Car Crash Reveals Depth of Government Corruption in Turkey Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

A former chief of the Istanbul police, a leader of the Grey Wolves right-wing terrorist group, and a model turned assassin were killed in a car crash that marked the start of the Susurluk scandal in Turkey. Documents in the car revealed connections between Turkish politicians and military forces and organized crime groups, a revelation that came as no surprise to many who already suspected deep government corruption.

Summary of Event

The Susurluk scandal was born from the remains of a traffic accident in Susurluk, Turkey, on November 3, 1996. The identities of the passengers in one of the crashed vehicles revealed a connection between criminal organizations and Turkish politicians, police, and military officials and confirmed suspicions of what was known as the deep state in Turkey. The deep state is an alleged coalition of antidemocratic officials and organized criminals believed to be enmeshed within the Turkish state (a state within a state). The scandal led to the resignation of a major political figure, numerous arrests of police and government officials, several convictions, and increased tensions and distrust between Turkish citizens and the national government. [kw]Corruption in Turkey, Car Crash Reveals Depth of Government (Nov. 3, 1996) [kw]Turkey, Car Crash Reveals Depth of Government Corruption in (Nov. 3, 1996) Police corruption;Turkey Grey Wolves Kocadağ, Hüseyin Bucak, Sedat Çatli, Abdullah Turkey Police corruption;Turkey Grey Wolves Kocadağ, Hüseyin Bucak, Sedat Çatli, Abdullah Turkey [g]Middle East;Nov. 3, 1996: Car Crash Reveals Depth of Government Corruption in Turkey[02770] [g]Europe;Nov. 3, 1996: Car Crash Reveals Depth of Government Corruption in Turkey[02770] [g]Turkey;Nov. 3, 1996: Car Crash Reveals Depth of Government Corruption in Turkey[02770] [c]Corruption;Nov. 3, 1996: Car Crash Reveals Depth of Government Corruption in Turkey[02770] [c]Drugs;Nov. 3, 1996: Car Crash Reveals Depth of Government Corruption in Turkey[02770] [c]Organized crime and racketeering;Nov. 3, 1996: Car Crash Reveals Depth of Government Corruption in Turkey[02770] [c]Politics;Nov. 3, 1996: Car Crash Reveals Depth of Government Corruption in Turkey[02770] [c]Violence;Nov. 3, 1996: Car Crash Reveals Depth of Government Corruption in Turkey[02770] Us, Gonca Ağar, Mehmet Ciller, Tansu

Former interior minister Mehmet Ağar in November, 1996.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Three of four passengers in an automobile were killed after a truck driver, later charged with reckless driving, hit the car, a Mercedes. Inside the car at the accident scene, police discovered fake passports and gun licenses, pistols, sniper rifles, submachine guns, silencers, ammunition, explosives, narcotics, and cash. The discovery of this arsenal was not as shocking and frightening to the public as was the identities of the four passengers riding in the car.

The only survivor from the car was Sedat Bucak, a True Path Party deputy of the Turkish parliament and leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (a militant Kurdish organization seeking independence from Turkey). Bucak was taken from the vehicle with serious injuries. Hüseyin Kocadağ, a former deputy chief of the special operations department with the Istanbul police, was killed in the crash. The other two passengers killed in the crash were Mehmet Özbay and his girlfriend, Gonca Us, a Turkish former model who turned hired assassin. During the police investigation of the accident, it was discovered that Özbay was an alias for a convicted international fugitive named Abdullah Çatli, the leader of a right-wing terrorist organization called the Grey Wolves (also known as the Commandos or the Nationalist Action Party). The Grey Wolves were known for torturing, bombing, massacring, and assassinating left-wing political figures and supporters and had been held responsible for many of the unexplained bombings and deaths throughout Turkey’s civil war between the Turkish military and Kurdish separatists. The group was responsible, particularly, for many of the killings during the war’s peak during the 1970’s. Çatli was an international fugitive sought after by Interpol (the International Criminal Police Organization) for his 1982 escape from a prison where he was serving time for drug trafficking and murder.

The tragedy of the crash muted Turkish citizens’ fear and anger as many questioned why these four people of varying backgrounds were in the same car. For many, the connection solidified fears that Turkey was a deep state in which government officials collaborated with criminal organizations to secure political interests through terrorism and murder while overlooking the organizations’ own illicit activities, such as drug trafficking. The police weapons and false passports—particularly those signed by Mehmet Ağar, Turkey’s interior minister and a member of the True Path Party—found inside the Mercedes fueled speculation that the deep-state government was protecting wanted criminals.

After details of the crash surfaced, Ağar insisted that Kocadağ and Çatli were in the same car because Kocadağ had captured Çatli. However, evidence that the four passengers had been staying at the same hotel for several days contradicted Ağar’s claims. Ağar resigned from his position as interior minister, citing that the government was involved in confidential security operations in connection with the accident and that he could not provide further details.

On November 12, a parliamentary commission was created to investigate the possible connection between government and security officials and criminal organizations. Bucak and several special-police officers were suspended for their possible involvement in illegal operations. The commission hearings began on December 24 and both Bucak and Ağar declared their innocence and used parliamentary immunity to exempt them from testifying—or being convicted. In February, 1997, nonviolent protests that included blackouts, flashing lights, and honking car horns poured out across Turkey because of the diplomatic immunity of Ağar and Bucak and the lack of information given to citizens regarding the incident. The protests eased at the end of March in anticipation of the commission’s Susurluk Report, which was released in early April.

Instead of assuaging the public’s distrust and anger, the report produced more questions, infuriated those who demanded that Bucak’s and Ağar’s immunity be removed, and disappointed many who expected a purge of Turkey’s government, police, and military to sever criminal connections. The suspected government cover-up led to further protests.

The Susurluk investigation was hampered by the commission’s inability to access government documents and by the numerous refusals by officials to testify, including former prime minister Tansu Ciller, who also was suspected of being involved with the deep state. The report called for the removal of Bucak’s and Ağar’s immunities and that they be tried; it also cited how such diplomatic protection had exacerbated the corruption of politicians. The report speculated that the passengers of the Mercedes had been planning or were about to perform an illegal act prior to the crash. The report concluded that politicians such as Ciller and Ağar had organized a criminal network in conjunction with Turkish security forces to protect the nation’s interests against separatists, and that the security operations grew out of control when terrorists such as Çatli executed political opponents, distributed drugs, and committed other crimes. The report blamed individual politicians and not the state for dealing with criminal organizations.

The Susurluk trial concluded on September 19 and was met with a mix of protests from Turks and praise from Kurdish separatists. A majority of the defendants were released because of insufficient evidence. Only a few defendants, mainly special police, who confessed to their involvement were convicted and sentenced. Following the defendants’ release, Ciller demanded an official apology from the state. In response to public protests, the commission annulled Bucak’s and Ağar’s immunities in December and charged them with organizing and participating in criminal enterprises.

The commission’s final report was released in January, 1998, which reiterated previous findings, urged the immediate removal of politicians found to be involved in criminal activities, and suggested an immediate crackdown on drug trafficking. The commission’s investigation of Bucak’s and Ağar’s involvement in Susurluk was deferred when they were reelected to Parliament in February, 1999.

In 2001, the convictions of security officials previously found guilty in Susurluk were overturned because of an inadequate investigation; a retrial was ordered. On November 3, 2002, Bucak’s trial resumed after he failed to be reelected. Bucak was found innocent on June 26, 2003; however, the Turkish supreme court annulled the verdict on February 28, 2004, demanded that Bucak be charged as the head of a criminal organization, and ordered a retrial (which began on January 17, 2006). Bucak was found guilty on November 14 and sentenced to one year and fifteen days in prison. Ağar’s trial resumed on February 14, 2008, after he also lost his bid for reelection.

Impact

The Susurluk scandal rocked the political and social foundations of Turkey but offered the chance for the formation of a movement against government corruption. However, many citizens believe that Turkey remains a deep state and that the government was able to bury much of its involvement in Susurluk and avoid accountability. The open wound left in Turkey’s political system by the scandal forced many to question the state’s legitimacy and its ability to rid the country of corruption and terrorism and to protect its citizens. On March 21, 2008, scandal again struck the country as several politicians, legal officials, and military personnel were apprehended for their involvement with a criminal group known as the Ergenekon network. Turkey Police corruption;Turkey Grey Wolves Kocadağ, Hüseyin Bucak, Sedat Çatli, Abdullah

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gunter, Michael M. “Susurluk: The Connection Between Turkey’s Intelligence Community and Organized Crime.” International Journal of Intelligence and Counter Intelligence 11, no. 2 (June, 1998). An examination of the individuals and events involved in the Susurluk scandal, the contents of the parliamentary commission report on Susurluk, and the history of Turkey’s internal corruption, deep state, and civil war.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Meyer, James H. “Politics as Usual: Ciller, Refah, and Susurluk: Turkey’s Troubled Democracy.” East European Quarterly 32, no. 4 (January, 1999): 489-502. Examines corruption in Turkey’s political system, especially the corruption that helped define the Susurluk scandal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Yoruk, Zafer. “Gangs of Ankara: A ’Deep History.’” Kurdish Globe, May 29, 2008. Provides a detailed historical narrative of how the deep state has for generations embedded itself within the political structure of Turkey.

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