Most observers in Turkey and abroad have viewed the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) as the main threat to the Turkish state’s national unity and defense.(1) Despite recent interest in the Islamic fundamentalist Welfare Party (Refah Partisi, RP) growth, hardly any research examines the even more radical, violent Islamic movements in Turkey. (2) These most extreme groups are largely ignored because of their small size and apparently limited threat. (3)
It has been argued that the marginality of violent Islamist groups in Turkey in contrast to the vigorous armed opposition in Egypt or Algeria is due to the Turkish political system’s pluralism and the RP’s full integration into this system. (4) But the leaders and sponsors of these extremist organizations think that by violence against the secular symbols of the Turkish state, leading secular intellectuals and journalists, and representatives of ‘Imperialism and Zionism,’ they will indeed help install an Islamic state. The limited reaction by the authorities up to 1996 and the RP’s electoral victories seemed to provide reasons for this hope.
POLITICAL AND STRATEGIC BACKGROUND
The military coup of 1980 was intended to end a long period of widespread terrorism and violence throughout the country perpetrated by extremist left-wing and right-wing organizations, and also to hold back the threat of radical Islam embodied in the National Salvation Party led by Necmettin Erbakan. (5) But while military rule between 1980-1983 did break up the extreme left and right, the Islamic movement survived and even grew in importance during the 1980s. (6)
A new ideological concept was developed by a group of right-wing intellectuals (Intellectuals’ Hearth–Aidinlar Ocagi) and adopted by the military, ‘The Turkish-Islamic Synthesis’ which, on its pragmatic side, represented an attempt to integrate Islamists and the nationalists. (7) The main idea was that the Islamist influence in the system would contribute to the territorial integrity of the Turkish nation-state and counter revolutionary sentiments, especially among Kurdish youth. The Islamists offered an attractive alternative even for ex-communists after the collapse of communism in the Soviet bloc. (8)
On the foreign front, the Turkish-Islamic synthesis was supposed to help contain Soviet expansion southward and to combat the radical Iranian brand of Islam by constructing a coalition of U.S.-backed moderate Islamic states. This policy favored closer relations with Saudi Arabia to gain big loans for the needy Turkish economy.(9) The Cold War’s end, USSR’s disintegration, the birth of new republics mostly inhabited by peoples of Turk origin, the Gulf war’s result and the Bosnian crisis created at the beginning of the 1990s a new international environment which put Turkey in a key position, sometimes in direct competition with Iran for regional strategic influence and economic assets. (10)
The History of the ‘Islamic Movement’ in Turkey (11)
The Islamic subversive and terrorist activity in Turkey began in the 1960s. As early as 1967 and 1973 the leaders of Hizb-al-Tahrir (Islamic Liberation Party) were imprisoned for attempting ‘to bring the Islamic State Constitution to Turkey’ (12) Islamic Jihad appeared as a real terrorist threat in the 1980s, after a series of assassinations of Jordanian, Saudi and Iraqi diplomats. In October 1991 Islamic Jihad took responsibility for killing an American sergeant and wounding an Egyptian diplomat to protest the Middle East peace conference in Madrid. (13) For many years it was assumed that this group was a Lebanese Shiite terrorist organization, until it was discovered that a Turkish branch existed, engaging in assassinations of secular intellectuals.
As Anat Lapidot correctly notes, defining the Islamic movement is a complex task, since the term is applied to different organizations, with their own ideas and strategies, seeking to establish an Islamic state and society. Citing Sabri Sayari, she distinguishes between traditionalists and radicals, the latter being a minority inspired by the Iranian revolution. (14)
Ismet Imset points to the confusion about these different groups among the general public, researchers, and government circles in Turkey. A report by the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT) and the Security General Directorate of the Police in October 1991 mentioned no less than ten Islamic organizations active in Turkey: Turkish Islamic Liberation Army (IKO), Turkish Islamic Liberation Front (TIK-C), Fighters of the Islamic Revolution (IDAM), Turkish Islamic Liberation Union (TIKB), World Sharia Liberation Army (DSKO), Universal Brotherhood Front-Sharia Revenge Squad (EKC-SIM), Islamic Liberation Party Front (IKP-C), Turkish Fighters of the Universal Islamic War of Liberation (EIK-TM), Turkish Islamic Fighters Army (IMO) and Turkish Sharia Revenge Commandos (TSIK). (15)
In this article, Islamic movement is the term used to describe all the currents in Turkish Islam while Islamic Movement refers to one of the main radical groups.
Imset makes a distinction between western and southeast Turkey. In the West the Islamic Movement (Islami Hareket), called also Islamic Resistance (Islami Direnis), is considered to represent the ideological influence of the original (Iranian) Hezbollah. (16) Both Movement and Resistance were only temporary code names, at least until 1990. In southeast Turkey the movement spread first under the name of Hezbollah, then was referred as the Hezbol-contra, to address its anti-PKK activity. According to Imset, the concepts of Hezbollah and Islamic Movement are in fact one, representing an umbrella organization of groups acting on behalf of what he calls ‘The International Islamic Movement.’ (17)
At the end of the 1970s, under the influence of the coalition between left-wing organizations and Khomeini`s followers in Iran, in Turkey was established an alliance of the left, especially Maoists, with radical Islamic elements and together they attacked the nationalist right. The conflict peaked in February 1979 when a young Muslim leader was killed by nationalists (known as ‘Idealists’) in the yard of the Fatih mosque in Istanbul.
The Turkish Islamic Movement, like all other radical organizations, received a serious blow during the September 1980 military coup. But, as the regime encouraged the general Islamic trend as a solution to political polarization and as both Marxists and nationalists lost their influence, Islamic activists were afforded ample space to strengthen their position. The ‘Hezbollah Muslims’ appeared for the first time publicly in 1984 and, as the original Hezbollah, proclaimed support for the Iranian revolution and the defense not of nations or sects, but of ‘Allah’s way.’
According to Imset, Kalim Siddiqui, a Pakistani active at the Muslim Institute in London, had a key role in unifying Turkey`s radical Islamic Movement. Thus, the first Hezbollahi appeared in Turkey as the ‘followers of Siddiki.’ (18) A pro-Hezbollah magazine published in November 1987 ‘The guidelines of the Islamic Movement,’ which included the acceptance of the Islamic State as the center of religious belief, the leadership of Muslim scholars, the spread of the mentality of martyrdom and the leadership of the Islamic revolution [in Iran]. (19)
A significant development occurred in the middle of the 1980s, with the conversion of some members of the right-wing Nationalist Movement (MHP) to Islam. The death of one of their leaders in prison in 1984 and the tortures suffered by many others convinced a group of extreme nationalist activists (called also Ulkucus)’to turn to Allah’ and condemn the ‘darkness of nationalism.’ (20) They were heavily influenced by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, but later concluded that Sayyd Kutub’s death forced the Egyptian Islamists into a nationalist position and that true Islam could not tolerate nationalism. These militants were already professionals in the field of terrorism and street fighting and represented significant operational support for the Islamic Movement.
In southeast Turkey, Islamic radicalism emerged in poor towns and villages with a large Kurdish population (Dyarbakir, Silvan, Cizre, Kiziltepe and others), especially among the young and unemployed. They followed the teachings of local Muslim scholars or sheiks and often organized themselves around extremist Islamic publications such as Tevhid, Yeryuzu and Objektif. Their activity became more visible at the beginning of the 1990s, influenced more and more by Khomeini`s teachings, and they were identified by the local public as Hezbollah, although they considered themselves as belonging to the Islamic Movement.
THE IDEOLOGY OF THE TURKISH ISLAMIC MOVEMENT
There are few sources for research on the Turkish Islamic organizations, although they have their own publications and manifestoes distributed quite freely even when they threaten future victims of terrorist attacks. All the material is in Turkish and has neither been collected nor translated. The only other source consists of interviews given by anonymous leaders and activists to Turkish journalists.
In one such interviews, published in February 1993, a militant declared: ‘We are fighters of the Islamic Liberation Movement, the sword against Satan, blasphemy, Zionism and Imperialism. We have begun taking action only recently in Turkey and our move is based on pain, suffering and patience. We do not pursue a tribal case; our objective is to establish a state for the Muslims.’ Asked whether he belonged to Hezbollah, the militant replied that the press gave that name to the organization and that they will adopt it only when the movement will be worthy of it. Meanwhile it has not reached ‘that level of perfection’ (21)
In speaking about the special relationship of the Movement with Iran, the same militant seemed careful not to confirm ‘the lies of the Turkish state’ about such links. Iran is seen as an example and a guide but the instructions are ‘from the Koran’ and not from Iran, ‘the land of Dar-ul Islam where blasphemy has been crushed.’ The Movement needs no instructions from any country because the Koran is the program and shows the strategies and the tactics to be adopted. (22)
A report prepared by the Turkish security authorities for the National Security Council at the beginning of 1997 outlined the objectives of the radical religious movements and stressed that their strategy consists of three stages. (23)
The first stage is the message (teblig), and calls for an effort by the radicals to persuade the people to adopt the Islamic religion, establish an Islamic state and administration, live in accordance with Islamic rules and struggle to safeguard the Islamic way of life.
The second stage is the community (cemaat) and calls for the restructuring of communities in accordance with the requirements of the first stage.
The third stage is the struggle (jihad) and calls for the armed struggle to safeguard the Islamic way of life.
Special mention should be made of a strange organization called The Great Eastern Islamic Fighters Front (IBDA-C) active since the middle of the 1970s but more extremist and aggressive since the beginning of the 1990s. Although an Islamic movement struggling for the constitution of an Islamic state, it uses leftist slogans in its publications and accepts ex-Marxists in its ranks. It is also extremely antisemitic and anti-Christian in its propaganda and terrorist activity as well.
ENEMIES AND STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES
A chronological analysis of terrorist activity of Islamic groups shows that 1990 was probably the starting point for their offensive against the Turkish secular establishment: A professor, journalist, political scientist and writer were assassinated by Islamic Jihad and the Islamic Operation (or Action), the first time this name was used. (24) Muammar Aksoy, a liberal political scientist, was also killed in 1990 and then for the first time the name Islamic Movement appeared. (25)
During 1991, the year of the Gulf War, Islamic radicals seemed to enter a period of reassessment, which ended after the Madrid peace talks between Arab countries and Israel. In October an American soldier was killed and an Egyptian diplomat wounded by Islamic Jihad. (26) The year 1992 represented the turning point in radical Islamic terrorist activity. The objectives attacked during this year being from the exiled Iranian opposition as well as Jews and Israelis. (27)
But the government, security authorities, public and even the press became really aware of and shocked by the Islamic terrorist threat when Ugur Mumcu, one of Turkey’s top investigative reporters–who had covered the PKK, the rise of Islamic radicalism, and drug smuggling networks–was killed on 24 January 1993 by a car-bomb similar to that used in the assassination of an Israeli diplomat in March 1992 and an American computer specialist in October 1991. Both the Islamic Liberation Organization and IBDA-C took responsibility for the murder. (28)
Several days later an attempt was made on the life of a well- known Turkish businessman and community leader of Jewish origin, Jak Kamhi, by a group of four terrorists who used automatic weapons and even a rocket-launcher. He escaped uninjured. The same month the tortured body of an exiled Iranian dissident–Abbas Gholizadeh, a former officer and the Shah’s bodyguard–kidnapped several weeks before, was discovered by the police.
This series of terrorist events provoked a sharp reaction from Turkish public opinion: huge street demonstrations in favor of the secular regime, a strong press campaign, and swift action by security authorities against the perpetrators and their sponsors. For the first time the Islamic Action or Movement and Iran were directly accused of and implicated in acts of terror against the state. The arrests and interrogations of many Turkish members of these organizations unveiled the story behind the killings of Turkish secular intellectuals and anti-Khomeini Iranian exiles in the years 1990-1992. (29)
But the arrest and trial of dozens of Islamic terrorists did not dissuade more extremists from continuing to attack Turkish intellectuals fighting for the secular state and values. In July 1993 they set on fire a hotel where a cultural festival was taking place and 37 intellectuals were burned to death. (28) Aziz Nesin, one of Turkey’s leading literary figures, was the main individual target of the fundamentalists. He was accused of intending to publish Salman Rushdie’s ‘Satanic Verses.’ A trial opened against the suspects of the massacre involved only 20 participants of a much bigger group of those responsible. (30)
The fight of the security authorities against the radicals continued during 1994, when 659 members of Hizballah were caught, some of them responsible for murders of activists in exiled Iranian opposition groups. In January, four members of the Islamic Movement in Istanbul were arrested for their part in the killing of a Mojahedin-e Khalq activist, the Shah’s ex-bodyguard and a member of the Kurdish opposition, KDPI.(31) In October, a six-man Hizballah team was arrested while preparing to assassinate, on orders from Iranian intelligence, a woman of Armenian descent guilty of employing ‘only’ Muslim women in her brothel! They were also involved in the assassination of Iranian dissidents. (32)
This same year IBDA-C was responsible for 90 terrorist incidents, including five bombings in various cities. (33) A prominent cinema critic and writer, Onat Kutlar, was killed in December by a bomb attack carried by IBDA-C aimed ‘at spoiling the colonialist Noel [Christmas] celebrations.’ (34)
In 1995, attacks continued. IBDA-C may have been responsible for a bomb attack in January on the building of the Ataturk Association and the attempted assassination in June of a prominent Jewish community leader in Ankara. (35)
One of the most controversial terrorist activities of Hizballah in southeast Turkey has been the liquidation of dozens of pro-PKK activists, journalists, intellectuals and politicians beginning in the fall of 1991 and throughout 1992 and 1993. It has been widely assumed that this was the work of some splinter group. The amount of immunity it enjoyed from the security authorities due to its anti-PKK nature, earned it the name ‘Hezbol-contra.’ (36)
It must be stressed that its members were mostly of Kurdish origin. The Hizballah regarded the PKK as Islam’s enemy and has accused it of ‘trying to create an atheist community, supporting the communist system, trying to divide the people through chauvinist activities and directing pressure on the Muslim people.’ (37) An interviewed Hizballah militant in the southeast described the goal of his organization as the establishment of an ‘Islamic Kurdish state in Turkey.’ (38)
In March 1993 the PKK signed a ‘cooperation protocol’ with the ‘Hizballah Kurdish Revolutionary Party’ aimed at ending the conflict and finding ‘methods for a joint struggle against the Turkish state.’ The agreement was achieved after Hizballah has recognized that it has been exploited by ‘the colonialists’ and that the clashes in no way benefitted the cause of Islam. (39)
A turning point in the Turkish authorities’ attitude toward the Islamic terrorist threat occurred in March 1996, with the arrest of one of the leaders of Islamic Action, Irfan Cagarici, and his confessions about the role his organization has played since the early 1990s in the assassination of secular politicians and intellectuals, with direct support and supervision of Iranian intelligence. (40)
The relations between Turkey and Iran reached a new low as a result. But then, in June 1996, the RP achieved power in an alliance with the center-right True Path party (DYP) in the first Islamic government in 73 years of secular Kemalist regimes, with Erbakan as prime minister. (41)
ISLAM’S GROWING POLITICAL POWER AND THE PROBLEM OF TERRORISM
The ‘Turkish-Islamist Synthesis’ was a strategy adopted by the political and military establishment at the beginning of the 1980s to counter revolutionary sentiments–especially among Kurdish youth–with the traditional conservatism of tribal leaders and Islamic scholars. The increase in the influence of Islam seemed a modest price to pay for the territorial integrity of the Turkish state. (42)
Turgut Ozal, the first Prime Minister of a civilian government after 1983, himself had strong connections to the Nakshibandi religious order. He pushed for a relaxation of Kemalist and secularist policies and a public admission of Islam as an essential component of Turkish identity. During the long period of his rule as prime minister and then president of Turkey, Muslim associations, foundations, publications, television and radio stations, flourished and spread the message of Islam. Islamists built strongholds in the Ministry of Education. (43)
The important role played by Islamic radical publications in the recruitment and indoctrination of militants and the designation of objectives to be attacked, cannot be underestimated: Two printing houses, the Istanbul-based Akademi and Objektif, and the monthlies Yeryuzu and Tehvid have been accused of being behind Hizballah. (44)
IBDA-C sent death threats to the head of the Jewish community in Ankara before a bomb was placed in his car, and published a list of Jewish targets in the extreme religious periodical Akinci Yolu. (45) IBDA-C’s weekly, Taraf, took responsibility for the bomb attack on the film critic Onat Kutlar in December 1994 and sent ‘a warning not to play with fire’ to TV journalist Ali Kirca, whom it accused of being ‘anti-Islam.’ (46)
In this atmosphere, pro-Islamic politicians received important appointments in the sensitive field of security, such as the Ministry of Interior. This happened even before the 1980 coup, while it was under the control of Erbakan’s National Salvation party. Under the interior minister at the end of the 1980s, Abdulkadir Aksu, the security apparatus–especially the intelligence and personnel departments–was penetrated by pro-Islamic elements and the slightest resistance to fundamentalism was broken. According to Ismet Imset, during this period there was a general inclination in the Ministry towards the ‘Saudi and even Iranian Islamism.’ At the end of 1991, Aksu was replaced as minister and an extensive purge was launched in the ranks of the Police to rid it of fundamentalist officers. (47)
According to Zubaida, 700 of the 1,600 key ministry executives, provincial governors and other functionaries were believed to be RP supporters. Even in April 1994 they permitted the waging of unauthorized mass Islamist demonstrations in Ankara and Istanbul. (48) Ironically, they were reassigned to posts in the southeast where they supported or ignored the attacks of Hizballah against the PKK.
The attitude of the Refah party’s leadership regarding the violence and terror on the radical fringes of the Islamic movement is at least ambiguous, if not clearly supportive. Erbakan condemned the violence used in the assassination of journalist Mumcu in March 1993 and declared that it is incompatible with the values of true Islam. But at the same time important members of his party accused Israel for killing him. (49)
In November 1993, Erbakan said at his party’s parliamentary meeting that only ‘Islamic fraternity’ could combat the PKK, but he did not mention the terrorism of the Islamic groups at all. (50) Hizballah has even been considered as the RP’s armed protector. (51)
Despite all the evidence, as late as the end of 1995 the leading Islamic circles denied even the existence of fundamentalist terrorist organizations. The deputy RP leader, Abdullah Gul, declared that no terror movement is compatible with Islam and that the accusation is ‘being circulated intentionally before the elections’ in order to influence them. According to another leader, most of the crimes in Turkey blamed on the Islamic movement are in fact ‘international operations’ and ‘plots of the West’ against Turkey. (52)
Erbakan’s real policy toward the Islamic terrorist groups can be judged by the hosting of representatives of Palestinian Hamas, Egypt’s Muslim Brothers and Algeria’s FIS at RP’s political convention after his ascent to the premiership. Erbakan was not even impressed by President Mubarak’s protest against the invitation of Egyptian Muslim Brothers to the party congress, which sparked a diplomatic incident with Egypt. Over the years, he maintained a strange silence about the complicity of neighboring Muslim countries in anti-Turkish terrorism. (53)
‘THE IRANIAN CONNECTION’ AND TURKEY’S REACTION
It is quite obvious that there was deep Iranian involvement in the terrorist activities waged by Islamic groups and organizations in Turkey. In several of the most important and sensitive cases of terrorism, this interference in Turkish internal political life was proved in court. In other cases there was ample intelligence information transmitted or leaked to the press by the security authorities. The Turkish Islamic militants indicted for the murder of Mumcu and an Iranian dissident in 1993, and two of those accused of murdering three intellectuals in 1990 and a Jewish businessman in 1993, were connected with Iranian agents, among them diplomats stationed in Turkey. They received military training in Iran, on ‘pursuit, counter-pursuit, weapons and bombs.’ (54)
The Iranians began their propaganda and indoctrination work through the numerous Cultural Centers they opened in Turkey. There they recruited and sent to Iran for training sympathizers of Khomeini’s doctrine ready to work for their interests. (55)
As noted previously, an abrupt change occurred in the Turkish authorities’ attitude after Mumcu’s killing. It was only when the murders got out of hand and under growing international criticism that Ankara acknowledged that the Turkish Hizballah truly existed. (56)
For the first time, a Turkish minister of interior declared at a press conference that members of radical Islamic organizations underwent months of military and theoretical training in Iranian security installations, traveled with Iranian real and forged documents, had weapons and explosives of Iranian origin and participated in attacks on Turkish citizens and also Iranian opposition militants. (57)
In spite of these grave revelations, the overall political approach towards Iran was very cautious. (58) The minister of interior concluded that Iran as a state was not behind these actions, that it had no interest in such murders in Turkey, but, however, ‘The perpetrators had connections in Iran.’ (59)
A detailed account of the ‘Iranian Connection’ in these cases and the official Turkish ambiguous position was given by Imset. (60) President Ozal remarked that ‘foreign forces’ may be behind provocative incidents and may have supporters in Turkey, without naming them. (61) Prime Minister Demirel called for a ‘coolheaded’ approach to the Iranian link in order not to disrupt bilateral relations unnecessarily. He expressed the belief that the Iranian state was not involved in the murders and that it would cooperate on the issue with the Turkish authorities. (62)
Although Iranian officials denied any involvement in aiding or training Turkish terrorist organizations, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Velayati, had a more subtle reaction. In an interview to Turkish television he excluded even the possibility that any anti-Turkish activity can be conducted on Iran’s territory and escape the Iranian state’s control. He denied that Iran geared activities or movements against Turkey but at the same time he accused its government of supporting, directly or indirectly, terrorist groups opposed to the regime in Iran.
He proposed then to discuss these ‘mutual allegations’ in the framework of the common security committee. He vaguely denied any ties with anti-secular circles in Turkey but added that if there were groups in Turkey which liked the Iranian model and were inspired by its values, it could not be argued that Iran has created them. A Turkish political commentator noted that Velayati’s general behavior during the interview strengthened the conviction that Tehran supports acts of terrorism by radical Turkish supporters and that Iran wanted to use Mumcu’s murder to bargain with Turkey. (63)
Turkey has indeed given humanitarian shelter to more than a million Iranians, many of them political refugees from Khomeini’s regime. In fact, Iran has never presented any evidence of Turkey’s alleged involvement in terrorist activities on its territory. It is known that since the end of the Gulf War, the main opposition violent organization, Mujahedin-e Khalq, has not mounted terrorist operations in Iran, apart from occasional cross-border operations by its ‘National Liberation Army’ from Iraqi soil and with Iraqi assistance. (64)
The relations between Turkey and Iran in the following years continued to be strained with persistent ups and downs. But the main matter of conflict was the issue of Iran’s support to the PKK. The PKK intensified its terrorist activity in 1994 and began a campaign of international terrorism inside and outside Turkey. Iran offered a safe-haven to the PKK fighters. (65)
This was also due to successful operations waged by the Turkish security forces against the Islamic groups and the consequent decline in their terrorist activities in 1994 and 1995, compared with 1993. Radical Islamist organizations staged 86 acts of violence in 1995, compared with 464 attacks in 1994. A total of 25 persons died and 21 were wounded in these attacks, staged mainly by Hizballah and IBDA-C. ‘Ilim,’ one of Hizballah’s two splinter groups (Ilim and Menzil) stopped most of its armed activity, many cadre of the Islamic Movement were arrested and IBDA-C retained its level of activity mostly by acts of bombing and arson. (66)
The assassination in February 1996 in Istanbul of two leading Iranian opposition activists and the arrest in March 1996 of the Islamic Action leader, Irfan Cagarici, and his revelations about the ‘Iranian Connection’ again sparked the political and diplomatic dispute between the two governments. But the accusations were related mainly to the old known terrorist attacks of 1990-1993 and did not seriously affect bilateral relations.
But then in June 1996 the Islamic-lead coalition came to power in Turkey and Erbakan embarked upon an enthusiastic effort to improve relations with Iran. (67)
Iran’s policy of supporting and inciting Islamic terrorist activity in Turkey in the early 1990s can be understood as its drive to export the Islamic revolution to a key Muslim country, symbol of secularism and a strategic adversary. Its evaluation of the complex Turkish internal situation and the Islamic trend’s growing influence probably played an important role in the decision to pursue such an aggressive policy. According to this evaluation, the emergence of Turgut Ozal as leader of Turkey in the 1980s caused a gradual change in the relations between the two countries because he succeeded in reducing the sense of opposition to Islam among the political elite in Turkey, pursued a policy which included attention to Islam and expansion of good relations with its Muslim neighbors. Islamic Iran looked at Ozal’s policy on the whole positively and encouraged its continuation. (68)
The Gulf War, the defeat of Ozal’s Motherland Party in the elections of early 1990s, stronger critical views of Islamic Iran among the Turkish authorities, and the increasing press attacks against Iran weakened Ozal’s ‘legacy’ after his death. Hostility toward Iran reached its peak when a minister openly accused Iran of ‘creating insecurity’ inside Turkey, some border violations occurred and the Ankara authorities were reluctant to curtail the activities of Iranian ‘counterrevolutionary groups’ on its territory. Ironically, Iran considered that its ‘excessively moderate and reactive behavior’ produced the escalation of Ankara’s ‘unfriendly approaches’.
But the failure of secular power circles to get closer to Europe and the United States as a solution for Turkey’s economic problems, the growth of Islamism resulting in the RP’s victory and Erbakan’s premiership, and Turkey’s need for Iran’s support to solve some regional problems, caused a decline in tension between the two countries. According to the Iranian evaluation, President Demirel’s inclination to ‘combine Islam with the particular conditions of Turkey and the more Islamic viewpoints of Premier Erbakan’ made possible the improvement of the relations. (69)
THE GOALS OF THE RP
Most scholars agree that although Turkish Islam shares many common features with other Middle East Islamic fundamentalist movements, it has grown and developed in a very different political and social environment shaping its unique nature. As Sami Zubaida points out, Turkey’s Islamist ideology is tied up with Turkish nationalism in an unique fashion and challenges the secularist components and European identification of Kemalism, the dominant and official form of Turkish nationalism. At the same time the RP, the Islamic movement’s leading political force, has integrated fully in the Turkish pluralist system. This may account, according to Zubaida, for the marginality of the violent Islamic groups. (70) The question remains if the RP can be considered a legitimate democratic party that unconditionally supports the existing system, or if it uses the pluralist system and democratic methods only as a means toward its ultimate goal of installing a religious-based regime in Turkey.
This question is dealt with these days by the Turkish Constitutional Court itself, after it was asked by the State Prosecutor to decide if the RP’s policy endangers the secular regime. RP’s ambiguous and tortuous policy over the issue of Islamic terrorism in Turkey and Iranian involvement in it during the years 1990-1996 casts some doubts about its genuine acceptance of the democratic values and system. What probably most influenced the RP’s moderate and cautious policies over the years has been the need to keep in mind the Turkish army’s firmness in defending the Kemalist secular regime and avoiding a direct clash with its secular nationalist core.
This seems to have been also the strategy of the more violent, terrorist groups of the Islamic movement. The Islamic terrorist groups never attacked military or security personnel, although many of their members were killed during the security forces’ anti-terrorist campaigns. Only low-level local, mostly Kurdish, politicians have been killed by these organizations but no top secular politicians. This contrasts with Egypt or Algeria, where high-ranking military and police personnel or politicians involved in the fight against the Islamic organizations have been one of their preferred targets. (71) Moreover, Turkish Islamic groups did not attack Western targets or act abroad, like other Islamic groups or the PKK, though they have some infrastructure in Europe. (72)
The main targets attacked were secular intellectuals and media professionals, so important in defending secular values and shaping public opinion’s views against the Islamic movement. The elimination of these personalities profited all streams in the Islamic movement and did not seem to provoke a strong reaction against terrorist groups and their political mentors, at least until the assassination of Mumcu. Islamic groups attacked and threatened Jewish personalities, the Jewish community and probably also Israeli diplomats. By these actions they implemented the anti-Jewish, anti-Zionist aspect of the extremist Islamic ideology. In this they were not different from RP, which expressed antisemitic and anti-Israeli views in its propaganda, its official economic platform, or by accusing Israel for murderous attacks against secular personalities perpetrated by the Islamists themselves. (73)
It can thus be hypothesized that even if there was no structural or formal connection between the Islamic movement’s political and violent streams, there was an objective ideological alliance and de facto cooperation toward achieving the goal of establishing a Turkish Islamic state. The tolerance shown by part of the security establishment–especially those in the Ministry of Interior and the Police who came to senior positions due to their Islamic views or connections–helped terrorist groups in their formative period. It is quite clear that RP leaders tried to cover up the radicals’ violent practices but there is no evidence about the Islamic terrorist organizations’ attitude toward the RP’s role in advancing and deepening Islam’s influence in Turkey and the relations with the main Islamic party.
Iran’s radical anti-secular, anti-Zionist ideology explains the close cooperation with the terrorist Islamic groups in Turkey. Commenting on an anti-Turkish demonstration of Turkish Islamists in Tehran, an Iranian daily claimed that the domination of secularism and Zionism are ‘the two anti-Islamic platforms linked together in the artificial and short history of Turkey’ and that the Muslim people of Turkey has the right to protest those who have imposed ‘these two flimsy and foreign ideas on their fates.’ According to the commentator, ‘Zionism’s increasing mischief, the inefficiency of the broken arrow of secularism, the growing religious awareness of Muslims and of political Islam in Turkey’ permitted RP’s anti-alien, anti-Zionist, anti-secularist policies to emerge, for the first time in 73 years, as the main political party. (74)
Riding on the Islamic anti-secular, anti-Zionist wave, the Iranian government also achieved a more immediate tactical bonus by liquidating dozens of Iranian opposition activists. The fact that part of the ‘dirty work’ was done by radical Turkish groups made the attacks more effective and made it easier for the Iranian government to deny involvement in the killings. At the same time, the Turkish terrorist organizations profited materially from Iranian backing in training, logistical support. weapons and explosives and a much-needed safe-haven.
Although Iran claimed Iranian-Turkish relations were optimal during Ozal’s government, Iranian support to Turkish terrorist groups began as early as 1987 and peaked in the early 1990s when he served as Turkey’s President. It is more realistic to assume that Iran tried to take advantage of the ‘Turkish-Islamic Synthesis’ policy and Ozal’s government pro-Islamic tendencies in order to accelerate the radicalization of the Islamic movement.
The pressure on Turkey grew after the Gulf War, when Iran felt stronger regionally, eager to counter-balance Turkey’s influence in Central Asia and encouraged by the lack of reaction from the Turkish authorities, at least until 1993.The weakening of the Islamic radicals and the RP’s strengthening in the Turkish political arena, reduced Iran’s role, though it substantially increased its support to the PKK guerrilla and terrorist activity.
The Islamic fundamentalist movement in Turkey has many common features with movements in many Muslim countries but, as we have seen, it has understood the constraints and dangers of a direct clash with the nationalist Kemalist ideology and, above all, with a military establishment sworn to defend the secular regime and its values at all costs. The use of Islam by the new intellectual and economic elite and military for their own political needs– believing they could tame and transform it to be a pillar of the regime–has been skillfully exploited by the Islamic movement in its bid to achieve power and install an Islamic regime.
This is also true regarding the more radical, violent off-shoots of the Islamic movement. Their expansion and relative freedom of action was tolerated on the same grounds until they became a real threat for internal political stability. The RP’s parallel growth, electoral success, and its leadership’s indulgence toward the Islamists’ terror has no doubt encouraged and fed their violence. It is noteworthy that following Refah’s biggest electoral success in December 1995 and until the resignation of Erbakan’s government in June 1997, no serious terror acts were perpetrated by Islamic groups, except low-level actions waged by IBDA-C, the most independent of these groups.
Despite exposure of its role backing the terrorist activity of Turkish Islamic groups, Iran continues to support the PKK’s terrorist activity while paying a very low price for it. Iran also welcomed the RP’s rise to power. In exchange, Erbakan did his best to improve bilateral relations and overlook its terrorist dealings. The resignation of Erbakan’s government under the army’s pressure and the new government’s steps to curtail Islamic influence on the education system–or even to try to outlaw the RP- -have changed the ‘rules of the game.’ The RP’s leadership, Islamic radical groups and Iran will have to re-evaluate their strategy. One option open to them could be the use of terrorism. The question is if they will be ready to adopt this strategy when it seems that the military and the secular elite have abandoned the idea of the ‘Turkish-Islamic Synthesis’ and decided on a firm confrontation with the Islamic forces.
1. See for instance Nur Bilge Criss, ‘The Nature of PKK Terrorism in Turkey,’ Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, vol. 18, 1995, (pp. 17-37), p. 30, and Kemal Kirisci, ‘Post Cold-War Turkish Security and the Middle East,’ Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, Issue 2, 15 June 1997, p. 1.
2. Perhaps the best historical background can be found in a series of three articles dealing with ‘The Islamic Movement in Turkey’ by Ismet G. Imset, published in the Turkish Daily News (TDN) 14-17 May 1993.
3. Sabri Sayari, ‘Turkey’s Islamist Challenge,’ Middle East Quarterly, September 1996, (pp. 35-43), p. 37. See Anat Lapidot, ‘Islamic Activism in Turkey since the 1980 Military Takeover’ in Terrorism and Political Violence, vol. 3, 1997, Special Issue on ‘Religious Radicalism in the Greater Middle East’ edited by Bruce Maddy-Weitzman and Efraim Inbar, (pp. 62-74), p. 66.
4. See Sami Zubaida, ‘Turkish Islam and National Identity,’ Middle East Report, April-June 1996, (pp. 10-15), p. 11.
5. See Ertugrul Kurkucu, ‘The Crisis of the Turkish State,’ Middle East Report, April-June 1996, (pp. 2-7), p. 5.
6. See Binnaz Toprak, ‘Religion as State Ideology in a Secular Setting: The Turkish-Islamic Synthesis’ in Malcolm Wagstaff (ed.), Aspects of Religion in Secular Turkey, (Durham: University of Durham, Center for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, Occasional Paper Series No. 40, 1990, pp. 10-15)), p. 10.
8. Lapidot, op. cit., p. 64.
9. Kurkucu, op. cit., p. 5
10. For an evaluation of Turkey’s strategic interests and policy in the region see Kemal Kirisci’ s article cited in note 1.
11. This section is based mainly on Ismet Imset’s articles (TDN, 14-16 May 1993) cited in note 2, unless other sources are cited.
12. Hizb-al-Tahrir, founded in Jordan in 1953, is dedicated to the creation of a Khilafah (unified Islamic state) and is banned throughout the Middle East due to its attempts to foment Islamic revolution. It began activity in Turkey in 1962. See Cumhuriyet 30 October 1991. In the 1980s this organization had only a limited propaganda activity in Turkey.
13. U.S. Department of State, Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1991, p. 14.
14. Lapidot, op. cit., p. 65.
15. Cited by Cumhuriyet. 30 October 1991.
16. Hezbollah is the spelling used by TDN and other Turkish sources.
17. For this reason the names of the organizations mentioned in this article are those used by the various sources and do not always concord with the real group hiding behind the name.
18. Kalim Siddiqui was the founder of the Muslim Parliament and the Muslim Institute in London, which have close links with Iran and many of the world’s violent Islamist groups. He died in 1996. See also The Antisemitism World Report, London: Institute of Jewish Affairs, (1995), pp. 241-242.
19. According to the Turkish journalist Tunkay Ozkan the Islamic Movement was established in Batman in 1987 as one of the branches of the Islamic terror organization called Hizbullahiler, active in the Southeast, and moved its headquarters to Istanbul in 1990. See Cumhuriyet, 23 June 1993.
20. It is interesting to note the similarity of this conversion to radical Islam as a consequence of harsh conditions in prison with the radicalization of Islamic militants in the prisons of Nasserist Egypt and Baathist Syria in the middle 1960s. See Emmanuel Sivan, Radical Islam: Medieval Theology and Modern Politics (Tel-Aviv, Am Oved Publishers, 1986, in Hebrew), p. 37. 21. See Cumhuriyet, 16 February 1993.
23. Milliyet, 27 February 1997.
24. Professor Bahriye Ucok, writer Turan Dursan and journalist Cetin Emec (editor of the daily newspaper Hurriyet) were assassinated because they served ‘the idolatrous regime’ and in order ‘to bring about the resurrection.’ See Hurriyet, 10 October 1993, and Cumhuriyet, 6 February and 23 June 1993.
25. See Imset, TDN, 14 May 1993.
26. It is interesting to note that most of the anti-American and anti-Western terrorist activity during the Gulf War was perpetrated by the extreme left-wing Turkish organization Dev-Sol and not by Islamic groups, although they were also fiercely opposed to the allied intervention (with Turkish participation) in Iraq. See also U.S. Department of State,Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1991, p. 14.
27. A security officer at the Israeli embassy in Ankara was killed by a bomb in his car, 7 March 1992; grenades were thrown at the Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul, 1 March 1992; bombs were placed in the cars of two Iranian opposition militants, June 1992; and the same month a member of the Iranian Mujahedin-e Halq was kidnapped and assassinated.
28. See Anatolia Radio in English, 24 January 1993.
29. See for instance TDN, 29 January 1993 and reports of Ankara Turkiye Radyolari Network (FBIS-WEU-93-023 4.2.1993).
30. On 2 July 1993, during the traditional Pir Sultan Abdal Culture festival in the southeast city of Sivan, fundamentalists set on fire the Madimak Hotel where all the guests had been staying. 31. See TDN, 3 July 1997.
32. See Jane’s Intelligence Review, August 1996, p. 372.
33. TDN, 19 January 1995.
34. See Inter Press Service, 11 January 1995.
35. See U.S. Department of State, Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1995, p. 12, and Iran News, 3 January 1995.
36. See Imset, TDN, (8.2.1993, 14.5.1993) and Cumhuriyet 4 February 1993.
37. See Hurriyet, 10 February 1993.
38. See Cumhuriyet, 16 February 1993.
39. See TDN, 12 March 1993 and 15 May 1993.
40. Irfan Cagarici, the arrested leader of Islamic Action, was also behind the attack on the Jewish businessman Jak Kamhi in January 1993. See Jane’s, op. cit., p. 374.
41. See Sayari’s analysis, pp. 35-37. The RP obtained 21.3% of the vote and 158 seats out of the 550-member National Assembly and became the largest party in parliament.
42. See Kurkucu, op. cit., p. 5.
43. See Zubaida, pp. 11-12. See also Feroz Ahmad, The Making of Modern Turkey (London: Routledge, 1993), pp. 219-222.
44. TDN, 26 February 1993.
45. The Project for the Study of Anti-Semitism, Anti-Semitism Worldwide: 1995/96, Tel-Aviv University, 1996, p. 202.
46. See Inter Press Service, 11 January 1995.
47. Imset, TDN, 14 and 16 May 1993.
48. See Zubaida, op. cit., p. 12.
49. The vice-president of the RP declared on 9 February 1993 in the Turkish parliament that a team of six Israeli Mossad agents assassinated Mumcu and that the West was interested in inciting public opinion to believe that Iran was responsible. This accusation was apparently based on a secret report of pro-Islamic elements in the police. See Middle East International, 19 February 1993.
50. See Kanal 6 Television, 24 November 1993.
51. See Criss, op. cit., p. 21.
52. The pro-Islamic daily Turkiye, 3 December 1995, published a series of such declarations, such as that of Muhsin Yazicioglu (leader of the Grand Unity Party–BBP) or that of Professor Mahir Kaynak, ex-intelligence officer.
53. See Alan Makovsky, ‘Turkey: Erbakan at Six Months,’ Policywatch, No. 230, 27 December 1996.
54. Cumhuriyet, 23 June 1993.
55. Ibid, 24 June 1993.
56. See Imset, TDN, 14 May 1993.
57. Cumhuriyet and other newspapers, 5-6 February 1993.
58. Unfortunately, there is no room in this paper for a detailed evaluation of the economic, strategic and political reasons behind the cautious approach of the various Turkish governments in their relations with Iran.
60. See TDN, 29 January 1993.
61. See TDN, 31 January 1993.
62. See Ankara TRT TV Network, 5 February 1993.
63. See Gungor Mengi’s column in reaction to Velayati’s interview on 15 February 1993 in Sabah, 16 February 1993.
64. See U.S. Department of State, Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1995, p. 55.
65. See U.S. Department of State, Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1994, pp. 11-12, 25, and U.S. Department of State, Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1995, p. 12, 25. See also Criss, op. cit., p. 31.
66. See TDN, 8 January 1996.
67. See Kirisci, op. cit., p. 2.
68. This interesting analysis of Iran’s ‘three-phase’ relations with Turkey appeared in the Tehran Salam, 19 December 1996 on the occasion of Rafsanjani’s visit to Turkey.
70. For a discussion of RP’s characteristics as an Islamic movement see Zubaida, op. cit., pp. 10-11 and Sayari, op. cit., p.37.
71. See Elie Podeh, ‘Egypt’s Struggle against the Militant Islamic Groups’ in Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol. 3, 1997, Special Issue on Religious Radicalism in the Greater Middle East, edited by Bruce Maddy-Weitzman and Efraim Inbar, (pp. 43-61), p. 48.
72. IBDA-C’s monthly, Taraf, gives some addresses of its representatives in Europe. In Germany there are several extremist Islamic Turkish organizations. The most active is ‘The Islamic Communities Union’ led by Cemalettin Kaplan. See ‘Islamischer Extremismus und seine Auswirkungen auf die Bundesrepublik Deutschland,’ Bonn, Bundesamt far Verfassungschutz (November 1994).
73. According to Erbakan, Western ‘imperialist’ institutions and ‘Zionist Wall Street bankers’ seek mainly to exploit Turkey and the Islamic countries and Washington is the tool of ‘Zionist forces.’ RP’s politicians and daily newspapers have blamed the Jews, Zionism and Israel for every domestic and foreign problem of Turkey. See Sayari, pp. 41-41 and The Antisemitism World Report (1995), p. 228.
74. See Tehran’s Resalat, 18 February 1996.
*Dr. Ely Karmon lectures on International Terrorism and Right-Wing Extremist Organizations in Europe at the Political Science Department of Haifa University and is Research fellow at the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzlia. His Ph.D dealt with ‘Coalitions of Terrorist Organizations: 1968-1990.’
MIDDLE EAST REVIEW OF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS (MERIA)
This article focuses on the most radical groups within the framework of overall Islamic activity in Turkey. It argues that radical Islamic terrorist organizations active in Turkey during the 1990s have striven to establish an Islamic Sharia’-based state on the Iranian example, profited from deeper social and political trends in Turkish society, and at the same time strengthened these trends by their violence. These groups enjoyed wide Iranian support and often acted on behalf of Iranian local and regional, political and strategic interests. The reaction of Turkish authorities in the past to Islamic terrorist activity was limited and thus encouraged leaders of these groups and their sponsors to continue escalating violence hoping it will bring down the secular democratic regime in Turkey.