Turkey’s Defense Ministry in a press statement on Monday admitted the veracity of allegations in the media that retired military officers who belong to a notorious paramilitary organization took part in military examination boards and participated in recruitment interviews. The ministry also stated that retirees served on the boards only between 2018 and 2020 and that the practice was abolished this year, adding that these people were invited to serve after they received security clearances. However, a Nordic Monitor study shows that one of these ex-officers and paramilitary group member who participated in the boards has extreme views that are so radical that he should not have passed a security clearance investigation in a NATO member army.
Sixty-two-year-old aviation officer Gürcan Onat, who retired from the army in 1999 with the rank of major, is one of four retired officers from private military contractor SADAT, a paramilitary group backed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who were invited to sit on the exam boards. Onat, a shareholder of SADAT, is also one of the founders of the Association of Justice Defenders Strategic Studies Center (ASSAM) and the Association for Defenders of Justice, (Asder), organizations affiliated with SADAT.
SADAT is led by Adnan Tanrıverdi, a retired officer and former chief military advisor to President Erdoğan. He had to leave his position following a Nordic Monitor report that he had been working to pave the way for the long-awaited Mahdi (prophesied redeemer of Islam), for whom the entire Muslim world is waiting. Tanrıverdi said he was stepping down to avoid putting the president in an awkward position after his remarks about the Mahdi sparked a huge reaction in Turkey. However, it is no secret that Tanrıverdi still wields significant influence in the Erdoğan government and helps shape policies on military and security matters.
Tanrıveri’s son and the CEO of SADAT Melih Tanrıverdi recently admitted that SADAT works with Turkish intelligence agency MİT and coordinates actions with Turkish diplomats and defense officials, in a radio interview in March 2021.
ASSAM organizes the Islamic Union Congress, a series of gatherings that started in 2017 and will continue until 2023. The fifth congress will be held in Istanbul in December 2021 and will focus on joint foreign policy for Muslim countries. The congress previously discussed issues such as establishing a confederation of Islamic countries as well as a joint army and a constitution. According to the proposed constitution, the main goal of the confederation, which comprises 61 countries, is “ensuring that the Islamic world again is seen in history as a supreme power with İstanbul as its capital.”
Onat made a statement on his social media account regarding the allegations against him and SADAT. As a retired officer, Onat said he was open to whatever task the state gave him and likened his critics to “Sabatayists from Thessaloniki,” an insulting term widely used by Islamists in Turkey to mean a Jew who pretends to be a Muslim to deceive people.
Onat does not hide his hatred for the US and frequently posts anti-Semitic comments on social media. For instance, he openly said he wanted more turmoil in US when a mob of former President Donald Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol on January 6. Onat also claimed that America and its offspring Israel are terrorist states when responding to a post about civilians killed by the US in Afghanistan.
The retired officer, who frequently appears as a commentator on pro-government TV stations, supported Turkey’s unilateral military interventions in Syria. SADAT is accused of recruiting and training pro-Turkey jihadists in Syria and transferring them to Libya via Turkey.
Onat, in a tweet on May 15, implied that Israel only understands force and called on President Erdoğan to declare war on Israel, adding that he and his friends were ready for it.