... At the beginning of May 2021, Sedat Peker, a convicted Turkish mob boss and a fierce supporter of Erdoğan -- until now -- began posting a series of videos on social media in which he made uncorroborated accusations of corruption, murder and drug-running against top politicians. Millions of Turks have tuned in to watch. The first seven videos Peker posted were viewed on YouTube more than 56 million times. Peker posted an eighth and promised more.
In the eighth video, Peker detailed how Erdoğan's government sent arms shipments to jihadis in Syria:
The intelligence agency's trucks ... contained (among other things) drones, military uniforms, bullet-proof vests, radios... I offered my own trucks [to the government] for humanitarian help for the Turkoman [a Turkic ethnicity who speaks Turkish]. They used my trucks without telling me what they sent to Syria. We knew they shipped arms. But that was normal... They were Peker's trucks, not Turkish intelligence's [in case something went wrong]... They went to Syria in my name, without any customs registration between Turkey and Syria. I saw Turkoman people thanking me in videos they posted on social media. Or so I thought. Then I realized that the Turkoman people were speaking Arabic. Then I learned that my trucks had been used to send [military equipment] to al-Nusra.
Jabhat Al-Nusra was a Salafist-Jihadist group fighting in Syria. In December 2012, the U.S. State Department designated it a foreign terrorist organization, and in April 2013, it became the official Syrian branch of al-Qaeda. In July 2016, al-Nusra formally re-branded itself from Jabhat al-Nusra to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.
In January 2017, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham rebranded yet again when it merged with several other groups — Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki, Liwa al-Haq, Jaysh al-Sunna, and Jabhat Ansar al-Din — to establish HTS. In 2018, HTS was designated by the United States as a terrorist organization, with the UN Security Council including it as a sanctioned entity linked to the Islamic State, al‑Qaeda, and associated individuals and groups.
In his eighth video, the Turkish mobster Peker claims that the Erdoğan government sent arms shipments to al-Nusra through SADAT, a Turkish military consultancy company. SADAT defines its mission as "providing consultancy and military training services at the international defense and interior security sector."
Critics, however, including opposition lawmakers, have been inquiring about SADAT's activities, suspecting its real mission may be to train official or unofficial paramilitary forces to fight Erdoğan's multitude of wars inside and outside Turkey.
SADAT is owned by retired general Adnan Tanrıverdi, who was appointed in August 2016 as Erdoğan's chief military advisor. In 2020, he quit. Tanrıverdi had been forced to resign earlier, in 1996, from the military due to "suspected radical Islamist activities." In a 2009 speech, Tanrıverdi said:
To defeat Israel, the country must be forced into defensive warfare, all of its forces must be engaged and the war must be prolonged.
What should Turkey do? The resistance units in Gaza should be supported by anti-tank and low-altitude anti-aircraft weapons.
Turkey, Iran, Syria, the Iraqi Resistance Organization and Palestine should form the nucleus of a defense structure. Within this context the formation of an Islamic rapid reaction force consisting of an amphibious brigade, an armored brigade and an airborne brigade should be encouraged.
Peker's revelations included claims that Erdoğan's senior entourage had been involved in illegal business dealings in northern Syria, and in collaboration with senior al-Nusra officials. Peker said Abu Abdurrahman was in charge of al-Nusra's trade with Turkey. "I am talking about billions of dollars," he said. "Including trading aluminum, tea, sugar, copper, smuggled oil, scrap metal, second-hand cars." Peker claimed the Turkish official in charge of trading with al-Nusra was Metin Kıratlı, head of administrative affairs at the presidency.
After weeks of silence, Erdoğan denied Peker's claims, but not in a convincing way. He ordered prosecutors and judges to investigate and establish that all of Peker's claims were lies and a smear campaign against his government. Who will trust the independence of a legal probe when the president has already ordered its verdict?
According to Avrasya, a polling company, 78% of Turks who vote for the opposition believe in "all revelations of Peker." That is not surprising. Avrasya's research also found that nearly a quarter of Erdoğan's voters also believe that all of Peker's revelations are true. A notorious mob leader has just added to Erdoğan's nightmares.
Burak Bekdil is an Ankara-based political analyst and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.