Abdullah Bozkurt/ Stockholm
Hasan Murat Mercan, an Islamist who is enamored with Iran’s mullah regime and has links to the radical Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı, or IHH) charity, has been appointed ambassador to the United States, a sign that his boss President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is bent on pursuing influence operations among the US Muslim community.
Mercan, a non-career diplomat, was first named ambassador to Japan in November 2017 by Erdoğan after serving as deputy minister in the Ministry of Energy and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Turkish Parliament. President Erdoğan also hopes to use him to lobby the Biden administration as Mercan had networked in DC as chairman during the Obama administration.
A secret profile note about Mercan, found in a case file for a confidential investigation into the clandestine activities of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force in Turkey, suggests that he harbors a secret Islamist agenda while pretending to work with Western allies. He is also very much a pro-Iran figure. The note mentioned a record from a private conversation Mercan had with a several people in an Ankara cafe that lawmakers frequented.
“The signature in Lisbon is not the end of everything. We signed the general rules of the concept there, but there will be interventions during the implementation process, there will be vetoes, and this will work in favor of Iran. Turkey needed it to get rid of the pressure on it,” Mercan told the people in confidence.
Intercepted intelligence report about a confidential conversation with Murat Mercan. The report was handed over to the IRGC Quds Force by a Turkish operative and discovered by the Turkish police:Murat_Mercan_file_IRGC
He was referring to the NATO early warning radar system to be deployed in the Turkish province of Malatya’s Kürecik district as part of NATO’s missile defense system. The Erdoğan government green-lighted the deployment, albeit unwillingly, during the NATO summit held in Lisbon, where all NATO members approved a strategic plan to establish a ballistic missile defense system covering alliance members.
Mercan was chairman of the parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee at the time and was one of the key figures in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who helped shape Turkish foreign policy. Erdoğan. Mercan and other Islamists were privately assuring Iran that the NATO action would be neutralized and wouldn’t be allowed to operate against Iran.
“We were squeezed by the slogan ‘shift of axis’ [when Turkey was accused of disengaging from the transatlantic alliance structure]. It is actually a benefit for Iran and our other neighbors that we do not completely break from NATO,” Mercan went on to say, hinting that they could do more from the within the alliance.
“However, we also need to know this: Turkey has not yet been able to consolidate enough power to challenge NATO economically or politically, but we are not as easily steered [by NATO] today as we were 10, 20 years ago,” Mercan added. He confirmed that then-Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and then-Prime Minister Erdoğan shared the same view on the matter.
Mercan’s comments, reported to the IRGC handlers by Iran’s Turkish assets, were discovered on a flash drive handed over to the police by the wife of known operative Hüseyin Avni Yazıcıoğlu, a Turkish militant who was convicted and served time in prison for illegal activities on behalf of Iran. In 2010 Yazıcıoğlu’s wife Kamile blew the whistle on her husband and started secretly cooperating with investigators. She handed over dozens of documents to the police that were later incorporated as criminal evidence in the case file against Quds Force cells in Turkey.
Court transcript that shows the police chief explaining how they acquired the IRGC report on Murat Mercan:Ensar_Dogan_testimony_Murat_Mercan
The secret documents were discussed at a court hearing on February 8, 2018 during which the investigating police chief detailed how the confidential notes were acquired during the probe into the IRGC’s Turkish network, known as Selam Tevhid. Police chief Ensar Doğan told the judges at the Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court the information extracted from the flash drive in the evidentiary file was independently corroborated by other findings as well. They were duly secured and processed according to the Code on Criminal Procedure overseen by a prosecutor.
Mercan is also one of the influential lawmakers who provided political cover for the jihadist IHH, an al-Qaeda linked organization that provides logistics, and at times arms, for jihadist groups around the world. He personally joined the IHH-organized Viva Palestine, an aid convoy, in 2010, clashing with Egyptian police in order to get to the border with Gaza after activists refused to use the route offered by Egypt to deliver the aid. The group was blocked by Egyptian authorities at the port of El Arish in northern Sinai.
One participant named Abdülkadir Tahiroğlu later told the Turkish media that they were ready to wage war against the Egyptian police and that IHH president Bülent Yildirim made a pact to fight to the death. The activists, numbering around 500 from 17 countries, even took some Egyptian police officers hostage, while others were detained by Egyptian police. At the last minute a compromise was brokered, preventing further clashes and possible bloodshed.
The aid convoy was accused by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of being propaganda for Hamas, and he said it would risk damaging Turkey’s valuable ties with Cairo. Egyptian authorities were concerned about the militancy of the activists in the convoy and feared undermining long-standing Egyptian agreements with the Israelis. In the end the compromise allowed the Turkish delegation including Mercan to cross into Gaza, where they met with Hamas officials, among them its political leader Ismail Haniyeh.
On another occasion after Israel detained IHH founder İzzet Şahin in the West Bank on April 27, 2010 when he was passing through a checkpoint in Bethlehem, Mercan worked hard to secure his release from Ashkelon Prison.
It remains to be seen how Mercan, with such heavy baggage, will be able to navigate Washington as he tries to curry favor for his boss President Erdoğan amid problematic US-Turkish relations.