Turkey’s domestic security system showing signs of failure

Turkey’s domestic security system showing signs of failure

A number of examples from the past week have given worrying signals about the failure of the public security authorities, as well as the handling of cases by the police and gendarmerie forces, both of which are under the authority of the Interior Ministry.

The two most recent cases were perhaps the most striking. 

The first one was from the Black Sea town of Maçka, where a 15-year-old boy, Eren Bülbül, noticed on Aug. 12 that a group of gunmen were stealing food from houses on the mountainous outskirts of the town.

He informed the local gendarmerie forces that the group could be terrorists, as they were carrying guns with a distinctive outfit. The local station sent four gendarmeries to check out what was happening and they took the boy with them to show them the way. The gunmen, apparently militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), opened fire on the group as they were approaching the area where the gunmen were hiding, killing the boy and one of the soldiers.

Many people are outraged that PKK militants killed an unarmed 15-year-old. But questions have also started to be asked about why the gendarmerie station opted to take an unprotected boy with them, despite the fact that there was a suspicion of terrorism. There was clearly a violation of the official procedure that should have been followed, and the Interior Ministry on Aug. 14 opened an investigation after the Bülbül family put in an official complaint about the case. The case has also raised questions about how on earth PKK militants were able to settle undetected around in the mountainous coastal Black Sea region, where almost no Kurdish people live.

The second shocking case occurred in Istanbul. Istanbul police had detained a suspected militant of the outlawed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) late on Aug. 13, putting him in a police car to take him to the central police headquarters. But as he was being taken out of the car, he pulled out a knife and stabbed the policeman next to him. The militant was shot dead immediately and the policeman, Sinan Acar, could not be saved despite a medical intervention. 

Social media was shaken with questions about how the Istanbul police had detained the man without conducting a proper body search, which is a standard whenever you enter an airport or local police station in Turkey nowadays. What’s more, the killed militant was not even handcuffed, despite the fact that just two days ago Istanbul police officers broke the arm of a protester woman while trying to handcuff her from behind. The court imposed a media ban on details of the ISIL militant story, but Istanbul Police Chief Mustafa Çalışkan said at the killed police officer’s funeral that the militant was an internationally wanted terrorist, without elaborating.

Another troubling example came from the western city of İzmir, where on Aug. 11 two young women were harassed by a motorcycle driver. They filed a complaint with local police officers, but the policemen declined to help them, saying “With such an outfit, what do you expect?” When one of the woman persisted in her complaint, one of the police officers hit her repeatedly. Footage of the incident was captured by a nearby security camera and the İzmir Police Department has opened an investigation into the two policemen.

There are a number of other examples showing that security forces, who are supposed to be responsible for protecting the lives of citizens, are not observing the rules they are bound by. In cases of violations of the law, it seems that people are not being treated equally.

This worrying situation may partly be down to fatigue brought about by the atmosphere of continuous pressure in the anti-terror fight, currently conducted under the state of emergency declared after the failed July 15, 2016 military coup attempt. It may be down to the lack of experienced personnel due to the thousands of dismissals from state offices, as the government targets people suspected of having links to the illegal network of U.S.-based Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen, accused of masterminding the coup attempt. It may be down to deficiencies in the command and control chain. It may be down to a lack of proper training of security personnel. 

Whatever the reason for these alarming cases, it is the government’s duty to address the situation and correct it.