“mere” corruption, political insecurity and conflict antiquities trafficking in Cyprus and Turkey

When considering trafficking of and markets for (fake) conflict antiquities, it is helpful to remember that cultural property crime can be connected with common problems, such as corruption and oppression, in uncommon ways. Furthermore, disparate cases can sometimes help to interpret one another.

Cyprus Conflict antiquities trafficking

As discussed in a previous post, Mustafa Bayram is a former MP, convicted trafficker of heroin and suspected trafficker of fake conflict antiquities. According to an interview with Aktüel, Bayram was personally acquainted with heroin-trafficking ultranationalist/fascist paramilitary leader Abdullah Çatlı and heroin-trafficking money-launderer Ömer Lütfü Topal (who was also known as Ömer Lütfi Topal).

Those names are recognisable, here, due to a different case in a different country. And each case sheds light on the other. When developing my doctoral research into illicit trafficking of cultural objects from Cyprus, understanding of the activity of Çatlı and Topal was pivotal in my understanding of the relationship between organised crime and political violence in the Cyprus Conflict.

Kutlu Adalı

When dissident Turkish Cypriot journalist Kutlu Adalı accused members of the Civil Defence Organisation of conflict antiquities trafficking (the looting of the cultural goods of Greek Cypriot internally displaced persons), he was threatened; his family was tormented; then, on 6th July 1996, he was murdered.

His case was never officially solved, even though he was apparently assassinated with the same Uzi submachine gun that was used to assassinate Topal on 28th July 1996; Topal’s assassin was suspected to be Çatlı; and, either way, Uzis are markers of special operations. (Still, even that point is uncertain, as some sources record the murder weapon as a Kalashnikov rifle.)

Abdullah Çatlı and Ömer Lütfü Topal

Çatlı was never prosecuted for that assassination, only partly because he died in a car crash soon afterwards. He had been sentenced to death for his participation in the Bahçelievler massacre of 9th October 1978, when he died in that car crash on 3rd November 1996, while secretly travelling with police chief Huseyin Kocadağ; MP Sedat Bucak, who ran a state-armed, state-financed, Kurdish “Village Guard” (militia) against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK); and assassin Gonca Us. That revelation, of a deep state network, was named the Susurluk scandal.

To summarise a complicated, disputed and manipulated phenomenon for readers from places that enjoy the rule of law, a “deep state” is a nationalist network or group or network of groups within the state (which sometimes has nodes outside the state). It performs extrajudicial acts for the state. It may also perform extrajudicial acts against the state interest, when those acts are in the nationalist interest. In Turkey, these structures have included “gangs in uniforms” or “uniformed gangs” (“üniformalı çeteler”).

Manifestly, sometimes, it is difficult to distinguish deep state crime from state crime. As the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) noted, with regard to a related figure, ‘security forces, MIT and the gendarmerie knew, pursued, taped and archived information on this person, but they did not stop him’, because his ‘activities were not directed against the general preferences of the public organizations’.

Aydın Dikmen

Three members of special operations police who were suspected of aiding and abetting the murder of Topal, Ayhan Çarkın, Ercan Ersoy and Oğuz Yorulmaz, ‘were released…, despite the dissenting opinion of [Beyoğlu High Criminal Court] member judge Suzan Yaltı [üye hakim Suzan Yaltı’nın muhalefet şerhine karşın,… tahliye edilmiştir]’.

In the light of the release of those suspects by Turkey, Milliyet journalist Ali Sirmen considered the potential extradition of Aydın Dikmen from Germany by Cyprus or Turkey. Dikmen had trafficked antiquities and fakes from Turkey since the 1960s and from Cyprus since the 1970s, plus heroin at the latest by the 1980s, until his arrest in Germany in 1997. His dealer-smuggler in Cyprus, “Tremeşeli” Mehmet Ali İlkman, was first a paramilitary fighter for the Turkish (Cypriot) Resistance Organisation (TMT, seemingly between 1958 and 1967), then an intelligence agent for Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation (MİT, seemingly between 1967 and 1979).

Rule of law?

In sum, the Bayram-associated paramilitary-financing group smuggled drugs and fake conflict antiquities through Turkey. That group was part of the Çatlı-associated deep state network. That network laundered money in Cyprus and, notably, assassinated a journalist who investigated conflict antiquities trafficking (and other human rights violations) in Cyprus. The Dikmen-associated group, which had a direct connection with an intelligence organisation in Turkey and an indirect connection with a paramilitary group in Cyprus, smuggled antiquities and fakes from Turkey and Cyprus, as well as drugs from Turkey.

Particularly in the light of these waves of connections, it appears that (at least some structures within) TMT and MİT were engaged in conflict antiquities trafficking. This appears to be corroborated by evidence that (at least some structures within) MİT are engaged in conflict antiquities trafficking in the Syrian civil war.

As Sirmen concluded, Dikmen could not reasonably be extradited to Turkey (or Turkey-occupied northern Cyprus) because, ‘in Turkey, both the police and the judiciary are ruled by the ruling powers [Türkiye’de hem polisi, hem de yargıyı kimi iktidarlar hallaç pamuğu gibi attılar]’.

“Mere” corruption and political insecurity

Amidst the civil war in Cyprus, TMT produced intelligence reports, which assessed Turkish Cypriot public servants. TMT’s targets included Police Sergeant Mehmet Hüseyin, who worked in the Investigations and Prosecutions Branch (Tahkikat ve Davalar Şubesi).

In 1971, it recorded: ‘In addition to his police duties, he is occupied with antiquities trading; he takes antiquities, which he has bought cheaply by cheating Turkish [Cypriot] villagers, to a Greek [Cypriot] in Kyrenia and sells them more dearly. [Polis görevine ek olarak antikacılıkla iştigal etmekte olup Türk köylülerini kandırarak ucuza satın aldığı eski eserleri Girne’de bir Rum’a götürüp daha pahalıya satmaktadır.]’

It is not clear whether TMT wanted to pressgang Hüseyin into service as a trafficker and/or spy, whereupon his activities would have constituted conflict antiquities trafficking, or whether TMT wanted to blackmail Hüseyin into covering up (or otherwise facilitating) its crimes. Either way, this paramilitary intelligence operation demonstrates that, even when corruption is “mere” corruption, it can be exploited by politically-motivated armed groups.

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3 Responses to ““mere” corruption, political insecurity and conflict antiquities trafficking in Cyprus and Turkey”

  1. Reblogged this on HARN Weblog.

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