Could a tripod and a cellphone bring down a government that millions occupying the streets in 2013’s Gezi Park protests and an intricate network of infiltrators, known as FETÖ, failed to do in the 15 July 2016 coup attempt?
For the Turkish mafia boss, Sedat Peker, the answer is a resounding yes.
Since early May, Peker has been uploading hour-long videos in Turkish on YouTube and sharing them on his Twitter account, landing blows at AKP politicians and their entourage, including prominent journalists and businessmen, revealing their dirty secrets. He shoots the videos using a cellphone and a tripod from a room in his current refuge in Dubai. As of today, each video has millions of views.
“Who else but I, a dirty man who has done his share of dirty acts for this government, to know these dirty secrets,” asks Peker. Sitting behind a table filled with books, papers and insignia—which change in each video to send a covert message to his viewers—Peker looks and sounds frustrated. “I have been promised a return,” he blasts, but the promise given by Turkey’s Minister of the Interior, Süleyman Soylu, was apparently not kept. In return, he retaliates by tarnishing the names he deems responsible for this betrayal. These names include politicians, journalists, and businesspeople.
Peker’s retaliation, however, entails more than a battle between a mafia boss and his wrongdoers. It extends beyond personal enmity, for the people he attacks by name have betrayed the Turkish people, the Turkish president, and above all, the Turkish state. It is this holy trinity that we would like to focus on in this piece, which we believe holds the key to unraveling Peker’s rationale behind the videos.
Peker values statecraft; he finds in the people, the leader, and the state his holy trinity. For him, what matters is the perpetuation of a centuries-long state tradition that can be traced to a time long before the foundation of the Republic in 1923 (which for Peker, is an important “event” to save this tradition, as evident in his references to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk), and which finds its roots in the Prophet Mohammed, and his companions. His views of the state are akin to those found in Khaldun’s Muqaddimah. For Khaldun, a strong state is key to the successful rule by the ruler, which itself depends on social cohesion in order to avoid an empire’s downfall. Peker fears the fall of one of the pillars of his Turanist Empire, Turkey, for he sees in the present day a battle for power, which he sees as detrimental to cohesion amongst people and across state institutions. What matters to him is the perpetuation of the state, and not political strife to hold seats. That which is powerful is the state, not politicians. While it is hard to conclude whether Peker has read the Muqaddimah himself (though we strongly believe he must have, especially during his many years in jail, given his occasional nods on other essential philosophical works in his videos), his emphasis on statecraft falls nowhere short of a centuries-long tradition that has been boldly underlined by several fundamental philosophers (cf. Machiavelli).
Peker fears the loss of honor in statecraft by disgraceful bureaucrats, such as Turkey’s Minister of the Interior, Süleyman Soylu, and ex-Minister of the Interior, Mehmet Ağar, as well as opportunistic businessmen and journalists, who benefit from the current state of crisis. Peker makes it his duty to warn Erdoğan and the Turkish people of the looming crisis and finds himself in some sort of a revolutionary’s shoes—though certainly not the sort we would have wished to get. “Revolutionary,” for he speaks with the people, and for the people, to protect them, and to protect the very state that was meant to protect them in the first place. For this reason, Peker believes state tradition should trump petty power ploys amongst the bureaucrats and other actors. To that end, in his videos, he shows his viewers what these ploys signify—an ongoing power struggle among AKP premiers and their entourage to secure positions in the seemingly looming post-Erdoğan Turkey, and most importantly, that of the most prized seat in the Turkish state, the Presidency. Peker lays out facts—of meetings amongst politicians, journalists, and businessmen, of schemes to embezzle armament and drug money, and of assassination plots, some of which he himself orchestrated—and asks state attorneys and journalists to pursue his leads, albeit knowing that in present-day Turkey, few will have the courage to do so.
Sedat Peker: A Brief Bio
This piece is not written with the intention of glorifying a mafia boss—let alone one who represents values that we cannot abide by. Even while we use the word “revolutionary,” we realize that this figure, a mafia boss, shows traits that would leave many of us in disgust. We believe that Peker to have been the last person on earth to bring the kind of change that many Turks have long yearned for. Peker is an irredentist. He is an ethnonationalist etatist. For him, all acts—judicial or extrajudicial—done for the perpetuity of the state are honorable acts. The values he adheres to—a Turkish nationalist ideology known as Turanism that attempts to unite the Turkish world at the expense of all minorities—is not something we can ever see ourselves to follow.
His past perhaps speaks the loudest to affirm this point. The 49-year-old Peker has long been a figure whose mark was visible under each stone turned in Turkey’s recent political history. He had pleaded guilty to several charges, was jailed, and was on the run numerous times. In 1997, he was charged with organized crime, for which he was first acquitted and then sentenced, leading to his first flight to Romania. Upon his return in 1998, Peker had another trial and served nearly nine months in jail. Then came the 2005 sentencing for organized crime, leading to his long-term arrest, which was later extended due to his involvement with a clandestine organization, Ergenekon. However, in 2014, his jail time was abated, and with the Ergenekon trials overturned, he was let go. Upon his release, to the surprise of many, he praised the very name, Erdoğan, who failed to prevent his many years in jail and whom he considered a figure that would bring Turkey closer to his Turanist ideals. Since then, Peker has been a staunch proponent of Erdoğan, even threatening the president’s critics with death. Peker has stated that he would bathe in the blood of the signatories of the Academics for Peace petition, and have his men hang the alleged perpetrators of the 15 July attempted coup d’état in their cells. Although Peker faced trial for these statements, he was acquitted under the “freedom of speech” clause. Then he mysteriously disappeared in 2020, which we know today was another flight from Turkey—first to the Balkans, followed by Morocco, and finally to the Emirates, which brings us to the present day.
The Two Warring Factions: An Ongoing Battle for post-Erdoğan Turkey
Turkey, under the EU acquis, which demands a string of reforms in exchange for EU membership, has long been in the fight against clandestine organizations working in the country. While many mobsters such as Sedat Peker and Alaattin Çakıcı have been put in prison, they were also actively used throughout—even when they were in jail—to meet certain ends. One such end was to secure positions in an ongoing power grab within the AKP especially among two powerful factions. The first includes names such as Erdoğan’s in-law, the once Minister of Finance now missing-in-action Berat Albayrak, who was up until recently the CEO of Çalık Holding, which sits on eight billion dollars of assets; and “the Pelikanists,” which include Albayrak’s media mogul older brother Serhat Albayrak, who leads the powerful Turkuvaz Media Group that is in charge of several television stations, newspapers, and magazines, and journalists who work for Turkuvaz. The second includes names such as Turkey’s present-day Interior Minister, Süleyman Soylu; the head of the government’s small coalition partner (Nationalist Movement Party), Devlet Bahçeli, whose supporters have seemingly seeped into the state apparatus left vacant by fleeing FETÖ infiltrators over the years, including national intelligence, police, judiciary, and the army, and who, based on recent journalistic accounts, plays a role much influential than that previously conceived in shaping AKP politics; Turkey’s ex-Interior Minister, Mehmet Ağar and his son, Tolga Ağar; and the mafia boss Alaattin Çakıcı, who was recently let go of jail after his sentence was abated. Based on Peker’s allegations, the following picture crystallizes: the two factions have been warring for seats and power in anticipation of the termination of Erdoğan’s presidency. While Peker focuses his retaliation on Soylu, whom he considers a disgrace, his examples reveal corruption schemes and other illegal practices, such as assassinations of journalists in Turkey and Cyprus, in which both factions have played a role. The revelations include Mehmet Ağar and his son’s involvement in embezzling the assets (a marina in Bodrum worth billions of dollars) of an Azeri businessman in Turkey; the rape and murder of a journalist by Ağar’s son (which in police records was identified as suicide); the Turkish state’s gifting of drones to capture Peker during his escape to Morocco; the involvement of Soylu in the murder of a chief of police in Silivri (which in police records was also identified as suicide); the raid on offices of one of Turkey’s most circulated newspapers, Hürriyet (which Peker claims to have orchestrated upon a request from the AKP within); Soylu’s use of state money for personal gains, Soylu’s coercion of bureaucrats to hand over favorable public works and construction deals to his entourage; the police protection offered to Peker by the AKP following his threats to the Academic for Peace signatories; and the use of certain ports, ships, and yachts, owned by AKP bureaucrats, to distribute tons of cocaine sent from Columbia and Venezuela. At the end of each allegation, Peker addresses the district attorneys and journalists, and demands them to follow up on his leads by tracing cell phone signals—albeit knowing that to be wishful thinking to be at best, for the country’s media and judiciary, he argues, have long been jeopardized by members of the two warring factions.
And the war has been going on for some time—dating back to ex-Prime Minister Davutoğlu’s resignation in 2016 (which Peker mentions was forced by Albayrak) to Soylu’s resignation in 2020 (which also was forced by Albayrak, but later revoked by Erdoğan) to Albayrak’s resignation from his post as the Minister of Finance in late 2020 (which was orchestrated by Soylu and his supporters). This brings us to the present day, and to the potential resignation of Soylu facing allegations of corruption and links to the underworld.
Where, Though, is the Mighty Erdoğan in All of This?
You might ask where President Erdoğan stands in this equation—and if, even after the allegations by Peker, he would continue to support Soylu. Doing so would give a clear message that this round of the battle is won by Soylu/Bahçeli faction. It would moreover give a clear message as to what a post-Erdoğan Turkey would look like, where Soylu and Bahçeli would further foment their power. If, however, Erdoğan chooses to dismiss Soylu, then that would be a clear win for Albayrak, which would lead to further friction between the AKP and the Nationalist Movement Party.
Up until recently, Erdoğan has been staying silent, likely observing how the events would unfold. This is a practice not too foreign to him, as he has, in the past, let the events unravel until entering the scene and making sweeping interventions (such as replacing key members of his cabinet overnight). Yet, based on what Peker reveals, it is arguable whether Erdoğan still holds the same might, or the means to unleash it onto others. As of last week, Erdoğan has finally commented on the unfolding crisis—though only briefly—and shared his support with Soylu. His comment came as a follow-up to Bahçeli’s show of support for Soylu, where Bahçeli had targeted Peker through his remarks: “No one can put a leash on Turkey’s Minister of the Interior.” We cannot tell whether Erdoğan’s backing will matter given the gravity of Peker’s accusations against Soylu. But one thing is clear, especially given the timing of his show of support: Erdoğan cannot risk losing Bahçeli—either due to the votes the minority member of the coalition, Bahçeli’s Nationalist Action Party, brings, or due to something more obscure, such as a cassette tape that unveils further illegality and corruption by Erdoğan and those that are close to him. Perhaps this is something that Peker himself will reveal in yet another video in weeks to come.
Tinkering with the Raison D’Etat/Devletin Bekası: A State in Crisis
One way of reading what we witness in Turkey today is as a political crisis, where different political actors engage in a tug of war for seats in the seemingly near post-Erdoğan Turkey. But—and this is where Peker’s reading of the present-day comes in—this tug of war is detrimental not just for any single actor, such as Erdoğan. Peker’s warnings to Erdoğan are not only a mere show of affection. They hint at a crisis much deeper—a crisis that affects not only any particular seat in power, but the larger and holier state tradition. This is a crisis of the state, whose very presence, as we have argued earlier in this text, is essential for Peker for the perpetuation of the Empire/Turan as a project. “The state has honor,” argues Peker in one of his videos, and continues: “You may have disturbed its honor, but do not even consider tinkering with its rationality. The moment you do so, we are all doomed.” Peker’s videos are a call to arms, where he calls anyone and everyone to join this battle waged against state’s rationality. He asks the opposition, the media, and the public, to take action, albeit acknowledging that most of these actors either lack the teeth to bite or the will to sacrifice.
Turkey is facing its downfall, not just in matters pertaining to the Turkish economy, which the country has been battling with long before Peker captured the spotlight, but also in matters pertaining to statecraft—a tradition that exceeds present day predicaments and disrupts the perpetuity of the state, or the oft-cited “devletin bekası,” the raison d’etat, or holiness ascribed to the state, in Turkish. And it is Peker who makes the sacrifice by unveiling dirty secrets, including his own. It is a shame that Turkey needs Peker’s sacrifice. It is a shame that it is a mafia leader, one of the most extrajudicial members of the society, who demands justice on behalf of the public and the opposition. What the opposition could not do in Turkey for over fifteen years, Peker seems to be able to do with a tripod and a cell phone, which is to warn us of, in plain terms, the very downfall that is imminent. What a shame that we need a mafia leader to teach ethics and proper conduct to the many apparatuses of the state, the legislative, the judiciary, the media, and the public, among others.
Love him or hate him… Peker’s words matter—even for the staunchest critics of Erdoğan, including many academics such as ourselves. He may not be the revolutionary we have expected, but he sadly is what we have got.