Adnan Oktar (or Harun Yahya), truckloads of ‘antiquities’ and a ‘stolen’ painting

When I summarily checked the coverage of cultural property crime in Russia-controlled, Turkish-language Sputnik News, I was reminded of the ongoing case against Islamic televangelist cult leader (and, inevitably, conspiracy theorist) Adnan Oktar (who is also referred to as Adnan Hoca and also operates as Harun Yahya and Adnan Harun Yahya).

Allegations of political influence…

Oktar is apparently loyal to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, with whom he allegedly had a ‘lucrative and mutually beneficial relationship’ (fn1) from the 1990s into the 2010s (fn2), when Erdoğan was Istanbul mayor then prime minister.

Yet Oktar has also implied that he (himself) was the Islamic messiah Mahdi and asserted that the Mahdi’s assistant was Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen, who apparently had a collaborative relationship with Erdoğan from the 2000s into the 2010s.

Accusations of organised crime…

In 1999, Oktar was ‘arrested for forming a gang [çete kurmaktan tutuklanan]’, accused of being the leader of a ‘profit-driven criminal organisation [çıkar amaçlı suç örgütü]’, an ‘organised crime group [literally, organised crime organisation [organize suç örgütü]’. In 2001, the charges were dropped.

In 2008, he was convicted. In 2010, the conviction was overturned. Seemingly since 2010, though, Turkey’s government has officially designated Oktar’s community as the Adnan Oktar Crime Organisation (Adnan Oktar Suç Örgütü).

Accusations of organised sex crime…

By the time of his capture in 2018, Oktar was one of the country’s ‘most wanted’ suspects for financial crime. While Oktar’s community was already notorious as a sex cult, he and his followers have been charged with operating a criminal organization, which has engaged in ‘child sexual abuse, sexual abuse, blackmail, depravation of liberty using violence and money laundering’; if no-one else, Oktar has been charged with a longer litany of grotesque crimes.

Escapees have described their experiences in detail. Nonetheless, neither Oktar nor any of his followers has been convicted, in a conviction that has not been overturned.

At least 235 people have been targeted: Oktar and 234 of his followers, 128 men and 106 women. At least 190 were detained in operations that encompassed raids on 120 addresses in 4 provinces (115 in Istanbul province, 3 in Ankara province, 1 in Muğla province and 1 in Antalya province). During those raids, weapons (silahlar) were seized, as well as a range of other goods.

Insinuations of organised cultural property crime…

Blackmail money-laundering by the organisation?

Apparently, either ‘two truck[load]s [iki kamyon]’ or ‘six truckloads of historical artifacts and antiques’ (tarihi eser ve antika eşyalar) were seized.

Seemingly, it would be difficult to argue that the objects did not belong to the cult, as they included ‘a vase that had been signed by Adnan Oktar [on 24th October 2012], that was going to be given to Sheikh Nazım Kıbrısi, the leader of the Naqshbandi order, who lost his life in 2014 [2014 hayatını kaybeden Nakşibendi tarikatinin lideri Şeyh Nazım Kıbrısi’ye verilmek üzere Adnan Oktar imzalı bir vazo]’, plus what might politely be described as contemporary art that depicted some of the followers.

They supposedly include ‘a “highly valuable” Torah manuscript’, though that will almost certainly be revealed to be a fake manuscript. (Either way, it is an intriguing find, in the possession of an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist.) Many of the other objects appear to be antiques, copies and pastiches – crimes against aesthetics, rather than culture.

Blackmail money-laundering by the organisation or drug money-laundering by its associates?

Intriguingly, (unreliable) insinuations of the handling of stolen cultural goods by Oktar and/or his followers go back at least as far as 1994, when the rented ‘luxury villa [lüks villa]’ of his followers was raided and an allegedly ‘stolen painting [çalıntı tablo]’ was seized. Then, Oktar’s followers (equally unreliably) ‘claimed that the painting and other works belonged to the villa’s owners [Adnan Hoca’nın müridleri, tablo ve diğer eşyaların villa sahipleri[ne]… ait olduğunu iddia etti]’. That same year, he allegedly formed his relationships of political influence (fn2).

It was supposedly a painting of ‘Lovers [Aşıklar]’ by ‘Italian artist Thorma [İtalyan ressam Thorma]’. It was presumably a copy of “Lovers in the Field” by Hungarian artist János Thorma, who was misidentified because the painting was alleged to have been imported from Italy. The genuine article was auctioned in Hungary on 11th December 1998.

Even more intriguingly, follower Mehmet Atmaca (even more unreliably) ‘put forward that Fevzi Çelik, who was killed in recent years in a clash over heroin money, had brought the painting from Italy to Turkey by paying customs duties of around 2 billion [old] lira [2,000,000,000 TRL; then 1,538,462 USD; now, 2,601,288 USD] [tabloyu geçen yıllara eroin parası yüzünden çıkan çatışmada öldürülen Fevzi Çelik’in, yaklaşık 2 milyar lira gümrük ödeyerek İtalya’dan Türkiye’ye getirdiğini öne sürdü]’.

Conspiracy theory…

As Haaretz journalist Asaf Ronel has self-sacrificingly studied and patiently explained, the British deep state is supposedly ‘the secret network that really runs the world’. As relayed by Ronel, although Oktar has also denied the Holocaust, he has equally asserted that the British ‘brought Hitler to power’, then ‘burned myriad people in Germany’.

In Mastermind: the Truth of the British Deep State Revealed, a book that was published in 2017, Oktar asserted: ‘There is a deep-state structure in England that incorporates the MI6 [spy agency] as well. It consists of some 300 people, led by an old man. He is the man that the pope was referring to as “he [who] cannot be defeated.”‘ He would be Satan, or perhaps the False Messiah, al-Masih ad-Dajjal. ‘Now this very British deep state has launched a campaign against us.’

Unsurprisingly, then, Oktar has decried the recent operation by Turkish police as ‘a game of the British [literally, the English]. All of it is a lie. [İngilizlerin oyunu. Hepsi yalan.]’ ‘This is a game of the British deep state, the claims are lies [İngiliz derin devletinin oyunu bu, iddialar yalan]’. And, at least in relation to the insinuations of handling of stolen art, there does not appear to be any convincing evidence. However, if all of the criminal cases have been malicious prosecutions, they would have been moves in a game of the Turkish overt state, where prosecutions have been irredeemably politicised. [The same day that this post was published, investigative journalist Pelin Ünker was convicted of ‘defamation and insult’ of a politician for making statements that the politician and the court acknowledged were accurate. She has been sentenced to imprisonment for thirteen-and-a-half months, plus payment of a fine.]

Cult escapees have told Ronel that ‘all the judges who acquitted Oktar in his 2010 appeal are now themselves in jail‘ for alleged associations with Oktar’s associate and Erdoğan’s former associate, Gülen. While Ronel rightly acknowledges that the police may have secured sufficient incriminating evidence, it seems more likely that Oktar too is being targeted because of his association with Gülen and/or simply because he is ‘no longer… useful’.

Comparable theories…

Unfortunately, Oktar is not alone. Whether sincere or cynical, the idea that a British “deep state” exists and is conspiring to undermine Brexit and/or anti-establishment movements is being promoted by current Labour policy adviser Andrew Murray and former Conservative foreign secretary Boris Johnson; and it, too, is being reinforced by Russian state media operations.


fn1: “Lucrative and mutually beneficial relationship” is a phrase that was written by Lily Lynch in 2014, then seemingly lifted without attribution by Liz Cookman in 2018, though it does appear to be a somewhat formulaic turn of phrase.

fn2: The claim is based on a report by journalist Halil Arda in 2009 about earlier reports by journalist Fatih Altaylı, which relate to activities that can be traced back to 1994. I have searched for variations on Fatih Altaylı, Adnan Oktar and the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi), yet cannot find the original reports, possibly because they have been deleted after a lawsuit or because the government has judged them to have ‘exceed[ed] the boundaries of personal criticism’. Turkish-language hearsay in the atheist community goes back to 2002 at the latest and (unsigned) Hürriyet newspaper reports go back to 2000 at the latest.

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