A violent ultranationalist group, designated as terrorist by Turkey’s highest criminal court over attacks in Turkey and Cyprus, has been given new life by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his neo-nationalist allies.
The leading figures who were investigated as part of the crackdown on the armed group known as the Turkish Revenge Brigade (Türk İntikam Tugayı, or TİT), which also goes by other names including the Turkish Raiders Team (Türk Akıncı Timi, or TAT) and the Turkish Revenge Brigade Organization (Türk İntikam Birliği Teşkilatı, or TİBT) — were all freed by the Erdoğan government.
According to secret intelligence documents obtained by Nordic Monitor, the group has been active in planning major acts of violence to intimidate minorities, their organizations, churches and religious places in Turkey along with Christian missionaries and foreigners living in the country.
The note stated that operatives of the extremist group pretended to be working for the Turkish security establishment. In fact the evidence suggested that the group maintained links to active and retired officers in the military and intelligence services and received clandestine support for their activities.
The group has been known to threaten intellectuals, politicians and members of law enforcement and the judiciary who have looked into the their activities. They run several extremist websites to lure recruits and issue statements that encourage violence and attacks against people who have been targeted and branded as enemies of Turkey.
Secret police notice that details criminal acts of the Turkish Revenge Brigade:tit2
The police chiefs and prosecutors who had investigated the ultra-racist group were punished with dismissal and imprisonment, while the convicted felons of the TİT who were shown to have been involved in dozens of attacks in Turkey and Cyprus were released by the Erdoğan government, which deliberately stokes nationalism and religious fervor in Turkey and among Turkish diaspora communities abroad.
The TİT group claimed responsibility for a twin bombing in Istanbul’s Güngören district on July 27, 2008 that killed 17 people including an unborn baby and wounded 150. The brigade also took credit for an armed attack in 1998 on Akın Birdal, who was president of the Human Rights Association (İHD) at the time. They were also behind a 2006 bombing at Koşuyolu Park in the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakır that left 10 dead.
The police investigated the group and identified Erce Anıl Başıbüyük (aka Kemal) and Mutlu Erdoğan (aka Tuğberk) as the ringleaders and filed a request with the court to wiretap their phones. The court issued an authorization for the wiretaps.
However, Ayhan Falakalı, the veteran police chief who signed the request to wiretap the extremist group on May 28, 2009, was later punished by the Erdoğan government. He was not only removed from his position as deputy chief of the intelligence directorate at the police department, but was also dismissed from the police force and was the subject of an arrest warrant issued on fabricated charges. Falakalı was put on a hit list by the TİT for investigating the group.
According to the report drafted by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), the TİT is a covert organization that has been used by the country’s ultranationalists to direct threats at the country’s leftist intellectuals. The report, filed with the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court in 2010, stated that the group is believed to be behind a number of assassinations and unsolved murders in Turkey.
The TİT group sent threatening e-mails to a number of intellectuals who signed a criminal complaint against then-Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ in October 2008 for his blatant interference in politics. The e-mails stated that the intellectuals had been included on the group’s “to-be-destroyed list” because of their criticism of Başbuğ, a neo-nationalist general who was found guilty of secretly funneling funds to support dozens of extremist and racist websites in Turkey.
The intellectuals and prominent people who were targeted by the TİT were Ufuk Uras, Baskın Oran, Cengiz Algan, Ahmet İnsel, Mebuse Tekay, Oya Baydar, Aydın Engin, Mithat Sancar and Sezgin Tanrıkulu. The email stated that intellectuals had signed their own death warrants and that the TİT had assigned 27 Turkish Urban Warriors to destroy them under the orders of the commander, Savaşan Atsız, believed by authorities to be a code name for an unidentified leader.
Email sent by the TİT threatening intellectuals with murder:TIT_tehdit_email
Another report sent to the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court by the Security General Directorate on December 16, 2009 stated that some illegal groups were believed to have used the acronym“TİT” for their acts even before 1980. One of the most common criminal acts the groups carried out was to send threatening letters to individuals.
Its name was mentioned once in the second half of the ’90s in relation to the murder of a high-ranking army officer. The real comeback of the Turkish Revenge Brigade happened in 2006, when it was linked to numerous attacks in the Southeast and when threatening letters were sent to certain Kurdish intellectuals.
The Security General Directorate also listed around 40 illegal acts in which the members of the brigade were believed to have been involved. Two of its members were later convicted. Among those acts were the assassination attempt against Birdal and gunshots fired at the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) building in 2007.
According to the Gendarmerie General Command, in a report it sent to the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court, the group was believed to have been behind a number of violent acts that have shaken Turkey in the recent past, among which the command cited the killing of 10 people in the Diyarbakır bomb attack and threats against officials of the Armenian weekly Agos and members of the now-defunct DTP.
Vatan Bölükbaşoğlu, a hit man for the Turkish Revenge Brigade, was arrested on February 3, 2008 over an alleged assassination plot against police intelligence unit chief Ramazan Akyürek, whose department was investigating the TİT. The wiretap records that were submitted to the court during a trial showed that Bölükbaşoğlu was involved in arms and ammunition and spoke about murders and hacking websites. In his communications he identified himself as a TİT member.
Semih Tufan Gülaltay, one of the leaders of the TİT, was another notorious figure who was sentenced to 19 years in prison for the attempted killing of Birdal in 1998, but he was released four-and-a-half years later due to an amnesty bill our forward by the government. According to State Security Court ruling No. 199/208, Gülaltay was convicted of membership in the TİT and conspiracy to commit murder. The verdict was upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals, and the TİT was classified as a terrorist organization in the criminal justice system. During a search of his home, the police found dozens of TİT flags with a yellow wolf’s head on a blue background.
While Gülaltay was in prison, he was paid a visit by retired Lt. Muzaffer Tekin, an ultranationalist figure who was implicated in a number of terrorist attacks in Turkey. Tekin took care of Gülaltay’s family and provided them with assistance while Gülaltay was serving his time. Their contacts continued after Gülaltay’s release from prison. Tekin, who was also released by the Erdoğan government, passed away in 2015 from cancer, and his funeral was led by Gen. Başbuğ himself.
Secret Turkish police memo on the Turkish Revenge Brigade:tit1
A police memo dated November 12, 2010 about the TİT indicated that the group was also involved in eight attacks in Cyprus between 1989 and 2004 including unsolved attacks and assassinations and targeting those who favored a settlement with the Greek administration in the south to end the impasse on the divided island. In 2004 a large amount of C-4 explosives was discovered in Turkish Cyprus inside a car that was identified as belonging to a noncommissioned officer. Nothing came of the investigation into the officer, who was serving in the Special Forces Command. The assassination on July 6, 1996 of Cypriot journalist Kutlu Adalı, who criticized Cyprus’ Civil Defense Organization in his columns, is also suspected to have been committed neo-nationalist groups in Turkey.
Interestingly enough, Derviş Eroğlu, former president of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, granted Turkish Cypriot citizenship to Gülaltay and his accomplice Tekin when the TİT claimed responsibility for many of the unsolved attacks and murders on the island after 1993.
On August 5, 2013 Gülaltay was sentenced to 12 years in prison as part of the trial of a neo-nationalist group called Ergenekon, but he was let go along with all the other suspects in the case following a secret pact between Erdoğan and neo-nationalist group leader Doğu Perinçek, who now leads the far-right Motherland Party (VP).
In his court testimony in 2009, Gülaltay admitted that he had worked with some ultranationalist generals in the Turkish army and named Şener Eruygur, another neo-nationalist general, as his contact person. The wiretap communications showed the two often coordinated their actions together.
In February 2012 Gülaltay was also convicted in the trial of an organized crime network in which he was accused of establishing a gang, illegally seizing the assets of four people, attempting to seize the assets of another four, kidnapping and arms violation charges. He was sentenced to 74 years, two months in prison. His mother, Solmaz Gülaltay, who was also involved in the organized crime syndicate, received a five-year jail term.
In 2010 a high-profile case in which Kadir Kayan, a judge at the Ankara 11th High Criminal Court who had initiated an investigation into the Special Forces Command headquarters in 2010, caused panic among TİT circles and its supporters. Fearful of the exposure of illegal activities linked to elements of the Turkish military, the TİT wrote its name on an elevator in Judge Kayan’s apartment building in an attempt to dissuade him from moving forward with the probe. The judge was overseeing a search of confidential military documents archived in rooms of headquarters that are usually called “cosmic rooms” because of the archives of clandestine and illegal operations.
In early January 2010 the judge also received an envelope containing Kalashnikov bullets as well as a letter that started with “Final Warning.” The letter warned that any further investigation into the cosmic rooms would result in his death. The letter contained excerpts from a number of news reports on the killings of several individuals by unidentified assailants. Kayan was dismissed from his job in 2016 for uncovering the dirty laundry, and an investigation on dubious allegations was launched into him.
Free from the shackles of the criminal justice system, the TİT has now claimed a comeback. Its current leader, Gülaltay, has been parading around the country mobilizing support for Erdoğan and his nationalist allies.
Front page of the Zaman daily on May 13, 1998 featuring a headline on the attempted assassination of human rights defender Akın Birdal:zaman_akin_birdal_headline