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How Erdogan Set Up Network Of Paramilitary Armed Groups To Promote Ankara’s Interests












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How Erdogan Set Up Network Of Paramilitary Armed Groups To Promote Ankara's Interests

Illustrative image


Submitted by ThomasST exclusively for SouthFront.


The “long arm” of the Turkish president plays a key role in achieving his aspirations and strengthening of his power not only inside the country, but especially abroad, in a clear effort to extend Turkey’s influence to the wider North African region and the Middle East – in areas once ruled by the Ottoman Empire. Using existing practices and structures of the Turkish “deep state” (Türkiye’dederindevlet), with the help of a thriving defense industry, but also using modern methods such as proxy wars, President Erdogan wants to expand his prestige as an international leader but also the regional hegemony of his country.


From the establishment of the modern Turkish state the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) perceive themselves as the guardians of democracy and the secular state. They developed a culture of “loyalty to the state” rather than to the elected government, which led to a series of military coups when they considered the Kemalist orientation to be threatened.


The “deep state” remained in Turkish political terminology, while its action was certified by unsolved murders of leftists and Kurds. Erdogan described the “deep state” as a “dangerous phenomenon”, “a gang operating outside the law” and an “internal enemy” (Kemal’s expression) in 2007. However, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) inherited its modus operandi in dealing with opponents and now one could say that it has evolved.


“Department of Special Warfare” (Özel Harp Dairesi, ÖHD)


The Special Warfare Unit (ÖHD) was set up during the Cold War and shortly after the 1971 military coup to counter any Soviet invasion. However, it was used to crush political opponents, such as Turkish leftists, Kurdish activists, etc. It was one of the branches of Gladio, the network of special units in NATO countries aimed at dealing with a possible invasion of the USSR. Although the ÖHD was part of TSK, but a few were aware of its existence. Even former Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit was well informed about it in 1978, while he is said to have been surprised by the recruitment of the “Gray Wolves” by the ÖHD. (Link 1, Link 2, Link 3)


How Erdogan Set Up Network Of Paramilitary Armed Groups To Promote Ankara's Interests

Illustrative image



Gray Wolves


The main goal of the “Gray Wolves” was to fight the communist threats but also the PKK, the Kurdish separatist movement. As part of the youth wing of the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), which is currently led by Erdogan’s collaborator Devlet Bahceli, and driven by ideology of pan-Turkism, members of this organization received military training with a Turkish-Islamic background. Their activities abroad intensified in the ‘80s. Then they started pogroms against an Armenian organization that allegedly assassinated Turkish diplomats. The unholy alliance of the Turkish state with the “Gray Wolves” against the Kurds was evidenced by the now infamous accident in Susurluk on November 3, 1996.


The “Gray Wolves” were also deployed in Chechnya, and after the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, they were on the front lines alongside the Syrian Turkmen. (Link 1, Link 2, Link 3) The AKP-MHP political alliance, which was forged by the failed coup in 2016, gave them an “active” pre-election role in silencing political opponents and opposition voices. Their relationship with mafia that is known for their supranationalist positions, like Sedat Peker,were unveiled. (Link)


Close cooperation with Qatar


The Turkish-Qatari cooperation is also of great importance in the context of the Turkey’s attempt to pursue a foreign defense policy through its “military representatives”. (Link) Much of the Ankara-Doha close relationship concerns defense, as Turkey maintains about 3,000 troops on the Qatar’s territory, while there is a bilateral agreement to set up two Turkish bases, military and naval, in Qatar. (Link) Through its presence in Qatar, Turkey has for the first time had a “footprint” in the Gulf region.


How Erdogan Set Up Network Of Paramilitary Armed Groups To Promote Ankara's Interests

SADAT Defense claims it provides training services to the military Credit: SADAT


Turkish mercenaries and role of SADAT


In 2012, Brigadier General Adnan Tanriverdi and 22 of his colleagues, who had been expelled from the army because of their pro-Islamist beliefs, founded SADAT (SADAT Inc. International Defense Consultancy), the only private defense consulting firm in Turkey. SADAT provides defense consulting and training services, much like the notorious American Blackwater. Its clients include the Turkish police special unit (Polis Özel Harekat – PÖH), the newly armed neighborhood watchmen (Bekçi) that act as Erdogan’s revolutionary bodyguard, but also the special presidential guards, known as the “Reinforcements” (Takviye).


SADAT was selected to play a key role in training mercenary groups that could be used by Ankara to fulfill its regional ambitions. This strategy was also applied in neighboring Syria amid the long civil war that swept the country after the Arab Spring.


SADAT undertook the training of guerrilla fighters, by setting up several bases in the Istanbul and Marmara areas. (Link) The training of a large and controlled Syrian paramilitary force allowed three Turkish operations to invade Syria: “Euphrates Shield“, “Olive Branch” and “Peace Spring“. (Link) These were costly military operations aimed at the creation of controlled zones in northern Syria to prevent the emergence of an autonomous Kurdish entity and to secure influence by occupying territory.


Similar methods were used in Libya. (Link) The companies that recruited the fighters naturalized them as Turks, while signing a 3-6 month employment contracts, with up to $ 3,000 salary. The process of transferring fighters from Syria to Turkey and from there to Libya was carried out by SADAT and under the supervision of the Turkish army. (Link 1, Link 2, Link 3, Link 4, Link 5)


SADAT played a key role in recruiting, organizing and transporting fighters to Azerbaijan for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Armenia as well. (Link 1, Link 2, Link 3)


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