Turkish Police Official Axed amid Allegations in Murders

Head of intelligence allegedly hid evidence, failed to prevent slaying of Christians.

MALATYA, Turkey, October 22 (CDN) — The head of Turkey’s police intelligence department was removed on Friday (Oct. 16) amid allegations that he failed to prevent the murder of the Christian editor of an Armenian weekly and the slayings of three Christians in this city in southeastern Turkey.

Ramazan Akyurek is also accused of withholding evidence in those cases and improperly investigating the murder of a Catholic priest in 2006.

After a Malatya trial hearing on Friday, prosecution lawyers in the case commended the removal of Akyurek for negligence but said it came too late. Akyurek has been placed in a different position within police headquarters in Ankara.

Prior to the January 2007 murder of Hrant Dink, editor of the Armenian weekly Agos, Akyurek allegedly received a report about the orchestrated plan to kill him. That clearly implied that Akyurek was one of the masterminds behind the murder, according to Erdal Dogan, one of the prosecuting attorneys in the Malatya case.

While heading the investigation of the Dink murder, Aykurek reportedly not only witheld intelligence but also tried to affect the outcome of the trial, claiming in his investigation report that a group of “friends” planned to kill Dink because he offended Turkey.

“This is a disaster,” Dogan said. “The same happened with the Malatya massacre. “We know he had information on all the developments of the massacre, but he didn’t act on it. He tried to cover it up. We know that they were following the movements of the killers.”

Turkish Christians Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and German Christian Tilmann Geske were bound hand and foot, tortured and then slain with knives at the Zirve Publishing Co. in April 2007. Dogan said that had Zirve staff members not suspected that something was wrong and called police, the five young men who were caught at the scene of the crime most likely would not have been apprehended.

“It’s difficult to know to what extent this character affected the investigations during that time,” Dogan said. “This is why the fact that they took him from his position was important, but they removed him late; they removed him very late.”

Akyurek was head of police in the city of Trabzon in 2006 when Catholic priest Andrea Santoro was killed. It was under his auspices that a young man was arrested and imprisoned for the murders without investigation into who was behind the murder, according to Dogan.

In the same year, Akyurek was promoted to head Turkey’s police intelligence unit.

“Even though Aykurek was incompetent as a police head and covered up crimes, he became the head of intelligence with access to all of Turkey’s intelligence,” Dogan said.

More Evidence Sees Light

Akyurek was fired about a week after Turkish press received leaked documents showing payments the Malatya gendarmerie made in exchange for intelligence on missionary activities between March 2007 and November 2008. The amounts totaled nearly 10,000 Turkish lira (US$6,840).

At Friday’s hearing the Malatya court heard the testimony of Murat Gokturk, a former petty officer in the Malatya intelligence department at the time of the murders. Gokturk had made contact with Huseyin Yelki, a Christian volunteer at Zirve who is one of the suspects in the murders because of his heavy involvement with gendarmerie in the months leading up to and directly after the slayings.

Gokturk testified that he contacted Yelki and requested a New Testament in Arabic so he could learn the language better, as he has an Arabic heritage. He claimed that when he contacted Yelki from his gendarmerie office, he and the intelligence department were not following missionary activities.

“Missionary activities are legal,” said Gokturk. “This is a religious and conscience right. It’s not a crime.”

Prosecuting lawyers asked that the judges record Gokturk’s statement that missionary activities are legal. They later explained that since all other evidence shows that officials did spy on missionaries in Malatya, such a statement showed they were aware that they were doing so in violation of their legal jurisdiction.

“We questioned the witness [Gokturk], but he tried to hide the truth either by saying, ‘I don’t remember,’ or by lying,” said Dogan. “But evidence shows that he and Huseyin Yelki had a very close relationship and information exchange, and it’s obvious that this was not a simple information exchange. They met many, many times.”

The European Union Commission report on Turkey’s progress in 2009 was also published last week. Under the section on democracy and the rule of law, the report noted that high-profile cases such as the Malatya and Dink trials, which are connected to the alleged criminal network Ergenekon, raised concerns about the quality of investigations. The report noted a need “to improve the working relationship between the police and the gendarmerie on the one hand and the judiciary on the other.”

Concerning freedom of religion, the report noted that missionaries are widely perceived as a threat to the integrity of Turkey and Islam. It also pointed out that the Ministry of Justice allowed judicial proceedings under Article 301 of the Criminal Code – which criminalizes “insulting Turkishness” – in the case of Turkish Christians Hakan Tastan and Turan Topal for sharing their faith with others.

This last case has also been linked to the Ergenekon cabal believed to have masterminded the Santoro, Dink and Malatya murders. It has continued for three years with no resolution.

“It’s finally clear that there is a connection between Santoro, Dink and Malatya and everyone is talking that way,” said Dogan, noting how the prosecuting lawyers in the cases as well as the media perceive the link. “It is now obvious that these three crimes came from the same center.”

The Malatya court is still waiting for an answer from the Ergenekon judges about whether the murder of the three Christians will be joined into the the latter case, under which more than 100 former military, political figures, journalists and others have been arrested.

Dogan, however, said that whether the Malatya case is connected with the Ergenekon case is now secondary, and that it is probably better for the Malatya trial to stay separate to determine what really happened.

“It’s enough for me that this picture is clear,” said Dogan of the link between the cases and Ergenekon. “There is no doubt for me. If they connect them or not it doesn’t matter. Because when the court case goes there, Ergenekon is so complicated that the Malatya case could get lost in it.”

The next hearing of the Malatya trial is set for Nov. 13.

Report from Compass Direct News 


State fails to set aside funds to transport key witness to hearing.

MALATYA, Turkey, June 25 (Compass Direct News) – A suspected “middleman” between the alleged masterminds and young executors in the stabbing murders of three Christians here failed to appear at a hearing on Friday (June 19) because of a procedural error.

The state prosecutor’s office failed to set aside funds to transport Varol Bulent Aral to the southeastern city of Malatya from Istanbul, where he is held, the court announced. Aral is the second suspected middleman connecting the five young murderers to “deep state” masterminds who allegedly plotted to kill Turkish Christians Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and German Christian Tilmann Geske.

The three Christians were bound and tortured before they were murdered on April 18, 2007 at Zirve Publishing Co., where they worked. Suspects Salih Guler, Cuma Ozdemir, Hamit Ceker, Abuzer Yildirim and alleged ring-leader Emre Gunaydin were caught at the scene of the crime.

While in prison, Gunaydin testified to the state prosecutor that Aral, a journalist allegedly attached to a far-reaching political conspiracy known as Ergenekon, had contacted him and instructed him to carry out the murders. Gunaydin had also testified that Huseyin Yelki, who worked as a volunteer at the Zirve office, had planned details of the crime with him.

The court heard Yelki’s testimony in the last two hearings, but judges could not arrive at conclusive evidence connecting him to the murders. At the May hearing, Gunaydin retracted his statement that he and Yelki met to strategize before the murders. An order last month to investigate Yelki’s bank accounts for links to suspicious activity has yielded no new information, judges stated at the last hearing. He is still obligated, however, to attend every court hearing.

At a May hearing, the court also requested a list of people who have visited Gunaydin since the beginning of this year, suspecting that he may be under pressure to retract statements he has made implicating middlemen in the murders. The court is still evaluating the list of visitors it received.

Gunaydin’s girlfriend, Burcu Polat, was also expected to testify on Friday but did not appear. The court ordered Polat to appear at the next hearing and is petitioning the prosecutor’s office to funnel the necessary funds for Aral’s transportation from Istanbul to Malatya.

Erdal Dogan, one of a team of plaintiff lawyers in the Malatya case, told reporters after the short hearing that Aral’s absence resulted from a great oversight on the part of the Justice Ministry.

“They didn’t bring the witness due to a lack of funds,” said Dogan. “That the Justice Ministry knew the court date and didn’t put money aside for the witness to come is a tragic state of affairs.”

When asked whether the case will be joined to the ongoing Ergenekon court hearings, Dogan said the court is still researching possible links between the Malatya murders and those of Armenian Christian and newspaper editor Hrant Dink, who was killed three months before the men in Malatya, and Catholic priest Andrea Santoro, who was slain in the Black Sea coastal town of Trabzon in February 2006.

Link with ‘Insulting Turkishness’ Trial?

In Silivri, the case against Turkish Christian converts Hakan Tastan and Turan Topal for “insulting Turkishness” under controversial Article 301 continues to drag on two years after they were charged – leading the defendants to wonder if the “deep state” is also behind their ordeal.

Tastan and Topal were charged after speaking about their faith. The decision to try them under the disputed article came after three young men – Fatih Kose, Alper Eksi and Oguz Yilmaz – stated that Topal and Tastan were conducting missionary activities in an effort to show that Islam is a primitive, fictitious religion that results in terrorism and to portray Turks as a “cursed people.”

Prosecutors have yet to produce any evidence indicating the defendants described Islam in these terms. Turkey’s constitution grants all citizens freedom to choose, be educated in and communicate their religion, making missionary activities legal.

At a June 24, 2008 hearing, two witnesses for the prosecution declared they did not know the defendants and had never seen them before facing them in the courtroom. Several witnesses – including one of the original complainants, Kose – have failed to show up on various trial dates.

On May 28 the court, though yet again reaching no conclusions, ordered five witnesses to appear at the next hearing, set for Oct. 15.

“This is malicious,” Topal told Compass. “Every time they call someone else, find something new to accuse us of. They have called everyone, and this time they’re calling people from the judiciary… claiming that we met with them. It just keeps going on.”

Three of the five lawyers ordered to appear at the next hearing are workers in the country’s judicial system.

“If they would just make up their mind and at least pronounce us guilty, we would have a chance to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights, but now there’s just uncertainty,” said Topal.

He said he and Tastan are convinced that their trial is a set-up from Turkey’s “deep state” and is connected to the murders of the Christians in Malatya.

“In my mind, our court case and these murders were orchestrated,” Tastan said.

He described how, after they came out of a hearing held the day the three Christians were murdered in Malatya, members of the press and others gathered outside the courthouse in Silivri.

“Among the crowd, people yelled out to us, ‘We will cut you up too. We will kill you too,’” he said. “So when did they gather these people? When did they come? When did they learn of the event to know to yell at us if there wasn’t a connection between the two cases?”

Two key figures pressing the Article 301 charges and promoting sensational media coverage of the Silivri trial are now jailed themselves, unable to attend the hearings. Both ultranationalist lawyer Kemal Kerincsiz and spokesperson Sevgi Erenerol of the Turkish Orthodox Church – a Turkish nationalist denomination with no significant following – are accused of playing leading roles in Ergenekon, an ultranationalist cabal of retired generals, politicians, journalists and mafia members under investigation for conspiracy to overthrow the government.

“I think that it was the same people who orchestrated this,” said Tastan, referring to Ergenekon.

Report from Compass Direct News


Lawyers aim to uncover size, structure of ‘deep-state’ conspiracy.

ISTANBUL, February 24 (Compass Direct News) – The identities of the middlemen linking the attackers and the alleged masterminds in the murder of three Christians in Malatya, Turkey are expected to take clearer focus following the latest hearing.

“These five troubled youths didn’t wake up one morning and decide to commit a murder – there were others directing them,” Ozkan Yucel, plaintiff attorney representing the families of the victims, told the Turkish press last week, before Friday’s (Feb. 20) hearing at the Malatya Third Criminal Court in southeastern Turkey.

Two Turkish Christians, Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel, and a German, Tilmann Geske, were tied up and stabbed to death at Zirve Publishing Co. offices on April 18, 2007. The last several hearings of the trial have supported suspicions that others were involved in the murder besides the five youths suspected of carrying out the attack. More difficult, however, is determining the scope of the murders and the organization of its conspirators.

Plaintiff attorneys have called in a heavy slate of witnesses for the next hearing, ranging from a gendarmerie commander to an Islamic theology instructor at a nearby university. Mehmet Ulger, the former gendarmerie commander of the province, and Ruhi Abat, a theology instructor at the local Inonu University, are among the 10 people expected to testify at the April 13 hearing.

According to the Radikal daily newspaper, an anonymous letter sent to Turkish churches and obtained by the media claimed Ulger acted as an instigator to the murders and directed Abat to prepare arguments against missionary activity. The letter also implicates local politician Ruhi Polat, a member of the ultra-nationalist National People’s Party and a friend of the father of alleged ringleader Emre Gunaydin.

Plaintiff attorney Hafize Cobanoglu told Compass the anonymous letter played a part in the selection of Abat and Polat as witnesses.

“In this sense, paying heed to all these people is important,” she said. “However, I don’t believe they will say much when they testify.”

The call for new witnesses came two weeks after the arrest of two men suspected of acting as liaisons between the five suspects and the alleged “deep-state” masterminds of the attack.

Varol Bulent Aral, a journalist attached to a far-reaching political conspiracy known as Ergenekon, and Huseyin Yelki, a church-going, former volunteer at Zirve, were taken into custody earlier this month.

Aral, 32, has attempted to deflect blame for instigating the youths to commit the murders. He recently told a public prosecutor that the true force behind the killings was a gendarmerie intelligence unit established in the ’80s to counter Kurdish sectarian violence in the country’s southeast.

He claimed to have been approached by a member of the intelligence unit who sought his assistance. Aral said the member told him the unit would focus on three issues: missionary activity, Alevi-Sunni relations, and the Turkish-Kurd issue.

Aral claimed to have seen Gunaydin become involved with this unit, according to the daily Milliyet.

Recent court hearings, however, have produced substantial evidence that the true masterminds of the murder were members of Ergenekon, a clandestine nationalist group that sought to overthrow the current government by engineering domestic chaos.

Yelki, 34, has lived in the southern city of Adana for the nearly two years since the murder. He has had a rocky history with the leadership of Turkey’s small Protestant church, which he accused of abandoning him during difficult financial times in a series of defamatory e-mails.

He volunteered for six months at Zirve, site of the brutal torture and murder of the three Christians.

Gunaydin, the suspected ringleader of the youths accused of murder – including Salih Gurler, Cuma Ozdemir, Hamit Ceker, and Abuzer Yildirim – has claimed in previous hearings that he was offered promises of state support for killing the Christians.

In the course of Friday’s brief hearing, Ugur Yuksel’s mother, Hatice Yuksel, stood up and loudly asserted that Gunaydin had threatened her. She did not specify the nature of these threats, and court officials told her to be silent.

The next hearing for the trial is scheduled for April 13, four days before the second anniversary of the murders. Many attorneys believe the case will be fully integrated with the Ergenekon case in the upcoming months.

Report from Compass Direct News


Crime scene video sobers courtroom; accused killers either grin or grow sick.

MALATYA, Turkey, August 22 (Compass Direct News) – The five young Turkish men accused of torturing and killing three Christians in Malatya last year may have been incited by members of a vast political conspiracy allegedly responsible for multiple murders in recent years.

The 10th hearing on the murder of three Christians at a publishing house in southeast Turkey 16 months ago took place yesterday (Aug. 21) at the Malatya Third Criminal Court. Plaintiff attorneys requested the case be integrated with an investigation into Ergenekon, an ultranationalist cabal of retired generals, politicians, journalists and mafia members under investigation for conspiracy in various murders.

In January police uncovered and started arresting members of Ergenekon. A criminal investigation has linked them to high-profile attacks, murders and plans to engineer domestic chaos and ultimately overthrow the government.

Two Turkish Christians, Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel, and a German, Tilmann Geske, were brutally tortured and killed on April 18, 2007 in the southeastern Turkish city of Malatya.

Evidence suggests Emre Gunaydin, the suspected ringleader of the murderers, was in contact with at least two people connected to Ergenekon: a retired brigadier general and a journalist. The latter, Varol Bulent Aral, told Gunaydin he saw a connection between missionaries and the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) terrorist organization.

At yesterday’s hearing, presiding Judge Eray Gurtekin asked Gunaydin if he knew a former general and a political leader indicted in Ergenekon.

Gurtekin showed Gunaydin a note he had written last year while recovering in hospital from injuries he sustained after jumping out a third-story window while trying to escape police after the murder. His note said, “Don’t tell Levent.”

When the judge asked who this was, Gunaydin replied that he didn’t remember. Pressing further, Gurtekin asked him if he knew Levent Ersoz, a retired brigadier general indicted in the alleged Ergenekon conspiracy, or Levent Temiz, former head of the ultranationalist Ulku Ocaklari youth organization.

Gunaydin said he didn’t know the two men. Metin Dogan, a witness at the last hearing, said he and Gunaydin were involved in Ulku Ocaklari together. Gunaydin has denied knowing Dogan or having any involvement in the group.

Neither the widows of Aydin and Geske nor parents of Yuksel attended yesterday’s hearing. The martyred Christians left behind five children and Yuksel’s fiancée.

On the morning of the trial, Zaman national daily reported on further connections between the Malatya killings and Ergenekon. Gunaydin had been in contact with local journalist Aral, who had connections with Ergenekon and was called as a witness for the July 4 hearing.

Aral was arrested in another Turkish city while in possession of a Kalashnikov assault rifle. A week before the three Christians were killed in 2007, Gunaydin visited Aral in prison.

In January Malatya police found Aral’s diary, containing contact information for ultranationalist lawyer Kemal Kerincsiz, who was indicted in the Ergenekon affair. Previously Kerincsiz had pressed charges against two Turkish Christians for “insulting Islam” and charged Armenian journalist Hrant Dink with insulting Turkishness. Dink was assassinated in January 2007.

Gunaydin said in a statement that Aral told him that there was a connection between the PKK and foreign missionaries. The goal of Christian missionary work in Turkey, Aral said, was to destroy the motherland.

“I asked him if someone shouldn’t stop this,” Gunaydin said. “He told me to get up and stop this. When I asked him how this will be done, he said, ‘We will provide state support.’”


Graphic Footage

Possible evidence of such state support for the murders was shown at the most recent hearing, when plaintiff lawyers showed police video footage of the crime scene taken hours after the murder on April 18.

The footage suggests someone tampered with evidence at the crime scene. According to the video, a handgun found at the crime scene was too large to fit into its gun box, indicating weapons had been swapped.

“This shows there is someone protecting these suspects,” said plaintiff attorney Murat Dincer. “If someone in the investigation changed the guns, then there is another force behind the scenes.”

Police could be overheard in the audio track arguing whether the guns were the same or not. Dincer requested this footage be replayed so the court could hear the police having the argument. The court has requested an expert witness to testify about the guns for the next hearing.

The court has not allowed release of any copies of this footage, and even attorneys were allowed to watch it only under supervision.

The hearing produced emotional moments for the victims’ acquaintances. Close-up shots of the victims showed their bodies mutilated and lying in pools of their own blood.

While some in the court teared up at the close-ups of the victims, suspects Gunaydin and Salih Gurler were seen grinning at times during the display of the footage.

Some of the five suspects looked away from the video during the gruesome scenes. The judge then ordered them to keep watching: “It’s because of you we are watching this. Look at it.”

Defendant Abuzer Yildirim turned around and told the judge he could not continue to watch because his stomach couldn’t handle it.


Absent Witnesses

Only one of eight witnesses summoned to testify attended yesterday’s hearing. Huseyin Yelki, 34, testified he was working part-time at Zirve’s Malatya office when Gunaydin and two other men visited there, about a month or six weeks before the murders, he recalled.

Gunaydin introduced himself, saying he wanted to meet Necati Aydin. But when Yelki telephoned Aydin and learned he would be coming to the office an hour later, the three men left. Yelki, who walks with a cane, said he never saw them again and could not remember their faces.

According to the murder suspects’ testimonies, Gunaydin had told them that it would be easy to get information from a man with a lame leg who worked at the Zirve office.

Despite previous court orders for police to track down and force three of the witnesses to appear, the court was informed that no current addresses had been located for any of the seven absent witnesses.


Ergenekon Connection

The court has requested the file on the Ergenekon investigation.

After the hearing, attorney Ozkan Yucel said the plaintiff team has requested the entire indictment file from the Ergenekon case in Istanbul on a DVD. The next hearing will be on Sept. 12.

There has been a wave of attacks and threats against Christians across Turkey in recent years, and documents suggest these events are related.

In the first Malatya hearing in November, plaintiff attorneys presented a surprise demand to broaden the prosecution from an isolated case of terrorism to the criminal code statutes against religious “genocide.”

In a January hearing, formal requests to remove 16 files of information about the religious activities of the three Christians and to charge the perpetrators with “religious genocide” were denied.

Confiscated Ergenekon files show the group apparently tracked even the smallest actions of Christians in Turkey. A Jan. 7, 2005 statement made cryptic mention of church members in Izmir, Mersin, and Trabzon: “Those who have recently accepted Christianity show increasing devotion to their own rules,” the file said, according to Radikal national daily on Aug. 14.

Members of those churches have been attacked or killed in following years. In February 2006 a youth shot and killed Father Andrea Santoro in the Santa Maria Church in Trabzon. The same year, a 19-year-old man stabbed Father Adriano Franchini in Izmir.

Although yesterday’s hearing avoided the theatrics of the previous hearing on July 4, when defense attorneys tried to link Malatya’s Christian missionaries with the PKK, there was one hot outburst when a defense attorney asked why there were so many foreigners living in Malatya. The plaintiff attorneys then rose to their feet in protest, declaring the question irrelevant to the case.

Plaintiff lawyer Ozkan Yucel spoke to the Turkish press outside the courthouse after the hearing. He said the plaintiff lawyers wanted the Ergenekon file to find a relationship between the Malatya and Ergenekon investigations and possibly combine them.

“I am of the opinion this will be combined with Ergenekon investigation,” he said. “We may request they be combined at the next hearing.”  

Report from Compass Direct News