The appointment of a neo-nationalist figure as the ambassador of Turkey to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) is the latest in a series of events that indicate President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is bent on turning the breakaway region on the Mediterranean island into a "sin-city," where organized crime, drug trafficking, money laundering, gambling and sex trafficking networks can operate with impunity and no crackdown on their activities.
It is certainly not a random choice by Erdoğan, who selected Metin Feyzioğlu, an anti-West, neo-nationalist lawyer who has no experience in diplomacy, as the new envoy to the Turkish-controlled north of the divided island. There is a well-thought-out, sinister plot behind this considering Feyzioğlu has long been associated with the dark forces of the neo-nationalist (Ulusalcı) networks that like to operate beyond the realm of the law and were in the past incriminated in murders, plots and schemes that at times targeted non-Muslims in Turkey.
Feyzioğlu has a long track record with neo-nationalists, helped Erdoğan turn the judiciary into a political tool in 2014 and successfully campaigned for the release of notorious figures who plotted against the West and NATO interests in Turkey. He was one of the key people who empowered Erdoğan in his quest to consolidate control over all levers of the Turkish state. As a reward for his service, he was appointed Turkish ambassador to the KKTC on October 31, 2022, effectively making him a "governor" who will rule the KKTC, a self-declared state that is recognized only by Turkey.
Northern Cyprus, where Turkey maintains tens of thousands of troops, is already a lawless country for organized crime syndicates and mafia groups that were protected by their masters in Ankara. Such criminal enterprises have long operated there with impunity and at times do the bidding of Turkish intelligence agency MIT for various clandestine operations beyond Turkish borders.
The hotels, universities and casinos with their gambling, drug and sex businesses were designed to lure Turks as well as foreigners in entrapment schemes that would promote the secret agenda of those who wield power and influence behind the scenes in the Turkish capital of Ankara.
Erdoğan struck a bargain with these nefarious groups that were also nested within Turkish government institutions and purged veteran police chiefs and prosecutors who cracked down on them. Today, most neo-nationalists within these groups have been enlisted as willing partners who help Erdoğan govern Turkey as well as the breakaway KKTC.
The secret playbook on how the neo-nationalists use the KKTC for their goals was revealed in a court case back in 2011, when police in the western province of Izmir started investigating a complaint about a prostitution ring, only to find a sophisticated network of espionage, blackmail and extortion in honey trap schemes where sex with escort women was used to lure targets, develop assets and extract critical information.
As the investigation deepened, not only dozens of military officers but also intel agents, police, diplomats and other government officials were incriminated. The network also targeted officers from NATO member states including Americans who were posted at the NATO facility in Izmir.
One of the key documents seized from the suspects featured a detailed clandestine operation in the KKTC that provides a blueprint for how President Erdoğan and his nationalist/neo-nationalist associates have used the breakaway territory and continue to exploit the island to further their political goals.
It is worth remembering that many of those suspects in the 2011 case who were involved in running illegal KKTC operations were later rewarded by the Erdoğan government. The appointment of Feyzioğlu was simply the latest part of the puzzle that clarifies the picture for observers of Turkish politics. At the same time, it is also worrisome for those who have been watching the neo-nationalist and far-right nationalist groups and studying their game plans.
Therefore, it would not be wrong to predict that the KKTC will be used as a springboard to shore up support for the Erdoğan regime and his /nationalist neo-nationalist associates, break the resistance within the Turkish bureaucracy and opposition bloc and shape public opinion to obtain the desired outcome.
The seized plan for Cyprus gives a clear picture of what to expect. The plan was among a cache of documents discovered in an encrypted file named Pandora on a hard drive that was seized during the execution of a search and seizure warrant in the summer home of the main suspect, organized crime boss Bilgin Özkaynak, on May 9, 2012. The encryption was cracked by IT specialists who were authorized by the court, and the content of the file revealed the names of assets, operatives, marks and a huge archive of secret military and government documents obtained through honey-trap and other schemes.
The PowerPoint file, named KKTC Yapı.pptx, was prepared by Eray Ercan, then a lieutenant and now a colonel in the military. "Cyprus is a very important place for us. We can easily do everything we want here without being hindered by the police or the judiciary," the document concluded under a chapter titled "Cyprus Opportunities."
The document was submitted for review to former Col. Coşkun Başbuğ, code-named Coco, who was in military intelligence and started working as a deputy to Özkaynak after retirement. Ercan lay out the current operations in Cyprus, revealing the identities of their assets and making recommendations on how they can boost their capabilities.
Stating that drugs, illicit sex and alcohol were widespread in Cyprus, Ercan said the environment was ripe for operations that target prominent figures, bureaucrats, academics and rich people. He said nightclubs such as Playboy, Sexylady, Lipstick, Crazy & Kings, Yakamoz, and Mexico, where women trafficked from foreign countries work, were the most important venues for illicit sex. Drugs were also available at nightclubs and bars.
A VIP sex service was provided in hotels, with the document naming such places as Merit, Cratos, Jasmine Court and GoldenTulip as hotels where the neo-nationalist group had its own escort team that worked on targets. Gambling is also another draw in hotels, and nearly all officers in the Turkish military garrison on the island gamble even though military regulations prohibit such activity.
According to the document, a similar sex ring also existed in universities, especially Girne American University and Near East University.
The entire operation on the island was run by Col. Fikret Haluk Vergül, who oversaw teams that worked at nightclubs, hotels and universities. Under him, a special VIP escort team was managed by Col. Birol Kahraman. Vergül was forced to retire from the military in 2014 and subsequently starting working in the private sector. Escort teams at universities were managed by Col. Reşat Timuçin Özkan, who provided special services for clients who wanted to have sex with underage girls. Escort teams at nightclubs were run by Col. Kahraman.
Abdullah Bozkurt, a Middle East Forum Writing Fellow, is a Swedish-based investigative journalist and analyst who runs the Nordic Research and Monitoring Network and is chairman of the Stockholm Center for Freedom.