The Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C., and consulates in New York and Houston have engaged in spying on critics of the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, secret documents have revealed.
According to the documents, dated February 5, 2020 and obtained by Nordic Monitor, Turkish officials used diplomatic facilities to collect information on nationals and residents of the United States and Kazakhstan in a clear breach of the Vienna conventions that regulate the conduct of diplomats and consular officers.
The documents indicate that Turkish overseas missions sent intelligence reports to foreign ministry headquarters in Ankara, profiling people who are affiliated with the Gülen group, led by US-based Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen, an outspoken critic of the Erdoğan government on a range of issues from corruption to Turkey’s arming of radical jihadist groups.
The foreign ministry’s report, drawn from the intelligence provided by embassies and consulates, was forwarded to various branches of the Turkish government including the police and prosecutor’s office in Ankara. The secret documents were found in a pool system maintained by the Department of Analysis (Analiz Şube Müdürlüğü), a police unit that operate under the Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime Directorate of the Turkish National Police (Kaçakçılık ve Organize Suçlarla Mücadele Daire Başkanlığı, or KOM) in the capital.
Among the profiled critics was Barbaras Kocakurt, who was listed as residing in New Jersey according to the foreign ministry’s intelligence. Kocakurt is a former director of Yamanlar College, one of the best-performing schools in Turkey until it was shut down by the Erdoğan government in 2016. His membership in several educational associations that focused on best practices in the education field in Turkey were listed as evidence of terrorist activity when in fact Kocakurt and his colleagues had for years focused on enhancing the quality in education and worked on empowering students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The Erdoğan government shut down 934 private schools, 15 private universities, 16 unions, 104 foundations and 1,125 associations and seized all their assets on fabricated charges of terrorism. They were being operated by businesspeople who were affiliated with the Gülen movement.
Abdülkadir Yılmaz, a resident of Sachse, in the US state of Texas, was also spied on by Turkish diplomats according to the documents. It appears two separate intelligence reports about him were sent to Turkey. In one report he was mentioned as being associated with the Amity private school in Brooklyn, New York.
Turkish diplomats in Almaty, Kazakhstan, profiled Mustafa Özcan, an activist and businessman who is among the shareholders of several companies that were seized by the Erdoğan government in 2015 and 2016. He has been the subject of criminal prosecutions because of his links to the Gülen group. The Erdoğan government jailed both his son Enes Özcan and daughter Zehra Bozkurt on fabricated terrorism charges in order to pressure him to return to Turkey.
Secret police documents revealing how the Turkish embassy and consulates spied on US residents and nationals:Amerika_espionage
Brooklyn resident Ahmet Can is another person Turkish diplomats went after because he is listed as one of founders of an Istanbul-based art and culture organization called Damla Kültür Sanat Derneği, which was shut down by the Turkish government in 2016. A lawyer by profession, Can also served as head of the Sixth Istanbul Cultural Heritage Preservation Board, an organization dedicated to the conservation of historic and cultural landmarks in the city.
Kudret Ünal, a medical doctor, is another US resident whose name appeared in secret Turkish government documents. Naci Tosun, a shareholder and the chairman of the board of directors at Kaynak Holding, was also named in the documents. Kaynak was the largest publisher in Turkey, which was unlawfully seized by the Erdoğan government on fabricated charges of terrorism in November 2015. Kaynak, a group that operated 22 major companies under its umbrella, was owned and operated by businesspeople who were seen as affiliated with the Gülen movement.
The reports sent by the Turkish embassy and consulates were used to build criminal cases in Turkey against the profiled US residents and nationals. All the people spied on by Turkish diplomats face multiple criminal cases in various provinces of Turkey and face long prison terms if they are ever brought back to Turkey.
Turkey’s Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF) has taken over 885 private companies including major conglomerates such as Boydak Holding, the Koza Ipek Group, Kaynak Holding, Naksan Holding, Suvari Co, Dumankaya, Akfa, Orkide and Sesli, valued at close to $11 billion. No figures are available verifying how much personal wealth and how many assets were seized through the Erdoğan government’s use of the partisan judiciary.
Turkish embassy reports informed headquarters about New Jersey resident İsmail Büyükçelebi, an author and expert on Islamic studies. He is also associated with Gülen and has been living in the US since the 1990s. Cevdet Türkyolu, a resident of Pennsylvania and Gülen’s personal secretary, was also profiled.
Aziz Özdemir had a record stating that his passport was cancelled by the Turkish Consulate in Houston, indicating that he was flagged by consular officials in the state of Texas and reported to Ankara. Özdemir was a member in the board of directors of the Florya Businessmen’s Association in Istanbul, which was unlawfully shut down by the Erdoğan government in 2016.
The immunities and privileges of diplomats and consular staff are governed by international conventions. Diplomats enjoying the privileges and immunities described in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations are under a duty to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving state and to avoid interfering in its internal affairs as detailed in Article 41. Similarly, consular staff are granted limited privileges and immunities by the Vienna Convention on Consular Affairs, but host state authorities can start investigations and prosecute any of the personnel if they perpetrate crimes inside or outside the consulate premises according to Article 43 of the convention.
Critics of the Erdoğan government, especially members of the Gülen movement, have been facing surveillance, harassment, threats of death and abduction since 2014, when then-Prime Minister and now President Erdoğan decided to scapegoat the group for his own legal troubles, ranging from corruption to aiding and abetting jihadist groups in Syria. Foreign citizens and dual nationals including Americans and Europeans were prosecuted and imprisoned in Turkey on false terrorism charges as the government intensified the crackdown on opposition groups to silence critical voices and suppress the right to dissent.
The Erdoğan government brands all of its critics as terrorists, and 161 journalists are currently locked up in Turkish prisons on terrorism charges, according to the Stockholm Center for Freedom, a Swedish-based advocacy group that monitors the cases of jailed journalists. Over 30 percent of all Turkish diplomats, 60 percent of all senior police chiefs, half of all military generals and some 30 percent of all judges and prosecutors in Turkey were also declared terrorists overnight in 2016 by the executive decisions of the Erdoğan government without any effective administrative investigations and certainly without any judicial proceedings.
In Turkey, over half a million people affiliated with the Gülen movement have been put in detention facilities on fabricated terrorism charges in the aftermath of a coup attempt in July 2016. Since then, more than 130,000 civil servants have been dismissed by the government with no effective judicial or administrative investigation, 4,560 of whom were judges and prosecutors and were replaced by pro-Erdoğan staff. As a result of the massive purge, the Turkish judiciary and law enforcement authorities have become tools in the hands of the Islamist government of President Erdoğan.