Turkish court holds first hearing of Sinan Ateş case 1.5 years after murder

The first hearing of the Sinan Ateş case was held on July 1. Former ultranationalist group Grey Wolves head Sinan Ateş was murdered in December 2022 as some government-ally MHP and Grey Wolves members were reportedly involved in the murder.

Ceren Bayar / DUVAR

An Ankara court on July 1 held the first hearing of the case of Sinan Ateş, former head of the ultra-nationalist far-right Grey Wolves connected to the MHP.

Ateş, former Grey Wolves head, was assassinated by two people on a motorcycle while leaving a building on Dec. 30, 2022, in the capital Ankara.

He was the head of Grey Wolves, a group of far-right ultra-nationalist Turks known as “Ülkü Ocakları” in Turkish, between 2019 and 2020. He became the head of Grey Wolves upon MHP leader Bahçeli’s instruction.

Ateş resigned from his duty on April 2, 2020, at the request of Bahçeli and started working as an academic at Hacettepe University, Department of History.

Some of Ateş’s family members claimed that he was murdered with the knowledge of MHP and Grey Wolves officials. That’s why the case has the potential to increase the tension between AKP and MHP.

The hearing saw the attendance of Sinan Ateş’s wife Ayşe Ateş, Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Özgür Özel, its former leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, İYİ (Good) Party leader Müsavat Dervişoğlu, Victory Party leader Ümit Özdağ, Homeland Party leader Muharrem İnce, and other politicians.

Ayşe Ateş came to the hearing by wearing body armor and five bodyguards.

The court rejected two MHP lawyers’ participation in the case.

First, gunman Eray Özyağcı spoke at the hearing. He said he shot Sinan Ateş “only in both feet” upon the request of the instigator Doğukan Çep. He added that he heard shouts of “We shot him” while fleeing after shooting Ateş.

Stating that he called Çep, Özyağcı said, “I told him, “I shot at his feet, but they shouted 'We shot him'. He told me, 'Go to Gölbaşı (district) with Mustafa Kemal, don't do anything on your own.’ We went to a house I didn't know its owner. Doğukan called me again an hour later and said, 'Sinan Ateş is dead. Didn't I just tell you to shoot his feet?’ I told him that I didn't kill the man, I shot his feet. He got angry with me and hung up the phone.”

He said he hid in that house for four days, then went to İzmir, and then to Edirne to flee to Greece. He explained that he swam across the Evros River into Greece, was subjected to violence by Greek police, and was returned to the Turkish border.

He noted that one of the prosecutors, Durdu Özer, told him “Don't tell us stories. We think this (murder) is political. If you received instructions from (MHP leader) Mr. Devlet (Bahçeli), don't bother us. Give us the names of two or three executives from the MHP and we will save you. We will protect you inside and outside.” He said he told the prosecutor, “I won't slander anyone,” and the prosecutor said, “You're not doing yourself any favors. Stay in prison and come to your senses.”

“I only shot Ateş’s feet because Doğukan (Çep) had problems with Sinan Ateş, I didn't kill Sinan Ateş. I want our state to investigate this,” he added. 

The second defendant to take the stand was Vedat Balkaya, who was the driver of the motorcycle used in the murder.

“They told me this was a matter of money. Otherwise, I wouldn't have helped them, as someone who just got out of prison,” he said. 

Doğukan Çep, accused of being the instigator of the murder, claimed to be a member of the Marxist–Leninist Communist Party (MLKP) and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Çep claimed that he wanted help from Ateş, saying “I told him 'I am on trial', I told him that I shot MLKP terrorists, and said 'Help me'. He said, 'Congrats, you did what we couldn't do'. Then he called me and said, 'They want 1 million TL to solve your case.”

After giving Ateş all the money he requested, Çep claimed Ateş started not answering his phone calls. He said that he thought that his request would not be resolved and that he would not get his money, “I said, 'I'm going to shoot him in the feet'.”

Çep argued that Özyağcı had used drugs before the incident and that he directed the process on the phone. “I said, Shoot two or three at Sinan Ateş's feet, get away immediately.' He shot him in the feet, but I don't know how he died. They say 'assassination'. But I swear I didn't come to kill.”

Çep argued that it was not possible for the bullet that killed Ateş to have come from Eray Özyağcı's gun from the angle where he was standing and holding the gun, that the bullet that killed Ateş was the one that hit him in the abdomen, that the angle of the bullet that killed him could have been the angle of Selman Bozkurt (the friend who was with Sinan Ateş on the day of the incident) and asked for an investigation.

After Çep, Tolgahan Demirbaş, one of the former executives of the Grey Wolves, denied all accusations against him. It was claimed that Demirbaş had been searching for Sinan Ateş's address information and had asked for information about Sinan Ateş from the police, the national intelligence executives, and public officials.

He also allegedly kidnapped the shooter after the murder and took him to the house of then-MHP MP Olcay Kılavuz.

He said the period when information about Ateş was investigated was eight months ago before the murder. “At that time there was a reaction against him within our community. Friends wanted to protest by hanging a banner in front of the deceased's house. Everyone made an effort to find the place to hang the banner. I also made an effort. It is said that I got the address from my cell phone. I never sent that information to anyone.”

Demirbaş argued that he had met with security officers on the day of the murder because he was curious about the details of the murder. Regarding his alleged meetings with then-MHP MP Olcay Kılavuz, Demirbaş said, “I don't remember ever meeting with Olcay Kılavuz. The recordings are false. I think the expert report is wrong.”

The first session of the hearing has ended and the trial will continue on the morning of July 2.

Before the hearing, Ayşe Ateş said the indictment was far from being complete. “There is still missing evidence, there is still evidence that has not been added to the case. The statements of some of our friends have not yet been added, these statements must be added quickly.”

“We will follow this case until justice is served, until the mysteries over the assassination are unearthed. We said we would be Ayşe Ateş’s side until he says justice has been served,” CHP leader Özel tweeted.