A notorious mob boss has just added to the nightmares of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Sedat Peker, a convicted criminal who was a fierce supporter of Erdoğan -- until now -- recently began posting a series of videos on social media in which he made uncorroborated accusations of corruption, murder and drug-running against top politicians. Millions of Turks have tuned in to watch. Pictured: A photograph, taken on May 26, 2021 on a mobile phone, shows Peker speaking on his YouTube channel. (Photo by Ozan Kose/AFP via Getty Images)
On January 19, 2014, the Turkish Gendarmerie command in southern Turkey searched three trucks heading for Syria. Accompanying the trucks were Turkish intelligence officers; the trucks had a bizarre cargo: In the first container, were 25-30 missiles or rockets and 10-15 crates loaded with ammunition; and in the second, 20-25 missiles or rockets, 20-25 crates of mortar rounds and anti-aircraft ammunition in five or six sacks. The crates had markings in the Cyrillic alphabet. One of the drivers testified that the cargo had been loaded onto the trucks from a foreign airplane at Ankara's Esenboğa Airport and that, "We carried similar loads several times before."
It was evident that the arms were bound for jihadists fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's regional nemesis. Nearly two years later, Erdoğan would almost confess to the arms shipments. "What does it matter," he said in November 2015, "if it [the cargo] was arms or not?"
In May 2015, the secular daily newspaper Cumhuriyet published on its front page photographic evidence of arms deliveries by the Turkish intelligence services to Islamist groups in Syria. Erdoğan's government claimed the cargo was humanitarian aid to Turkoman locals in Syria but then filed criminal charges against the editors Cumhuriyet, for being members of a "terrorist organization," espionage and revealing state secrets.
No one at the time dared ask why humanitarian aid to an ethnic group in a country engulfed by civil war was a state secret, and why would spies publish secret material in a newspaper instead of handing it over to their foreign controllers?
"He who ran this story will pay heavily for it," Erdoğan said in a public speech. The prosecution asked for life sentences for two Cumhuriyet editors. Since then, Can Dündar, then-editor-in-chief, has been living in Germany in exile.
In December 2015, Russia claimed that Turkey was supporting the Islamic State through trading the jihadists' oil, their main source of income. In March 2016, another report claimed that total supplies sent by Turkey to terrorists in Syria in 2015 included 2,500 tons of ammonium nitrate; 456 tons of potassium nitrate; 75 tons of aluminum powder; sodium nitrate; glycerin; and nitric acid. The report stated:
"In order to pass through the border controls unimpeded, effectively with the complicity of the Turkish authorities, products are processed for companies that are purportedly registered in Jordan and Iraq ... Registration and processing of the cargo are organized at customs posts in the [Turkish] cities of Antalya, Gaziantep and Mersin. Once the necessary procedures have been carried out, the goods pass unhindered through the border crossings at Cilvegözü and Öncüpınar."
Fast forward to the present. At the beginning of May 2021, Sedat Peker, a convicted Turkish mob boss and a fierce supporter of Erdoğan -- until now -- began posting a series of videos on social media in which he made uncorroborated accusations of corruption, murder and drug-running against top politicians. Millions of Turks have tuned in to watch. The first seven videos Peker posted were viewed on YouTube more than 56 million times. Peker posted an eighth and promised more.
In the eighth video, Peker detailed how Erdoğan's government sent arms shipments to jihadis in Syria:
"The intelligence agency's trucks... contained (among other things) drones, military uniforms, bullet-proof vests, radios... I offered my own trucks [to the government] for humanitarian help for the Turkoman [a Turkic ethnicity who speaks Turkish]. They used my trucks without telling me what they sent to Syria. We knew they shipped arms. But that was normal... They were Peker's trucks, not Turkish intelligence's [in case something went wrong]... They went to Syria in my name, without any customs registration between Turkey and Syria. I saw Turkoman people thanking me in videos they posted on social media. Or so I thought. Then I realized that the Turkoman people were speaking Arabic. Then I learned that my trucks had been used to send [military equipment] to al-Nusra."
Jabhat Al-Nusra was a Salafist-Jihadist group fighting in Syria. In December 2012, the U.S. State Department designated it a foreign terrorist organization, and in April 2013, it became the official Syrian branch of al-Qaeda. In July 2016, al-Nusra formally re-branded itself from Jabhat al-Nusra to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.
In January 2017, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham rebranded yet again when it merged with several other groups — Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki, Liwa al-Haq, Jaysh al-Sunna, and Jabhat Ansar al-Din — to establish HTS. In 2018, HTS was designated by the United States as a terrorist organization, with the UN Security Council including it as a sanctioned entity linked to the Islamic State, al‑Qaeda, and associated individuals and groups.
In his eighth video, the Turkish mobster Peker claims that the Erdoğan government sent arms shipments to al-Nusra through SADAT, a Turkish military consultancy company. SADAT defines its mission as "providing consultancy and military training services at the international defense and interior security sector."
Critics, however, including opposition lawmakers, have been inquiring about SADAT's activities, suspecting its real mission may be to train official or unofficial paramilitary forces to fight Erdoğan's multitude of wars inside and outside Turkey.
SADAT is owned by retired general Adnan Tanrıverdi, who was appointed in August 2016 as Erdoğan's chief military advisor. In 2020, he quit. Tanrıverdi had been forced to resign earlier, in 1996, from the military due to "suspected radical Islamist activities." In a 2009 speech, Tanrıverdi said:
"To defeat Israel, the country must be forced into defensive warfare, all of its forces must be engaged and the war must be prolonged.
"What should Turkey do? The resistance units in Gaza should be supported by anti-tank and low-altitude anti-aircraft weapons.
"Turkey, Iran, Syria, the Iraqi Resistance Organization and Palestine should form the nucleus of a defense structure. Within this context the formation of an Islamic rapid reaction force consisting of an amphibious brigade, an armored brigade and an airborne brigade should be encouraged."
Peker's revelations included claims that Erdoğan's senior entourage had been involved in illegal business dealings in northern Syria, and in collaboration with senior al-Nusra officials. Peker said Abu Abdurrahman was in charge of al-Nusra's trade with Turkey. "I am talking about billions of dollars," he said. "Including trading aluminum, tea, sugar, copper, smuggled oil, scrap metal, second-hand cars." Peker claimed the Turkish official in charge of trading with al-Nusra was Metin Kıratlı, head of administrative affairs at the presidency.
After weeks of silence, Erdoğan denied Peker's claims, but not in a convincing way. He ordered prosecutors and judges to investigate and establish that all of Peker's claims were lies and a smear campaign against his government. Who will trust the independence of a legal probe when the president has already ordered its verdict?
According to Avrasya, a polling company, 78% of Turks who vote for the opposition believe in "all revelations of Peker." That is not surprising. Avrasya's research also found that nearly a quarter of Erdoğan's voters also believe that all of Peker's revelations are true. A notorious mob leader has just added to Erdoğan's nightmares.
Burak Bekdil, one of Turkey's leading journalists, was recently fired from the country's most noted newspaper after 29 years, for writing in Gatestone what is taking place in Turkey. He is a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.