“New party initiatives should be absolutely deterred. Otherwise, there will be heavy consequences.”

This was the closing discourse of the year 2019, enunciated by the former police chief and politician Mehmet Ağar. 

“Of course.”he continued, “I would not want to sadden anyone who has served the state in the past, but it is also our right to ask them not to sadden us.”

Those who served the state in the past to be dissuaded include the former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, the former Deputy PM Ali Babacan and former President Abdullah Gül, the leading names associated with the new party initiatives. They have effectively been warned by this statement not to sadden Ağar and his associates.

Ağar’s son is a parliamentary deputy of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and this seems to be his sole official connection with the government. He served as the national police chief, Minister of Interior and Minister of Justice in the centre-right True Path Party (DYP) cabinets back in the 1990s, but had to resign after the Susurluk scandal in November 1996, which uncovered links between senior state figures and organised crime. Since then, Ağar does not have any official titles. In fact, since his conviction in 2011 for “leading a criminal organization”, an official position ceased to be an option. Yet, his statements imply that he speaks on behalf of “the state”, that is, what is otherwise known as the voice of “the deep state”.

Ağar and the deep state

Ağar’s career as a policeman and the life of the “deep state” intersected long time ago. An internet encyclopaedia entry reads that in early 1980s, “Mehmet Ağar became the chief of the Counter-Guerrilla, a clandestine stay-behind anti-communist initiative backed by NATO and United States.” Ağar ascended through the police ranks throughout the 1980s and his name was linked to the perpetrators of hundreds of cases of summary executions, torture and missing in custody in the 1990s, victims of which were mainly leftist and later Kurdish political activists. 

The investigation into the Susurluk accident of 1996 revealed later that the unofficial state organizations that Ağar’s name is associated with consisted of politicians, high ranking army and police officers and intelligence staff, and had recruited ultra-nationalist terrorists and mafia gangs involved in drug trafficking. Their prosecution and liquidation have continued through decades.

In parallel to the end of cold war and the liquidation of Gladio, the Turkish counter-guerrilla with its official wing, Special Warfare Department, seemed to have become redundant. Although there is no proper journalism that investigates and reports on the life of the deep state in Turkey, evidence suggests that instead of a wholesale elimination, the war against the PKK that has continued since the 1980s facilitated the recomposition of unofficial state organizations, such as the JITEM (Gendarmerie Intelligence and Counterterrorism Service) and the Special Forces Command. These structures and their underworld associates carried out anti-terror operations without being bound by law, while maintaining some profitable Mafioso business.

In the early 2000s, the deep state allied itself with the Kemalist militarist opposition to the AKP government. Ağar, a centre-right politician of the time, was among the vocalists of the choir. In response, the Susurluk case along with the cases of unresolved murders of the 1990s were reopened by the AKP administration within the context of the Ergenekon trials and Ağar was imprisoned for a brief period in 2012.

Erdoğan’s carrot and stick

The July 15 2016 coup attempt was the beginning of a new era for the conventional deep state in the new fight against the “Parallel State” of the Gülen community. Mehmet Ağar and the former PM Tansu Çiller, prominent names of the 1990s notorious legacy, both declared support for the Erdoğan government. Their shift coincides with the ultra-nationalist MHP’s transition from an opponent to a loyal ally of Erdoğan’s presidential system. The debate usually focuses on whether Erdoğan is holding these deep state elements hostage or, to the contrary, he himself is their hostage.

Mehmet Ağar is reported to be a father figure for the current Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu and that he effectively acts as Erdoğan’s security advisor. Not only in the sense of national security matters such as anti-terrorism and the recent cross-border incursions but also in methods of suppressing the political opposition, for which Erdoğan allegedly formed a paramilitary group, Sadat.

Ağar’s statement against the new party initiatives also coincides with a recent court acquittal of the JITEM members, for the charges of unlawful killings. The ex-police chief’s discourse marks the new initiatives not as political opposition but as the signs of a counter-state conspiracy to weaken and break up the current nationalist, conservative government. There is all the more reason to perceive this warning not merely as the words of a 68 year old pensioner but as a serious threat made with the state’s deep voice.