A senior official from Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who advocates the destruction of Israel has been a key supporter of the US-sanctioned Hamas representative in Turkey, actively facilitating the jihadist Palestinian organization’s operations in the country with substantial assistance from local municipalities.
Ceyda Bölünmez Çankırı, the AKP deputy chairman for local governments and spokesperson for the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, has been identified in a Nordic Monitor investigation as having a longstanding association with Jihad Muhammad Shaker Yaghmour (aka Cihat/Cihad Yağmur), the representative of Hamas in Turkey.
To support the key Hamas official in his campaign in Turkey, Çankırı has leveraged her position to direct AKP-run municipalities to channel their resources nationwide for Hamas. She personally met with Yağmur, hosted him in her office and publicly endorsed the collaboration by sharing photos of the encounter on her social media profile.
The endorsement from a higher-up in the ruling party translates into substantial funding access for Hamas, given that the AKP controls 777 municipalities out of Turkey’s total of 1,440, amounting to 54 percent. Many of these municipalities possess significant financial resources.
The pro-Hamas government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan frequently utilizes local government resources to support Hamas and other Islamist groups. This approach is chosen due to the difficulty in tracing funding from local sources, in contrast to the central budget, which undergoes approval by the Turkish Parliament and is subject to debates and reviews.
Within Erdogan’s corrupt governance system, local municipalities frequently employ front NGOs to obscure clandestine funding, covertly instructing businesspeople and companies to contribute donations to designated NGOs in exchange for obtaining licenses and certificates from local governments. The construction industry serves as a prime example of this method of funds transfer.
Following the distribution of cuts to officials involved in a bribery scheme, the illegal funding is subsequently rerouted to NGOs under the pretense of promoting public interest or community work, masking its true origin and purpose.
Yağmur’s visit to Çankırı at AKP headquarters in Ankara on October 25, 2017 was believed to be a part of this grand scheme. In Turkey, the Hamas official heads an NGO called the Association for Jerusalem and Our History (Kudüs ve Tarihimiz Derneği in Turkish, KUTAD), conducting his activities under the cover of this NGO.
Sharing photos from the meeting, Çankırı tweeted that she was honored by the Hamas official’s visit. In her post, she mentioned discussions about her visit and that of 14 other lawmakers to Jerusalem in early October. This visit was part of the Turkish president’s campaign to send Turks to Jerusalem as a show of solidarity with Palestinians, primarily with Hamas people.
Discussing the visit, Çankırı said Muslims in Jerusalem live in an open prison, emphasizing the need for Turks to travel there in large numbers to show support for Palestinians. She questioned her own contributions as a Muslim to Jerusalem and encouraged fellow Muslims with financial means to visit. Çankırı disclosed plans for local municipalities and governor’s offices to sponsor trips for young people to raise awareness about Jerusalem.
Her collaboration with Yağmur is part of a joint effort to promote Hamas activities in Turkey. Two months after the meeting, she organized a rally in her home district of Mardin, where protestors carried antisemitic banners, including references to the Gharqad Tree.
The Gharqad tree prophecy, in which Muslims are said to kill Jews at the end of time, is a widely circulated antisemitic conspiracy. Some protesters also displayed banners expressing support for Hamas during the rally.
Çankırı is one of the AKP lawmakers who have called for the destruction of Israel, aligning with Hamas ideology. In a tweet on May 10, 2021, she referred to Israel as a terrorist state and expressed her hope for the future destruction of the Jewish state.
Yağmur (57), who was born in East Jerusalem, has been living in Turkey since 2011 and has Turkish citizenship. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in Israel over his role in the kidnapping of IDF soldier Nachshon Wachsman in 1994 but was released in 2011 as part of a prisoner exchange between Hamas and Israel for the release of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Promoted to be Hamas’s Turkey representative in 2015, Yağmur emerged as a key Hamas official with whom Turkish officials interact to promote Hamas operations beyond Turkish borders. He has met with senior officials, including President Erdogan, and maintains close connections with Turkish intelligence agency MIT. KUTAD, established in 2014 with its headquarters in Istanbul, also has a branch in Ankara led by Zaher Elbek.
Yağmur was named a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) by the US Department of the Treasury on December 13, 2023. However, this designation did not deter the Erdogan government from continuing to work with him.
His key sponsor, Çankırı, comes from a wealthy family of Arab origin in Turkey’s southeastern province of Mardin, which is populated by Kurds, Arabs and Assyrians. The family’s oil business under the company Bölünmez Petrolcülük AŞ has been managed by her father, Süleyman Bölünmez, who was indicted in 2001 for smuggling oil valued at 100 million Turkish lira and spent some time in prison.
The judicial proceedings against him were halted when he managed to obtain parliamentary immunity by getting elected as a lawmaker from Mardin province in 2002. According to a report prepared in 2004 by the Customs Undersecretariat Inspection Board, he had continued his involvement in oil smuggling activities while serving in parliament. The report revealed that his company illegally replaced the smuggled oil obtained from tankers with legally purchased oil from a domestic distributor.
He was arrested in 2009 after losing his parliamentary immunity and indicted by a public prosecutor who sought a six-year sentence for organized crime activity. According to the indictment, Bölünmez sold 36,000 tons of refined oil he purchased from Greece in the Turkish domestic market while falsely declaring in customs papers that the oil was returned to the seller for being a low-grade product. In some cases, he used duplicate invoices, manipulating the quantity of the oil he purchased from abroad, resulting in a total loss of 80 million Turkish lira in tax revenue. In February 2016, he was sent to prison after conviction.
His imprisonment was short lived since Bölünmez managed to navigate legal troubles through his close ties with President Erdogan, for whom he had run election campaigns in Mardin and other provinces. Attempting to run for parliament a second time in 2015, he was disqualified by the election commission due to his criminal conviction.
Instead, his daughter Çankırı, who had worked for the family’s oil and logistics business, was elected as a member of parliament from the AKP in the November 2015 election, representing Mardin province. In the 2018 election she was nominated from Izmir province by the AKP and elected for a second time.
The Bölünmez family’s close ties with Erdogan facilitated the expansion of their business ventures. In 2019 Bölünmez began investing in the coal mining business in Şırnak province with government assistance. Despite facing legal challenges related to environmental concerns and ownership disputes, President Erdogan issued a government decree in February 2022 ordering the urgent appropriation of land exploited for coal mining by Bölünmez.
The family, with daughter Çankırı playing in an important role in the governing party, is currently fulfilling their commitment to support the Erdogan government’s regional vision by sponsoring Hamas operations in Turkey. This involves actively assisting the jihadist organization in securing access to funding and resources at the local level.