The chief of the Turkish military's Central Command ((Merkez Komutanlığı) in Istanbul, Gen. Nurettin Hakan Büyükçulha (52), served as a backup assassin in the murder of Necip Hablemitoğlu, a neo-nationalist academic who was killed on December 18, 2002 in front of his apartment building in Ankara.
The revelation was made during the testimony of a key suspect in the case, Nuri Gökhan Bozkır, who had worked with the killer in Combat Search and Rescue (MAK), an elite force attached to the military's Special Forces Command (ÖKK).
According to details of the assassination plot incorporated into an indictment, Büyükçulha was assigned as a backup killer in the event that Ahmet Tarkan Mumcuoğlu, the murderer who worked as the counterintelligence officer in MAK's intelligence section, failed to carry out the assassination.
The damning testimony, provided by Bozkır in January 2022 after he was extradited from Ukraine, named the killer and his accomplices and gave a detailed description of how the murder was planned and how it unfolded. He said Büyükçulha was his team commander at the time and that he saw with his own eyes the case file on Hablemitoğlu, who was described as being on a target list. The case file was stored on Büyükçulha's office computer.
As a contingency plan, Büyükçulha was in the area at the time of the murder and was awaiting instructions to move in case something unexpected came up and the assassin failed in his mission. In the end, there was no need since Mumcuoğlu successfully killed the academic and was quickly extracted from the crime scene.
None of the officers who were involved in the murder was held to account for years even though the government knew the real perpetrators. In fact Mumcuoğlu had been promoted and retired with the rank of colonel in November 2012. He was then recruited by Turkish intelligence agency MIT, despite the fact that the agency's case file said he was Hablemitoğlu's assassin. He retired from the agency in 2021.
The back-up assassin, Büyükçulha, also remained in the army and easily climbed the career ladder. He was promoted to colonel and even served as the chief aide to then-Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar after he returned from an assignment in Cyprus in 2016. He then became the security chief at General Staff headquarters.
When Akar became minister of defense in July 2018, Büyükçulha followed him and continued to serve as his chief aide.
Upon Akar's recommendation, Büyükçulha became a brigadier general in 2020 and moved to the Central Command in Ankara, effectively overseeing all the criminal matters involving army personnel. He had worked closely with prosecutors loyal to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and helped purge and jail many pro-NATO officers from the Turkish army following a false flag coup in 2016 that was orchestrated by Erdoğan, Akar and intelligence chief Hakan Fidan.
Pleased with his performance, the Erdoğan government transferred him to Istanbul in August 2022 as the head of the Central Command in Turkey's largest province.
Although Mumcuoğlu was indicted for the murder of the academic on November 11, 2022 by Ankara public prosecutor Zafer Ergun, Büyükçulha was not touched because of his close ties to Defense Minister Akar and the special relations he had cultivated with the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office. Although the evidence indicated he was the back-up killer in the plot, the prosecutor issued a non-prosecution ruling in his case.
The murder remained unsolved for decades until a whistleblower, an accomplice to the murder, came forward and named Mumcuoğlu as the killer in 2014. Even then, the government of President Erdoğan did not make any attempt to reopen the case, mainly because revelation of the identities and associates of the killer and masterminds would not sit well with the neo-nationalists, with whom he had forged an alliance in 2014. Erdoğan did not want to risk a rupture. He needed the neo-nationalists to run the country and fill vacant positions left by a mass purge of civil servants in the judiciary, police and intelligence agency as well as members of the military.
The renewed investigation into the murder put a spotlight on İnan Kıraç, dubbed the "Lord of Darkness" in organized crime circles, because Göktaş, the indicted MAK commander who ordered the killing, had been working closely with the billionaire businessman, who has wielded influence in politics, the military and the intelligence apparatus from the shadows for decades.
Neither Kıraç nor neo-nationalist generals who sanctioned the murder were named as suspects in the indictment, which indicates the secret bargain between Erdoğan's Islamist bloc and the neo-nationalists is still holding. The billionaire's name and others may come up again in the future if the deal between Erdoğan and the neo-nationalists is shattered.
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.