An ultranationalist lawmaker from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party known for his anti-Western and anti-NATO sentiments has become a member of Turkey’s delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATO PA).
Former military officer and current member of parliament Mehmet Ali Çelebi previously expressed his views on the Ukraine-Russia war during a press conference in parliament on March 10, 2022. Emphasizing the complexity of the “NATO-Russian competition.” Çelebi declared that directly supporting one side in the conflict would be a mistake and argued that such a stance would not align with Turkey’s interests.
Çelebi underscored the importance of measured sanctions against Russia and urged Turkey to remain cautious in suspending Russian representation in the Council of Europe. Regarding Turkey’s procurement of the S-400 missile defense system from Russia, which has caused tensions between Turkey and the United States, Çelebi asserted that maintaining a positive relationship with Russia was crucial for additional S-400 acquisitions and technology transfer.
In 2021 the US administration officially removed Turkey from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program due to Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system in 2017.
Çelebi said he viewed the presence of US bases in Syria and Greece as an encirclement of Turkey. He emphasized the importance of Turkey maintaining neutral in the Ukraine war, considering Russia a balancing factor in the region against the US.
He questioned NATO’s credibility, pointing out its alleged support for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Syria; for allegedly providing 40,000 trucks of weapons and ammunition to Kurds in Syria; for NATO’s withdrawing its air defense systems in Turkey in response to the S-400 purchase; and for Western opposition to Turkey’s position in the eastern Mediterranean. He argued that these diminished NATO’s reliability in the country, suggesting a comprehensive threat assessment for Turkey in light of these developments.
During a program on the pro-Erdogan CNN Türk on May 1, ahead of the May 14 general election, Çelebi also claimed that the opposition was attempting to sever Turkey’s ties with Russia and advocating for imposing an embargo. He said the opposition was actively working to make Turkey subservient to the US. Additionally, he alleged that the opposition intended to allocate Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport to the CIA.
NATO-PA functions as the consultative interparliamentary organization for NATO. Despite the absence of a formal linkage between the two, they have a longstanding history of cooperation that has gained momentum in the post–Cold War era. The assembly comprises 269 delegates from the 31 member states, with Turkey contributing 18 members.
Çelebi, who first entered parliament in 2018, has had a political journey marked by contradictions. In 2012 he found himself entangled in the Ergenekon trial along with ultranationalist military officers and civilians. The trial aimed to dismantle the alleged deep state organization called Ergenekon, accused of plotting to overthrow the government of then-prime minister Erdogan. However, in 2014, Çelebi’s legal cases were dropped after Erdogan reached an agreement with the officers on trial in the Ergenekon case to oust bureaucrats and officers affiliated with the Gülen movement, a group critical of the government, from the military.
In 2008, when Çelebi was a lieutenant, he faced accusations of infiltrating an outlawed jihadist organization called Hizb ut-Tahrir on behalf of Ergenekon. He was alleged to have gathered intelligence within the organization and worked to direct actions that would put the government in a difficult position. At that time, it was revealed that without the knowledge of his superiors, Çelebi had collected intelligence and passed it on to civilian contacts in Ergenekon.
During that time, Çelebi’s family said he faced difficulties and discrimination because of his Alevi identity. Alevism is a sect that espouses a distinct interpretation of Islam, particularly associated with a community residing in Turkey, advocating a secular and politically anti-Islamist perspective.
After being acquitted in 2014, Çelebi joined the main opposition party, the staunchly secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), developing a political discourse that accused the Erdogan government of imprisoning patriotic officers, orchestrating conspiracies within the military and not adequately combating the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). In 2018 he was elected as a member of parliament.
In 2021, citing an insufficient campaign against Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and a departure from the principles of Turkey’s secular founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Çelebi resigned from the CHP and, along with other dissident MPs, founded the ultranationalist Homeland Party (Memleket Partisi). However, in 2022, he resigned from Memleket and joined Erdogan’s Islamist AKP. In the May 14 general election he was elected as a lawmaker for Izmir.
In a ceremony held in parliament on September 19, 2022, at which Çelebi joined the AKP, Erdogan personally pinned the party badge on him. After Çelebi’s speech at the podium, Erdogan shook his hand and asked, “How many children do you have?” Çelebi replied, “One, sir.” Later, Çelebi pointed to his wife beside him, saying, “She’s pursuing a doctorate, building a career.” Erdogan commented, “No, there should be more children. We need to increase the numbers.” When Erdogan asked about Çelebi’s wife’s age and received the answer “46,” he said, “Let’s ask Allah for more. Children are crucial. Look at the [Kurds supporting the PKK]; they have 5, 10, 15.”
His political journey, initially motivated by a desire to seek revenge against Erdogan, has taken a turn as he continues his political career within Erdogan’s party. Çelebi faced significant backlash from Erdogan opponents who had supported him during the Ergenekon trial. Accusations of financial interests influencing his move to the AKP became a contentious point.
Çelebi now claims that the AKP is the guarantor of secularism and Atatürk’s reforms, despite being an Islamist party. He categorizes the AKP and its allies as a national front.
Çelebi, who had deleted all his social media posts against Erdogan and the AKP from the time he was in the opposition, recently invoked “the right to be forgotten” through courts under government control to remove news and information detrimental to him from the internet.
Çelebi recently made headlines with a luxury car. Journalist Cevheri Güven, sharing the parliamentary vehicle entry card and license plate number, questioned Çelebi about the ownership of a Bentley on September 22. In response to Güven’s inquiry, Çelebi wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the vehicle did not belong to him but to a friend. He further said he used the car in Istanbul and in urgent situations and to transport his seriously ill mother to the hospital. Following Çelebi’s statement about using such a luxurious vehicle to take his mother to the hospital, his explanation was deemed unconvincing by social media users.
Investigative journalist Adem Yavuz Arslan in 2022 claimed that Çelebi, after being acquitted in the Ergenekon trials in 2014, should have returned to the military to complete the 15-year service required of officers who graduate from the military academy, but he allegedly obtained a fake health report allowing him to leave the military without paying a penalty for failing to work the remaining eight years. Çelebi chose not to respond to this allegation.