“You know, I’m not superstitious, but caviar is always a bad sign. I’m a musician. This is the third regime that has invited me to receptions. However, what all regimes have in common is that the more critical the situation, it is certain that more caviar will be served.”
Swiss writer Max Frisch tells the story of the unravelling of a corrupt regime and its massive bureaucracy in his play “Count Öderland: A Twelve-Scene Murder Ballad.” Frisch’s hero, Martin, is a principled, loyal and hardworking public prosecutor who turns the ‘axe,’ the murder weapon in a family massacre he is investigating, toward the bourgeois. In an atmosphere where problems such as the power of force of the government, physical and political violence, and the deadly alienation of capitalism are depicted, the axe encourages crowds and frightens the regime. Conversely, Frisch chose caviar as a symbol of extreme wealth, a unique form of privilege, and a reoccurring sign of corruption.
If we plant Count Öderland in Turkey, we should replace caviar with cocaine: “The more critical the situation, it is certain that more cocaine will appear.”
Now let’s turn more fully to Turkey. The leader of a criminal group, Sedat Peker, filmed some videos abroad and posted them online recently. They are going viral as they evoke the feeling that we are facing a ‘new Susurluk.’ (The Susurluk scandal erupted in 1996 and revealed mafia-state political networks.) Perhaps we shouldn’t make Susurluk comparisons, because this last episode proves that the state-mafia-politics triangle continues to this day uninterrupted. There has never been a true settling of accounts for the actors within the Susurluk case. The corrupt networks have been tranferred to the present day without changing the main actors.
This is a symptom of regime established in Turkey after the September 12, 1980 coup d’état. Such network revelations are more than a sign of the decay of the state. These individuals make up the system, state, and regime. Sedat Peker’s ‘subtle’ messages have attracted a lot of attention. He delivers them in terms of the “sides” and “interested parties” within the conflict, via his own performance and ‘liveliness.’ The accused, exposed, and those to be exposed are receiving the real message from Peker’s ‘boldness.’ Seeing as Peker was understood to be among their ranks, this indicates a shift in the status quo.
Peker mentioned the nearly 5 tons of cocaine seized in Colombia early last summer, apparently heading for Turkey. He claimed that the company in Turkey which was involved in this incident had not been investigated. “The address the drugs are sent to is clear. The owner is Mehmet Ağar.”
Thus, the caviar of our regime becomes cocaine. It is like ‘powder sugar’ icing on the cake. In that case, it was obvious that we were not only talking about the drug-fueled transgressions of an ambitious young man. The powdered joy snorted off a plastic plate in a luxury car connects us back to the 5 tons of said powder loaded in the Colombian port.
In 1987, during the second term of former President Turgut Özal’s, an intelligence report from the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) called the “Banker Bako Incident, Dispute within the Police, and Relations among the Underground, Police and Public Officials.” The report was leaked to the press and caused quite a controversy. The report was the product of an open conflict within the MİT and police bureaucracy. It emerged from tension within the state in which Özal, Demirel, Kenan Evren, and other powerful junta generals partook. The report was not the cause of conflict, but the outcome. It was not just conflict between two ‘Mehmets,’ Mehmet Eymür from MİT and Mehmet Ağar from the police. It was a sign of transformation in the state.
The report said: “The senior staff of the Istanbul Police Department, headed by Ünal Erkan, have a close relationship with the underworld in Istanbul. Top coordinators of this relationship are retired homicide chief Ahmet Ateşli and Mehmet Ağar.” The report emphasized that “extreme right affiliates" were among the contacts of the Istanbul Police Department. The so-called far-right affiliates were cited as far-right “idealists” related to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and some religious sects. Mehmet Ağar was alleged to have “provided information about investigations and interrogations that should have been kept secret.”
One of the names mentioned was the drug trafficker Ömer Lütfü Topal, known as “the man who introduced cocaine to Turkey” in the 1980s. Topal was promoted from drug dealer to casino owner, but was not able to escape the wrath of his gang; He was killed by the Susurluk team. The MİT report of 1987 showed that the security bureaucracy and the mafia are deeply intertwined; They have become one. Reading this report was not enough to save Özal. The Özal regime was always going to collapse, and what happened was not the cause of the collapse, but a consequence of the collapse. Many of those named in the report have made careers within the state bureaucracy and the underworld. They became pioneers of an organization in which bureaucracy and mafia work together, forming their own system, their own regime.
Nearly a decade later, the Susurluk car crash paraded the same actors into the court of public opinion. This time, everything was more evident and there the networks were stronger than in 1987. In fact, they weren’t even secret. They were identified in the documents from government intelligence and, in a way, were hiding in plain sight.
This time around they have been exposed as a result of another collapse. The regime they founded, codename “national security,” was losing its legitimacy. Generals, who saw that the central policy system had collapsed and that Islamists were the at the hegemonic center, attempted to stage a vain attempt at ‘correction’ on February 28, 1997. They seized the political system. But that shock did not resuscitate the body. The decayed regime was to collapse and the vacuum would be filled by neo-Islamists with the support of major financial factors. Just like those before them, this regime was withdrawing and from it oozed a dirty river full of drug trafficking, casinos, black money, ‘far-right associates,’ murder, and, of course, cocaine. Their survival efforts overwhelmed by the 1999 Marmara Earthquake and economic crises.
The ongoing pandemic has now surpassed the Marmara Earthquake in its aftershocks in terms of loss of life and economic damage. In addition to being a health crisis, the pandemic has become an economic-political spotlight illuminating the inner machinations of the regime. It has rocked the country. While the economic crisis its endurance by lasting more than three years, we are witnessing a simultaneous discharge similar to that of 1987 and 1997. Almost the same actors, same titles, and same revelations: Drug trafficking, murder, money laundering, ‘far-right’ elements, and cocaine.
We’re not witnessing the beginning of a fight; we’re witnessing the end. The regime is not dying because it has been poisoned; poison is leaking into society because the regime is dying. Maybe Turkish society, after having missed the opportunity twice, will take advantage this time. Or perhaps the parasites of the underworld will take this opportunity leave the rotting corpse and leech upon a new one.