitlis, then the Gendarmerie commander was killed in a plane crash in Ankara on Feb. 17. The incident is still a matter of debate today with suspicions of sabotage everywhere. Bitlis was working on an alternative Kurdish plan with President Turgut Özal. Two months later, on April 17, Özal died due to heart failure, but his family still claims he might have been poisoned despite the fact his body was exhumed last year with a new report not fully supporting that claim. Almost a month after that, on May 24, Süleyman Demirel was elected as president, the PKK militants executed 33 unarmed soldiers near Bingöl in eastern Turkey bringing an end to the first attempt at dialogue by the Turkish government in hopes of finding a political solution to the Kurdish problem. On July 2, 35 people attending an Alevi festival were killed in arson hotel fires in Sivas in eastern Turkey. Three days later PKK militants together with militants from a far-left Turkish (active mostly in Alevi communities) organization known as TİKKO raided the Sunni village of Başbağlar in neighboring Erzincan and killed 33 villagers, including babies. It was an awful year for Turkey.
In a way it started with the murder of Mumcu. If Mumcu’s killers and the instigator behind them could be found many of the political murders could be avoided; some take the murder of Armemian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink in 2007 to be a chain reaction. 

Today, Turkey is in the middle of another dialogue process that aims to find a political solution to its chronic Kurdish problem and there are legitimate concerns in Ankara that there might again be bloody attempts to stop it.