Five armed men evaded Turkish police in the southern province of Adana, state-owned Anadolu news agency reported recently, increasing concerns over a possible terrorist attack or street clashes in an already tense country ahead of the March 31 local elections.
Locals in the Yuregir district of Adana notified the police about five balaclava-clad men armed with long barreled weapons seen in the neighborhood.
Although the public order police and anti-terror branch teams were dispatched to the area to locate the armed men, they were not able to apprehend them, local authorities said.
Police officers have since been examining security footage from businesses in the area, according to Anadolu, yet no official announcement has been made on the incident.
Turkey’s political atmosphere is highly polarized now as it will be putting ballot boxes to the test once again at the end of March to elect mayors, city councils and local authorities. The upcoming local elections will be the last poll before a scheduled general election in 2023.
Terrorist incidents peaking around election time is not a rare occurrence in Turkey
The deadliest terror attack in modern Turkish history took place at a Labor-Peace-Democracy rally organized by pro-minority People’s Democratic Party (HDP) in Ankara. Two consecutive explosions outside Ankara Central railway station killed 109 civilians and injured 500 on October 10, 2015.
Although no organization claimed responsibility for the attack, one of the suicide bombers, Huseyin Tunc, had suspected links to the Islamic State (ISIS), according to a news report in Hurriyet daily in April 2016. The terror attack came shortly after the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its majority in Parliament after 13 years of government in the June general election.
Critics have accused the AKP of creating an anxious atmosphere to try to reduce the turnout in the HDP electoral strongholds in southeastern Turkey. Concerns have been raised about whether or not an election can be securely conducted amid terror incidents targeting Kurdish civilians.
Authorities encourage ordinary citizens to take to the streets “when necessary”
The 15 July coup attempt in 2016, which left 250 people dead, including 145 civilians, according to the Turkish government, has kept Turkey on their feet, breaching confidence towards security officers too.
Following Erdogan’s call to citizens via video conference that was aired live on TV on the night of the coup, civilians took to the streets to protest putschists. Within the first hours of July 16, an angry crowd lynched a few dozen soldiers and Air Force Academy students who had been directed on the Bosporus Bridge in Istanbul, killing two cadets who were later identified as Murat Tekin and Enes Ragip Katran, according to media reports.
Erdogan administration subsequently issued an emergency decree, which indicated that all citizens are entitled to any kind of intervention against those who are demonized and labeled as terrorist by the regime.
According to decree No. 696, which adds a new paragraph to Article 37 of decree No. 667 dated Nov. 8, 2016, regardless of an official title or duties, or the lack thereof, people who played a role in the suppression of a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and subsequent terrorist activities and events will be exempt from criminal liability.
The new decree granted impunity to anybody who acted against the “state.”
Then human rights advocate Ömer Faruk Gergerlioglu, currently, a deputy of HDP, criticized the emergency decree in a tweet, saying, “If you take part in an innocent protest and someone kills you, he may not be punished. What else could be done to show that the state of law has ended?”
Meral Aksener, the opposition Good Party (IYI) leader claimed, after the controversial decree, that there are pro-government militia forces acting separately from the Turkish security forces.
“Lately, we hear about armed men in uniforms taking to the street. There are some serious allegations about that. We hear that there are armed training camps in Tokat and Konya provinces,” Aksener said during an interview with Sozcu daily in 2018.
“SADAT is one of those organizations. These groups aim at making people participate in street clashes. There are claims that these militia forces will create internal disturbances in Turkey if they [the AKP] don’t get the results they want from the upcoming elections,” Aksener underlined, referring to the presidential election that was to take place on June 24, 2018.
SADAT A.S. International Defense Consulting was established by 23 retired officers and non-commissioned officers under the leadership of retired Brig. Gen. Adnan Tanrıverdi on February 28, 2012. Tanrıverdi was appointed as an adviser to Erdogan following the failed coup attempt.
Mafia leader called on nationalists to arm before March 31 elections
Turkish government’s repeated calls to ordinary citizens to “defend” the country against “terrorists,” also encouraged people to spread thinly-veiled threatening words via social media and join the “rallies” of mafia leaders, such as Sedat Peker.
Being a staunch supporter of the alliance between the ruling AK Party and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), a Turkish mafia leader, a convicted crime boss, Sedat Peker, called on his supporters on February 4, 2019, to arm themselves in anticipation of Turkey’s upcoming local elections.
“It is insurance when the gun is in good hands. That’s why my brothers, our friends who have the possibility, must absolutely obtain licensed weapons. They must take a shotgun. They must be prepared,” he told the crowd in Istanbul’s Atasehir district.
“Our police, our troops are strong, but the children of this country will also protect the streets of this country along with security forces,” said the famous nationalist mafia leader, adding, “Whoever has the financial capacity must buy licensed firearms and shotguns to defend the country and themselves.”
An investigation was launched against Peker after the incident, facing charges of “incitement to commit a crime” and “incitement of hatred and enmity” with no immediate measure.
Peker has a long track record of openly threatening Turkish President Erdogan’s critics and opposition parties.
In January 2016, Peker threatened academics who signed a peace petition asking Turkey to end violence against Kurds and end curfews in Kurdish-populated south-eastern Turkey. “We will shed blood in streams and take a shower in your blood,” a lunatic Peker said, targeting the academics deemed “pro-terror” by Ankara, during a rally protesting terrorism in Rize province in 2016.
Labeling dissidents “terrorists” is something Turkey’s President Erdogan has been densely using as an instrument on the eve of the upcoming elections.
He accuses opposition parties of terrorist propaganda and threatens to jail them.
Erdogan intimidated Aksener with imprisonment in an election rally held in the eastern province of Elazig last week. Referring to jailed Selahattin Demirtas, the former co-leader of HDP, Erdogan targeted Aksener saying, “Look at the ones serving time in prison, you may find yourself in the same place.”
Demirtas was arrested in November 2016. He is still in jail facing possible prison sentences totaling more than 100 years on various terrorism charges.
AKP chair for the Central Anatolian city of Kutahya, Ali Cetinbas, also threatened the opposition on Sunday, saying that they will not be able to roam freely in the streets after the local elections on March 31.
Cetinbas threatened the National Alliance, formed by the Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP), the Felicity Party (SP) and the IYI Party, saying, “On the 31st of March, the quadruple gang [CHP, IYI, SP, and HDP] who do politics at the expense of this nation will not get a chance to walk freely on these streets.”
CHP MP Ali Kasap criticized his remarks, arguing that they violate the political ethics, and further encourage ordinary people to be marginal.
Many AKP officials, in recent years, have been blaming dissidents for being terrorists or pro-terror, as a part of politically motivated rhetoric, which is led by President Erdogan himself.
Referring to the threats by pro-government figures, Ihsan Caralan, Evrensel daily columnist, wrote on Monday that Turkey’s current political atmosphere is not fit for a local election to take place.
“The political atmosphere is not acceptable, even for a country [like Turkey] where democratic norms apply from time to time,” he lamented.