The Hanefi Avcı Affair: A Dramatic Detective Story

Hanefi avciWhen an incident or a scandal breaks, it is only natural for people to initially experience shock, especially if the protagonist of the event is an unexpected person. This is followed by the process of understanding the other side of the incident in question.

Hanefi Avcı, known to the Turkish public as a patriotic police chief who had adopted religious conservative values, committed to his family and dedicated to fighting terrorism and corruption was the main protagonist of an event that surprised us all.

Turkish readers learned from their newspapers one day that Avcı had written a book that targets the Fethullah Gulen movement. When I saw this story in the Vatan daily, one of the higher circulation newspapers, that same morning, I too was greatly surprised. This was followed by the bits of information that came out during an investigation the İstanbul prosecutor’s office launched into Avcı.

Avcı, who had been married for 25 years to his spouse Şenay Avcı, had two adult children and whose daughter married a prosecutor, was having an extra-marital affair. The house where he met with his mistress was owned by a person who is member of the left-wing illegal Revolutionary Headquarters (DK) organization. According to the prosecutors’ allegations, this person named Necdet Kılıç — under arrest on charges of membership in a terrorist organization — and Avcı had a relationship that went beyond friendship. İstanbul Prosecutor Kadir Altınışık, who is accusing Avcı of aiding and abetting an illegal organization, wrote to the prosecutor’s office in Ankara demanding they call Avcı to testify.

However, Avcı did not go to testify to the prosecutors in the capital after which the prosecutor’s office invited him to İstanbul. In the Turkish judicial system, prosecutors carry out such demands through the police. Since Avcı had the status of a provincial police chief, İstanbul Police Chief Hüseyin Çapkın showed great interest in the matter after he received the order from the prosecution. Çapkın assigned an aide to relay the İstanbul prosecutor’s summons. Avcı, who was presence was requested at the courthouse at 9 a.m. the next day, said he could arrive in İstanbul only in the afternoon, but still didn’t show up at the courthouse to testify on that day. Then it was the weekend and Avcı, who was believed to be in Ankara, was photographed by television cameras as he left the home of his mistress in İstanbul. On Monday, the prosecutors called Avcı again. He said he would come and testify on Tuesday. On Tuesday, he said he wasn’t sure if he was ready to testify and that he would come and testify when he made his final decision.

A detention order and search warrant

The İstanbul prosecutor decided that his call was not being taken seriously and issued a detention order so that Avcı would be forced to testify. A court also provided the police with a search warrant to search Avcı’s home and his office in Eskişehir. When the police searched Avcı’s Eskişehir house and office, located in a complex for police officers, the Turkish public was once again taken aback by what they had found there. There were 24 cassettes in a black bag in his office, featuring the illegally wiretapped phone conversations of 53 public figures including former prime ministers, retired generals and a well-known newspaper’s editors in chief.

Avcı was brought to the İstanbul courthouse to testify for the prosecutor by his colleagues. Avcı did not respond to the prosecutor’s questions. He was referred to a court and the prosecutor demanded an arrest warrant. He offered a defense statement to the judge but was still arrested and sent to prison.

Starting at that minute, the Avcı affair sat on top of Turkey’s news agenda. Among the 53 people whose voice recordings were seized at Avcı’s office were former Hürriyet editor in chief Ertuğrul Özkök and the daily’s new editor in chief Enis Berberoğlu. Both men testified as victims in the investigation and filed complaints against Avcı. The conversation records were from the time when Avcı had served as the chief of the intelligence unit at the İstanbul Police Department and the deputy head of the intelligence unit in Ankara. In the following days, 51 of the victims individually testified to the prosecutor and filed complaints. These included Fatih Altaylı, editor in chief of Habertürk, a high circulation daily, former Prime Minister Tansu Çiller’s husband, Özer Çiller, and former general Çevik Bir.

After all these developments Hanefi Avcı defended himself saying this: “Police officers that are part of the Gulen movement prepared this case against me because I published a book against the Gulen movement. The prosecutor, also a member of the Gulen movement, wanted to put me under arrest and a judge, who is also part of the Gulen movement, issued an arrest warrant. The tapes found in my office do not belong to me, they were planted there. It goes completely against logic to suggest that a right-wing police chief who has fought left-wing terrorist organizations for 40 years like me would be abetting a leftist terrorist organization.”

In a short period of time, the Avcı affair found resonance beyond Turkish borders. Milliyet daily writer Aslı Aydıntaşbaş wrote in her column that the European Union was highly likely to include the Avcı affair in its next progress report on Turkey, saying there were too many question marks in his arrest.

I really do not know whether the EU will mention the Avcı incident in its progress report on Turkey. But I can say with confidence that the legend of the courageous and honest police chief in the minds of the Turkish nation was smashed. The searches that were conducted in Avcı’s house and his office were carried out under the supervision of the Eskişehir chief prosecutor who personally monitored the searches on site and senior officers from the national police department. This is why one cannot really find the claims that the evidence was planted convincing.

Being arrested under ‘cemaat’ orders

There are also other arguments that Avcı used to make his case. The İstanbul prosecutor’s soft treatment of Avcı during the interrogation refutes Avcı’s argument that he was arrested upon orders from the “cemaat” (the Gülen movement). Because if Avcı had answered the questions sent to him while he was in Ankara, there would have been no search of home or his office, nor would he have been arrested. And, naturally, nobody would have ever known about the tapes inside the black case. Avcı’s refusal to cooperate with the İstanbul prosecutor led to doubts that he was trying to “obscure evidence.” And the general practice observed in specially authorized courts that hear terrorism-related cases is that individuals accused of abetting a terrorist organization are put under arrest after they are interrogated by a prosecutor and are held in custody until the indictment is completed and the trial begins.

The possibility that there was bias against Avcı in the evidence-gathering process is near zero because chief prosecutors, prosecutors and senior police officers from more than one province participated in this process.

And now let’s take a look at the following sentence that Avcı included in a letter he wrote to some journalists and TV stations that he feels close to after his arrest, he writes, “How can a police chief who has dedicated the better 40 years of his life to combating leftist terrorism possibly aid a leftist organization?” Certainly, the trial has yet to begin and Avcı will have his day in court. None of us are in a position to say with certainly that Avcı has or has not abetted this organization. We will see once the trial begins.

But there are pieces of information about the organization in question available to us. As Gürkan Hacır of the Akşam daily — which has no relationship to the Gülen movement and is known for protecting secular values — points out, the DK is not a classical leftist organization. Hacır, known for his meticulous research and books on recent history, points to a striking piece of information about this organization. Sarp Kuray — a former naval officer accused of having founded the 16 Haziran (or June 16) terrorist organization, whose legacy is defended by the DK — says: “They accused me for all the attacks staged by 16 Haziran in the ‘90s. In reality, the people who staged those attacks without my orders are freely walking around outside. I, on the other hand, was sentenced to life in jail as the only convict. The organization had gotten out of my control way in the beginning. They accused me of betrayal and kicked me out. I myself am clueless about how the organization was able to gather so much intelligence.”

The meaning of these words is clear as daylight. Sarp Kuray is implying that control of the 16 Haziran organization was taken out of his hands by secret intelligence units within the state. This same thing is now being said by prosecutors for DK, the continuation of Kuray’s organization. The prosecutors say DK is a terrorist organization that was established by some intelligence officers whose main target is to stage bloody attacks that will prepare the ground for a coup.

In addition to this, friends of Orhan Yılmazkaya —  the alleged  leader of DK and a graduate of the political science department of the Ankara University and whom was killed in a clash with the police in İstanbul — who were in the military with him during 1998 say that Yılmazkaya had nothing to do with revolutionaries until recently. The person accused of being the current leader of DK, named Ulaş, is no revolutionary. To the contrary, he has an “Ülkücü” (Idealist) background, which is an ultraconservative and strict form of Turkish nationalism. One should not be surprised if when the prosecutors complete their indictment and press charges the ensuing process reveals links between the DK and the formation known as “Ergenekon,” whose suspected members have been on trial for three years.

Certainly, Avcı himself might not know about this part of the organization. But even his helping out his friend Necdet Kılıç during his interrogation process are enough to bring him before a court under the Turkish legal system.

There is also the question of the allegations put forth by Avcı in his book targeting the Gülen movement. As it is very well known to security experts who are closely monitoring the Turkish police force, we are seeing a new-generation of police officers in the past two decades. The person who laid the foundation for this is eighth president Turgut Özal.

Özal, who served as the prime minister between 1983 and 1989 did two important things in the police department, which has been extremely corrupt and deeply involved with the business world and mafia during the ‘70s and ‘80s. Following a decree  by Özal, a large number of police chiefs between the ages of 33 –35, who had only one-star at the time, were given four-stars and appointed provincial police chiefs. Normally, heading a province’s police department was something that could only happen when one reached 45, even 50 in some places. For example, Hüseyin Çapkın, who is currently head of the İstanbul Police Department, was one of these individuals. He was 34 when he was appointed the chief of police for Yozgat. The second thing Özal did was to hire young people with university degrees and who had graduated from the Police Academy for the police department, rather than people who had only graduated from the Police Academy.

This process that was started with Özal in the ‘80s caused the collapse of a structure that was dominant in the Turkish police force until that time. The police force no longer always turned a blind eye to the criminal elements among its members. For example, until the 1990s, one can find almost no higher-ranking police officers that were tried in court. Because as Hanefi Avcı points out in his book, everyone kept a close eye on whatever the others did in a sense of professional solidarity.

This is the fundamental point that will help us understand the Avcı affair. For the past one-and-a-half years, Avcı had openly been critical of the Gülen movement, which he held responsible for the arrest of his close friend, Deputy Police Chief Emin Arslan who was linked to a person that was being accused of smuggling drugs. Avcı had accused Mehmet Berk — the prosecutor who issued Aslan’s arrest order — of taking orders from Fethullah Gulen. Berk said: “I have never taken orders from anybody in my career. If there is such a person, they have no dignity,” offering a clear assurance to the Turkish public and he also filed charges against Avcı, demanding financial compensation. In this situation, Avcı has to prove that Berk is a member of the Gülen community. Likewise, another prosecutor who was accused by Avcı of being a member of the Gülen movement also filed for compensation. Others might follow in his steps, because according to Avcı, almost all of the judges and prosecutors in Turkish courts are members of the Gülen movement.

It was the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) that appointed Avcı the head of the Organized Crime and Smuggling Department — one of the most important positions in the Turkish police force — in 2003. Until then, Avcı was always placed in lower-profile positions in the background. Avcı served in this position for two years, and then was made the chief of police for Edirne, one of Turkey’s larger provinces, and then for Eskişehir. Avcı’s children attended private schools opened by businessmen who were dedicated to the Gülen movement free of charge, because children of high-level bureaucrats, such as Avcı’s children, are given priority when it comes to scholarships quotas at Gülen schools.

Avcı has held the Gülen movement responsible for the situation of his close friend Emin Aslan got himself into because of his human weaknesses and he took it so far as to wage a war against the Gülen movement. Erdoğan’s government also took its share of Avcı’s ire. Avcı found it hard to accept that he had been removed from his position in Ankara and appointed to Edirne. He always had a hope that he would be assigned to a higher position by the government, but this never happened.

Some observers assert that Avcı wrote his book to declare himself innocent when his out-of-the-ordinary past came to the attention of the judiciary with the DK case file. This way, he hoped to at least have the support of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and media outlets known for their anti-Gülen stance.

We will see all the aspects of this affair when the prosecutors start the court process and the trial beings. However, perhaps it is not too early to say this. The average Turk is experiencing a great deal of frustration because of the fall of the legendary police chief seen as the epitome of integrity.

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