Last month the notorious mobster Sedat Peker started posting incriminatory videos on Turkish media. Staring at the camera, Mr Peker discloses some alleged secrets and crimes of the so-called Turkey’s deep state along with the relationship between the State and organised crime. Each video step by step comes closer to President Erdoğan. As Peker himself makes clear, he is doing this in revenge: he was involved in pretty dirty business with prominent officials and politicians, but they have meanwhile sidelined him and now they want to put him out of game.
You’ll be defeated by a camera on a tripod.
– Sedat Peker
At the time of writing, Peker has broadcasted eight videos, starting in early May 2021 after the police raided his house in Istanbul in April 2021. In each video, he talks while sitting at a table, where every time we notice a different table design on which lie his notes, plus other symbols and books (elements which I admit, might deserve a proper analysis of their own). These videos have been (and are being) watched by millions of people (myself included). Just the 7th video – released on 23 May 2021 – has been viewed by more than 12 million people. It is interesting to try and understand why millions of people are watching the videos of the leader of a crime syndicate, and what is so attractive about them.
After all, Sedat Peker is a notorious Turkish mafia leader who attended meetings with Erdoğan and is well-known for his attack on academics in 2016. He was convicted on charges of multiple crimes including forming a criminal enterprise and fraud. In the 6th video, he confessed that he raided the newspaper Hürriyet on 8 September 2015 with his men at the request of a member of parliament of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). He fled Turkey in 2020 to avoid prosecution and in the 7th video he said that he is now in the United Arab Emirates. In one of his videos Mr Peker maintains that the person who told him to “flee” was the Minister of Internal Affairs, Süleyman Soylu. Because of his political views based on Pan-Turkism and Turanism, he has many supporters among the nationalists and among the Grey Wolves, a far-right organization affiliated with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which is Erdoğan’s political ally. The organization was established by its founder colonel Alparslan Türkeş in 1960s to fight against the left and communism. Peker concludes each video with his ideological claims about reuniting Turks all over the world, such as for example: “we will establish the Turkish-Islamic Union”, “State forever (Devlet ebed müddet), “we will establish Turan”, or “we are the sons of Başbuğ” (Alparslan Türkeş was called as Başbuğ by his followers). These statements are basic arguments of idealist (ülkücü)-fascist movement.
The mafia leader’s claims target some people in important positions within the State, accusing them of murder, rape, corruption and drug trafficking. Mr Peker's allegations sound like a sort of who's who of Turkey's politics. He named Süleyman Soylu, Minister of Internal Affairs charged with corruption; Berat Albayrak who served as Minister of Energy and Natural Resources and then was the Minister of Finance and Treasury until his unexpected resignation on 8 November 2020 and who is also son in law of Turkey’s President Erdoğan; Binali Yıldırım who served as ex-Prime Minister of Turkey from 2016 to 2018 and speaker of the Grand National Assembly from 2018 to 2019 and who is very close to Erdoğan; Erkan Yıldırım, son of Binali Yıldırım, charged with smuggling cocaine from Venezuela as part of a trafficking network to the Middle-East; Mehmet Ağar who was director general of public security, ex-Minister of Justice and ex-Minister of the Internal Affairs accused of working with gangland figures to murder a journalist (Uğur Mumcu who was investigating drug and arms trade in terror zone in Turkey) in 1993 and a Cypriot journalist and writer Kutlu Adalı whose murder Peker related to a group associated with Mehmet Ağar and Korkut Eken, retired-lieutenant colonel and then-member of Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT); and Mehmet Ağar’s son who is a politician in AKP, charged with raping and murdering a journalist in 2019. And many others.
Intricate power relations
The videos offer clear illustration of intricate power relations in Turkey’s politics, and mainly of the competition between Süleyman Soylu and Berat Albayrak (Erdoğan's son-in-law). As such, they provide allegations not only about the corruption within the State and the mafia-State relationship, but also regarding the competition for obtaining power among AKP members which was not visible and therefore not so obvious to the public previously.
While we cannot take all that Mr Peker's alleges at face value, what is there to be learned from these videos about the current government and its alliances? Arguably, that there is a deep-seated conflict within the AKP. Erdoğan’s hold on power is no longer unchallenged. In spite of Erdoğan’s distaste, the Minister of Internal Affairs Süleyman Soylu has become powerful in the party and popular among the people. But Sadet Peker’s videos damaged significantly his future in politics. At the same time, a political struggle opposes Süleyman Soylu (who is supported by the leader of the ultranationalist party MHP, part of Erdoğan’s alliance) and Berat Albayrak (Erdogan’s son in law). This struggle hints at the broader party and ideological competition in Turkey. Erdoğan needs the support of the MHP: this explains why he had to defend Süleyman Soylu after Sedat Peker’s attacks and accusations against him. But to strengthen and keep hold of his power, Erdoğan and other State members not only work with the crime syndicates. Once Erdoğan outlawed the members of the radical islamist organization of Fethullah Gülen after 2016 attempted coup d’etat (the Gülen Movement was classified as a terrorist organization by Turkey under the assigned names Fethullahist Terrorist Organization/Parallel State Structure), the president appointed the members of other religious groups to important positions within public institutions. In addition, the President has reward the MHP for its political support by appointing many of its cadres to important positions within the State. In particular, MHP has a major influence on the security bureaucracy and the judiciary. In short, Turkey is faced with again another parallel State like Gülen Movement within the State.
Mr Peker addressed also the issue of the Alawite minority. As he alleged, the men of “deep Mehmet” (Mehmet Ağar) plan to create chaos in the country by using the existing conflict between Alawite and Sunnite to attack to a Cemevi (the prayer hall for Alawite) which would be a much larger than the coffeehouse attack in Gaziosmanpaşa in Istanbul in 1995, where the majority of Alawites lives.
Ultra-serious claims about the Syrian war
In the video posted on 30 May 2021, Mr Peker makes serious claims about the Syrian war, stating that the government sent weapons to the radical terrorist organization Al-Nusra, the Salafist jihadist organization which is the official Syrian branch of al-Qaeda.
Mr Peker claims that he sent aid and weapons to the Turkmen in Syria, that the government asked him to send their trailer trucks including the weapons with his trucks, and that then Peker learned that these weapons were sent by SADAT Inc International Defense Consultancy to Al-Nusra. “SADAT Defense was founded in 2012 by Adnan Tanriverdi, a former special forces commander, along with 22 former members of the Turkish military, all of whom were forced out of the military in the 1990’s due to their radical ideologies. SADAT has since played a crucial role in bolstering Turkey’s foreign policy and helping Erdogan consolidate power after the failed coup of 2016.” It should be noted that in 2015 the newspaper Cumhuriyet published photos depicting weapons transferred to Syria Islamist fighters in MIT trucks. Mr Peker’s reference to SADAT, however, does not mean that MIT did not send weapons to the islamist groups because there were many of them and Peker’s trucks were just one part of it.
Mr Peker also mentions the smuggling of crude oil, copper and aluminum done by some Turkish bureaucrats close to Erdoğan with Syrian islamist counterparts, in which huge amounts of money was involved.
It can be said that the Mr Peker's videos main target has always been president Erdoğan even if at the beginning he focused more on the Minister of Internal Affairs. Actually, with the last released video, Peker declared that the upcoming video, number 9, would be specifically about Erdoğan; however he announced on Twitter that after 14 June, that is, after Erdoğan’s meeting with Biden, he will talk with his “Tayyip Abi” (he calls Erdoğan ‘older brother Tayyip’ in sign of respect, but which given the circumstances sounds more like a respectful middle finger). Unsurprisingly, some government-aligned media sources state that Mr Peker is a spy and aims to damage Erdoğan and Turkish foreign policy. But is it really so? Or is there more than that?
The unprecedented success of these videos can be directly related to the crisis of politics and democracy in Turkey. Such crises have become apparent at least since 2016, even if democratic deficits have a long tradition in Turkey’s history. Since coming to power in 2002, AKP continues to instrumentalize Islam and democracy. As of today, Turkey resembles an authoritarian regime, based on oppression, the elimination of division of powers within the State, the increase in corruption, and the destruction of the justice system. This drift may contribute to explain why people tend to believe the strong claims coming from a mobster’s mouth.
As journalist Ruşen Çakır argued, while Sedat Pekar was a person who was talking to people by reposing on the State, now he is talking to the State by reposing upon people or society. After listening to Peker’s claims, it becomes difficult to separate the State from the mafia.