Why are murderers still heroes in Turkey?

Impunity, a reality that we denounce in Turkey, signifies "criminals are not punished for crimes that are considered crimes committed for the "good" of the motherland and the nation."

As Turkey struggles with a myriad of different problems and an appalling political system, MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) leader Devlet Bahceli, the government's main ally and a major shareholder behind the current nightmare, has submitted a bill to restore the legal status of Topal Osman (Osman the Blade, an Ottoman officer, militia leader and perpetrator of the Armenian and Pontic genocides who was ultimately executed by the army at the beginning of the republican era).

The proposal, which included remarks such as "the valiant son of Giresun" and "the gallant and heroic son of the national struggle" for Topal Osman, was Bahceli's first legislative proposal in the 27th Parliament. The old and precious memory of Topal Osman obviously reminded Bahceli that he was a deputy. In this respect, it is a very positive development.

Bahceli's only worry at the moment seems to be the reputation of Topal Osman! Sure enough, there are hardly any problems in the country, all is peachy, we are bucking the world, we are even venturing into space! Meanwhile, the political environment is brimming with hollow "patriotism."

We indeed need to talk about Topal Osman and this is indeed the right time because what is happening today in Turkey is closely linked to the practice of impunity in this country.

Impunity refers to the situations where perpetrators of a de facto or de jure violation of rights are not subjected to the judicial procedures that exist or should have existed or are not adequately punished, and when those who have been victimized do not have access to reparation.

In addition to failure to implement and inadequate enforcement, we also witness the absence of legislation on certain crimes in Turkey, the inadequacy of existing laws to redress rights violations, the inability of existing laws to address rights violations and the lack of effective law enforcement.

To put it more concisely and clearly in the Turkish context, impunity is "...not punishing criminals for crimes that were supposed to be committed for the good of the motherland and the nation." "Conspiring in the name of the state, being an accomplice to a crime as a civilian or in uniform, using one's authority not to shed light on a crime" is rewarded with impunity by the Turkish state.

The obligations of Turkey under international conventions and universal values such as human rights are disregarded when it comes to "motherland and nation". Legislation regarding violations of rights, violence, torture, rape, murder, mass killings are not consistently and non-discriminatorily applied by the judiciary and executive authorities.

If we want to talk about the "Topal Osman case", we must first take a step backwards. This entire discussion started in 2019 when AKP (Justice and Development Party) deputy Nurettin Canikli found it necessary to mention the murderer Topal Osman in order to criticise Istanbul Mayor Imamoglu. He not only claimed that the people of the region were not of Turkish origin, but also commemorated the criminal and torturer Topal Osman, who he said cleansed the region of "infidels" and claimed, "We are fighting a similar battle today as he did, who fought those who attempted to Hellenize the region."

At the time, Imamoğlu failed to issue a reply along the lines of "You boast about a murdered; a murderer who slaughtered Greeks, Armenians and Kurds in order, a killing machine so out of control that he was able to kill Trabzon deputy Ali Sukru Bey, a criminal whom Mustafa Kemal finally annihilated. Aren't you ashamed?" On the contrary, he protected him. "I am devoted to Topal Osman", he said.

Imamoğlu remained unresponsive to the reactions he received until today. It still preoccupies us, if Imamoğlu, whom some see as the most important political candidate to help save Turkey, said this only for political reasons, knowing the crimes against humanity committed by Topal Osman, we are in trouble. No, if he does not "know" who Osman is as a person from Trabzon, we are in even more trouble.

Canikli's and then Imamoglu's statements unfortunately reminded us of Tansu Ciller's words of years ago. In her speech to her parliamentary group, Ciller had defended the deep state and its hitmen, which had become flesh and blood with the traffic accident in the Susurluk district of Balikesir in 1996, by saying: "Those who shoot bullets and those who take bullets for the sake of the state are respected by us, they are honourable...".

Canikli's and then Imamoglu's statements unfortunately reminded us of Tansu Ciller's words of years ago. In her speech to her parliamentary group, Ciller had defended the deep state and its hitmen, which had become flesh and blood with the traffic accident in the Susurluk district of Balikesir in 1996, by saying: "Those who shoot bullets and those who take bullets for the sake of the state are respected by us, they are honourable..."

Responding to the accusations levelled against him, Mehmet Agar, Minister of Interior and DYP (True Path Party) Elazıg Deputy, said "Is this supposed to be my reward?" before resigning. Ciller kept her cool. Dogan Gures, the Chief of General Staff at the time, whose name became "Tak-Sak Pasha" after he said, " I order it with a click and do it with a snap", was proud.

Ayhan Carkın, a member of the special forces, described it in his book "Çillerli Yıllar" (Years with Ciller): "They said shoot, we shot, they said kill, we killed"... Ciller's spirits were high, they were supposedly saving the homeland. Years full of operations, lists, murders and scandals, years in which no one felt shame but which were somehow connected to the past and the present... Years when Mesut Yilmaz, after taking over from Ciller, said, "If I reveal the slush fund, all hell will break loose!".

Teskilat-i Mahsusa (The Special Organisation) was the forefather of these organisations, which became known as the National Workers' Services in the early years of the Republic, the Special Warfare Department in the 50s, JITEM (Gendarmerie Intelligence and Counter-terror Unit) in the 80s, and later as the Counter-Guerrilla, the Deep State and Ergenekon. And Topal Osman was a member of the Teskilat-i Mahsusa!

Teskilat-i Mahsusa was the striking force and hitman of the Committee of Union and Progress; the secret state organisation responsible for all massacres, starting with the Armenian Genocide. It organised paramilitary groups for the massacre of large populations, not only released gang leaders from prison and put them back in charge of their gangs, but also provided them with ammunition.

Mustafa Kemal's position against the mass murderers, executioners and slaughterers jointly with the Young Turks had been statist. During the Divan-i Harbi Orfi ("Court Martial") trials, many of them had the opportunity to participate in the Anatolian movement led by Mustafa Kemal and found protection...

Armenian Genocide, 6-7 September, Dersim Campaign, Sivas, Çorum, Kahramanmaraş, Madimak massacres, Operation Return to Life, Uludere... Unsolved murders, coups, operations to ripen the conditions before the coup, Kurdish villages bombed, settlements ransacked by JÖH/PÖH (Gendarmerie Special Operations/Police Special Operations)...

Impunity constantly spawned new crimes. The perpetrators of these crimes were also exempted from being individuals, thus the crime became institutionalised and state-ised. This is precisely why the slogans "murderous state" were raised.

The state has always vacillated between being an apparatus ruled by the people, by the national will, and being a deep state... Murders committed in the name of Gladio, JITEM, Ergenekon and many other labels were blessed. The murderers were made heroes.

"The Republic of Turkey is a product of the Ottoman deep state," Prof. Dr. Mahir Kaynak had said in one of his speeches, in response to the question "When will the Republic of Turkey become a scriptwriter?". Kaynak was explaining that the Republic of Turkey was a "product", in other words a plan, of the Teskilat-i Mahsusa.

These words are very important for understanding the founding philosophy of the country and it is very important to underline that it is an old tradition to celebrate all means for "survival" and to honour the deep state organisation. The fact that the government and the opposition jointly bless and commemorate Topal Osman and queue up to become his offspring is the best example of this legacy.

General Ali Fuat Erden, who served under Cemal Pasha, notes the following in "Çeteciler" that he wrote on the occasion of the executions of Cerkez (Circassian) Ahmet and Halil: "The debt of gratitude towards executioners and murderers is heavy. They want to dominate those who need them and those who use them. The tools used in dirty work are necessary in times of need and use, but after they have been used they should not be kept on the head but should be disposed of (like toilet paper)."

Topal Osman was one of them. He was a small figurehead in the violent acts of those who were formed outside the legal state structure and who used state authority outside the limits of legitimacy, and he was "cancelled" with Mustafa Kemal's wish when the day came. The devotion underlined today is not to Topal Osman, but rather respect and gratitude for the deep state and its hitmen...

Will we get rid of this veneration and gratitude when we get rid of the AKP as well?

*A long-time analyst on regional issues, Alin Ozinian holds a BA in International Relations and Diplomacy and an MA in Turkish Studies. She is currently a PhD researcher at YSU's Faculty of Political Science. Ozinian has worked at the Permanent Mission of Armenia to the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) and has served as the Regional Coordinator of International Alert's Caucasus Development Network, based in London, and as a regional analyst for the Armenian Assembly of America, based in Washington DC. She served as press secretary for the Turkish-Armenian Business Council. In 2018, she received the Jampruk Research Award on migration issues, announced by the United Nations Association. Since 2021, Ozinian has been the executive director of the +GercekNews Portal.

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