In a viral series of videos released on YouTube, a Turkish mafia boss, Sedat Peker, with deep links to the security services, civilian bureaucracy, and political elite, unleashed allegations of dirt against multiple Turkish government figures and “deep state” actors.
For at least ten to twenty million Turks who watch Peker videos on multiple platforms, the series is more gripping than any other television series. Guney Yildiz wrote about the relations of the mafia boss and the Turkish government.
The series feature accusations of murder, rape, arms and drug trafficking, extortion, media manipulation, and blackmail at the heart of the Turkish establishment. The alleged criminal activities take place in a super posh marina on the coast of western Turkey,business centers and hotels in Istanbul and plazas in Ankara, as well as casinos in Turkish Cyprus.
There is also a VIP cast starting with protagonists such Berat Albayrak, the son-in-law of President Tayyip Erdogan, and his brother Serhat Albayrak, Mehmet Agar, a former interior minister and police chief who allegedly has deep links and influence over the police, Suleyman Soylu, the current interior minister and a media mogul Yildirim Demiroren. Secondary characters include Turkish members of parliament, journalists with shady links to officials, and the mafia. Through his videos, he has already disturbed the slowly shifting power balance within the Turkish state and pit competing cliques against each other. The purported illegal activities are not just domestic, though. Theyare international. Actors targeted by Peker are alleged to be involved in illegal activities spanning Turkey, Syria, Azerbaijan, Russia, Colombia, and Venezuela. Peker framed his move as revenge for the ill-treatment of his children at the Turkish police’s hand during a raid in his home.
The police operation against him was part of an investigation into his organized crime syndicate. Peker claims that he was given a tip-off about the inquiry by the interior minister who previously extended the police protection granted to Peker. This, he says, was before he has fallen out with the minister. Learning about potential raids, he fled first to the Balkans, then to Morrocco, and finally to the United Arab Emirates, where he began releasing his videos. Peker has already released seven videos since the beginning of May. His influence wasn’t affected by the fact that most Turkish mainstream media did not cover his messages for days. Even the recent conflict between Israelis and Palestinians didn’t distract public attention. He plays an intense chess game pointing to potential legal moves that Turkish prosecutors could take to investigate his claims.
He has already proven to be a master chess player by isolating his enemies and pitting them against each other. But he also plays poker keeping his cards close to himself, and does not reveal what kind of support he has or may have within the Turkish state or internationally. Despite their high impact, these, on average hour-long regularly released videos are on a meager budget. It is just the Peker talking to the camera, but he quickly built and expanded his audience.
A master storyteller and a political communicator second to none in the country, Peker tells enemies, “You will be defeated by a camera and a tripod.” With religious and political symbols as well as books on his table, his messages include frequent references to religion, history, historical figures, and multiple ideologies; he tries to appeal to both right and left-wingers, Sunni Islamists, and the religious Alevi community.
Although many of his revelations arguably target President Erdogan’s rule, he hasn’t uttered a word directly against him. He still speaks respectfully of the President and refers to him as “elder brother Tayyip.”
He also speaks sympathetically of the Turkish opposition leaders. In Turkish politics, as much happens behind the scenes as in the front. Turkey is a highly centralized state with limited democratic checks and balances. But there are checks and balances between power cliques within the state.
These power cliques, or the “deep state” in Turkish lingo, refer to a secret organization of military and civilian conspirators within the state where the security services have an oversized role in determining state policy. Realizing that the real locus of power does not necessarily lie in the elected government, Turkish people coined the term “deep state” to describe the unknown and the state’s real decision-makers.
These real decision-makers are not a monolithic community, though. Turkey is a faction-ridden country, and these factions’ formation and actions are usually hidden behind the unifying mask of the state institutions.
Each of Peker’s claims, if investigated and confirmed, could at least cost the political careers of many top figures. Peker claims that he will reveal some other wrongdoings by Turkish state figures in the context of the Syrian conflict. “I will make your deeds covered as the top international news item,” he says. Peker did not cast the first stone against some parts of the Turkish establishment.
There were others before him who revealed alleged wrongdoings – albeit with much less influence. Journalist and commentator Rushen Chakir says this increasing frequency of revelations is not a coincidence. “It reflects the fact that the current power bloc is crumbling.” And clearly, he is not without sin.
To those who say why should we believe you because you aren’t a clean yourself, I say, “Of course, you will learn about this dirt from me. I am dirty too” He also felt the need to remind the public that he is not a messiah. “I am not a savior. I do this because of my personal reasons.” Initially, Peker was furious about the Turkish media referring to him as an organized crime boss. After all, a few years ago, he received Turkey’s leading philanthropist award from one of Turkey’s leading newspapers. He was courted and received by Turkey’s top politicians, artists, and media figures. This gripping drama tells a story that is also being written in the present tense. Each episode had caused some subtle but increasingly tangible effects. The question currently dominating the public agenda is whether Interior Minister Soylu will survive these attacks. The minister spoke to the media for the second time in days to persuade the public. His first attempt on Turkish national TV arguably went bad. Peker’s alleged claims about the involvement of Mehmet Agar in the extrajudicial killings of prominent Kurdish figures coincided with overturning of the acquittal decision by the Court of Appeals. Agar is now facing a retrial for this case.
It remains to be seen how Peker’s claims will affect the retrial. Former speaker of the US House of Representatives John Boehner famously said, “A leader without followers is just a guy taking a walk.” Sedat Peker is not such a guy. He has a strong following. Offline -and now online – within the state and among the public. It is therefore significant for the Turkish public and the international community to keep an eye on how this drama will unfold. BBC also reported about the mafia-government relations in Turkey. “Are we returning to the 1990s?”
Many are asking that question in Turkey now. That was an era of complex links between mafia gangs, police, politicians, and business circles.
When Erdogan’s party came to power at the beginning of the 2000s, it claimed that the period was over. Erdogan said there was now “a new Turkey”the old Turkey was history.But Sedat Peker’s claims have challenged that narrative. He was an important figure in the 1990s. In today’s Turkey, much of the mainstream media is seen as a mouthpiece of the government. The economy is suffering – hurt even more by the pandemic.
So millions have turned to this mafia boss’s YouTube channel. Peker has triggered a heated social media debate, reflecting Turkey’s sharp political polarisation. Interior Minister Soylu, one of Peker’s main targets, seems to be in a difficult position, with some government colleagues hesitating to support him openly. Some believe that if Erdogan wants to convince his electoral base, he has to say more – otherwise, these allegations may damage his party’s support. The mafia boss linked Mehmet Agar to a shadowy “deep state” – a term often used to describe alleged secret connections between politicians, security forces and organised crime in Turkey.
He has not yet commented on the allegations. His son Tolga is a member of parliament in Erdogan’s party. one video, Sedat Peker also alleged that the son of ex-prime minister Binali Yildirim had links to drug traffickers and had gone to Venezuela early this year on drugs business. Binali Yildirim called the allegation “slander” and “the biggest insult”.
He said, his son had gone to Venezuela to distribute Covid-19 test kits and protection. Binali Yildirim was Prime Minister in 2016-2018 under President Erdogan. Consequently, senior AKP officials have been unusually silent about the whole crisis, and haven’t released meaningful statements or conducted a social media campaign to defend the interior minister, who many have predicted could eventually replace Erdogan. Tim Ash, a Turkey analyst, said “It feels a bit like Erdogan and Albayrak are being spared the worst of this, and with Erdogan seemingly letting this run, it looks like Erdogan and Albayrak see this as an opportunity cut Soylu down to size”. No doubt many of his rivals in the AKP are watching the whole thing with pleasure, because it might take Soylu down.