SADAT: the horsemen of the apocalypse?

A number of allegations have recently surfaced over Adnan Tanrıverdi, a former security aide to President Erdoğan. Tanrıverdi is said to oversee SADAT, a shadowy paramilitary group close to the President. Allegations of the company’s involvement in the combat training of the jihadist paramilitary groups loyal to Turkey go further to suggest that SADAT pushed for the current escalation in Idlib. Can it be compared to Iran's Revolutionary Guards?

“Will Islam ever unite? Yes. How will it happen? When the Mahdi arrives. When does the Mahdi arrive? Only God knows. So, do we not have a duty? Should we not prepare the conditions for the Mahdi’s arrival? This is precisely what we are doing.” 

Adnan Tanrıverdi, the man who disclosed the imminent arrival of the Mahdi (the Islamic counterpart of the Messiah in Judeo-Christian theology) in December last year, was none other than President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s aide on security and foreign policy. Though Tanrıverdi resigned from this post following a public outrage over his apocalyptic revelation.

Tanrıverdi, a former general who had been forced into retirement back in 1996 because of his Islamist affiliations, has become known in recent years as the director of a security firm, SADAT.

According to its own definition, SADAT provides consultancy services and military training to the international defense sector. The company’s management is manned by former military officers renowned for their loyalty to President Erdoğan, who claim credit for the failure of the July 15 2016 coup attempt due to their contribution to the popular anti-coup mobilization. 

However, since the formation of the company in 2012, SADAT’s involvement in politics has allegedly gone far beyond this single “democratic” intervention, according to numerous questions tabled in parliament. The government and the minister of defense refused to respond to any of these questions from the parliamentary opposition and no legal investigations have been conducted into SADAT’s affairs.

Shadow army

Allegations suggest that SADAT has developed an army of paramilitaries under the command of Tanrıverdi, who reportedly remains closely connected to President Erdoğan. The opposition has said that the company has two military camps in the central Anatolian provinces of Tokat and Konya where paramilitary troops are trained. 

Besides commanding a shadow army that reports to the president, Tanrıverdi’s relationship with Erdoğan is alleged to be one of mutual influence, with SADAT claimed to have some influence over the presidential policy making processes. In a statement that came after the failed coup attempt of 2016, Tanrıverdi pointed out that the transition to the presidential system was “their” recommendation along with the restructuration of the Turkish armed forces, which have been put in effect: “Our recommendations extensively reflect on the emergency rule bylaws,” the former general said. 

If so, then the next reform in Turkey’s system can be forecasted from what SADAT’s sister organization ASSAM currently recommends: “The sentence that ‘the official religion of the state is Islam’ should be included in the Constitution”. 

Tanrıverdi is alleged to have more influence over the military command structure than the current Chief of the General Staff. Until his recent resignation, Tanrıverdi participated as the presidential advisor in the national security summits, which traditionally hosts the police and army chiefs, along with the interior and defense ministers. The parliamentary opposition has demanded that the public be informed about SADAT’s activities and its position in the state apparatus. Iyi Party deputy Aytun Çıray told Deutsche Welle Turkish: “Scandalous allegations about SADAT await answers from the government. We are aware of the existence of unofficial armies in other countries but none of these companies operate so as to govern the state from outside”. 

Wide reach 

Moreover, SADAT’s influence is claimed to extend to foreign policy decisions, particularly on the military engagements in Syria and Libya. Allegations of the company’s involvement in the combat training of the jihadist paramilitary groups loyal to Turkey go further to suggest that SADAT pushed for the current escalation in Idlib. It has also been alleged that the Turkish military command’s objections to the establishment of observation posts in the region were overruled by Erdoğan because of the pressure from the company executives. 

SADAT is also said to be involved in the marketing of the weaponry produced by Turkey’s flourishing defense industry, particularly in the Middle East and Africa. Claims of the company’s involvement in arms sales to the warring factions loyal to the Tripoli administration in Libya have been made by Russian media. Russian sources claim that during the three month period between July and September 2019, 10,000 tonnes of weaponry and ammunition, along with armored vehicles, missile launchers and drones, have been shipped to Tripoli from Turkish ports.

Parallel to these shipments was the transfer of more than 1,000 jihadists from Syria to Libya and were supervised, according to Russian media, by 88 men, all of whom are SADAT personnel, who also train the jihadists on how to operate the new arms. Erdoğan’s statement on Libya in January seems to substantiate these allegations: “As an opposition force, we will have different teams in Libya."

Tanrıverdi and the company have categorically denied providing military training to any civilians or groups in Turkey or abroad: “Our services consist of programs for the armies and police forces of those countries that are Turkey’s friends and allies,” the firm has said in a statement.

The watchmen controversy and the ‘Revolutionary Guards’

Despite this denial, SADAT’s controversial activities and hold over the political process continue to generate concern. Some allege that the company is founded as part of Erdoğan’s preparations for a civil war and Tanrıverdi’s messianic revelations are indicative of this prospect. SADAT allegedly recruits from among the pro-AKP youth organizations to train cadres as Erdoğan’s stormtroopers.

Others read the company’s surge in parallel with the recently founded watchmen organization (Bekçi), a 30,000 strong paramilitary group, who are supposed to assist the police in the maintenance of order in the cities. Erdoğan made the following statement on Jan. 2 in support of the watchmen organization: “We are in a situation where we can no longer rely solely on the official security forces for the order of our cities”. 

Many criticize this new institution as a way of establishing an armed pro-Erdoğan youth organization similar to the Basij group in Iran. The Basij – a paramilitary group connected to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards – are known for their mission to prevent “immoral” behavior in the cities such as drinking alcohol or flirting. They were also used by former President Ahmedinejad in the suppression of protest demonstrations back in 2009. 

If the watchmen organization is the Turkish version of the Basij, then some parallels between the structures and aims of the SADAT organization and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards of Iran can be drawn. The Revolutionary Guards, who played a crucial role in the consolidation of the Islamic regime in post-revolutionary Iran, are still the primary force that maintains the Islamic order. In addition to domestic security, the Revolutionary Guards are also involved in national defense. They operate as a parallel force accompanying to both the police and the military. While SADAT allegedly resembles to the Revolutionary Guards, its operations abroad could be found to be similar to the engagements of the Iranian regime's Quds Army.

Trumpets of ‘Great Tribulation’

SADAT is still in the stage of formation and its size of personnel cannot be compared to the 250,000 strong Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Rather than developing an additional armed organization, SADAT seems to aim at exerting influence, particularly on the Turkish armed forces’ structure and operations. In this sense, rather than a parallel additional army, SADAT has the features of a shadow army headquarters where “real” decisions are taken. 

The identity of the Mahdi, who is on his way according to Tanrıverdi, the role of SADAT in the preparation of the conditions for his arrival and what such an arrival would imply are still questions that deeply concern Turkish society and the international community.