Mysterious assassination may shake Erdogan’s coalition partner
Sinan Ates, an illustrious member of Turkiye’s Nationalist Movement Party, known as the MHP, was assassinated on Dec. 30 in broad daylight in central Ankara. Ates was an associate professor at the Hacettepe University in Ankara. In 2019 and 2020, he served as the chairman of a movement associated with the MHP that is wrongly translated into English as “Nationalist Hearts” (Ulku Ocaklari) and may also be translated as “Home of the Idealists.” This organization was sometimes used as a breeding ground for adherents of the party, while at other times it was its backyard. Independent from his title and previous positions, Ates was a well-respected and appreciated person both in the MHP and in circles outside his party.
While all opposition parties strongly condemned this flagrant assassination, the coalition partners of the government kept silent for several days. Neither President Recep Tayyip Erdogan nor Devlet Bahceli, the chairman of the MHP, which is a member of Erdogan’s government, uttered a single word for days after the assassination. Only six days after the incident did the chairman of the local branch of the ruling AKP party pay a visit to the family to offer condolences. The family said: “The AKP chairman conveyed to us President Erdogan’s greetings and told us to push it as far as it goes.” Bahceli spoke for the first time 10 days after the incident and blamed everyone except himself.
This background suggests that the assassination was a surprise for Erdogan and he could not immediately figure out all the consequences of the incident.
Thirteen people have been arrested so far, among them two plainclothes police officers. They were reportedly the ones who gave a lift to the hitman, who traveled all the way from Istanbul to Ankara to carry out the assassination. Most of the arrested suspects have turned out to be drug addicts. The coalition partners want to give the impression that the shooting was not an organized crime, but an accidental occurrence.
There is almost nothing consistent in the entire exercise.
The policemen claimed that they wanted to make a “sprint” to Ankara (a distance of 440 km) to enjoy themselves. A man (the hitman) had asked to join them, saying that he had to go to Ankara and he proposed sharing the cost of travel, so the policemen agreed to give him a lift. The hitman turned out to be a convicted murderer who had managed to remain at large for several years.
Core members of the party are circumspect, but they may know who the mastermind is. The MHP community has a tradition of solving its problems within the family, but it may refrain from exposing all of its dirty linen in public.
One of the alleged culprits said they did not intend to kill Ates but to frighten him because he had refused to help with a case in the High Court.
One of the easiest ways to discredit someone in Turkiye is to claim that he has been connected with the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is in self-imposed exile in the US. In line with this practice, Ates has also been accused of having connections with Gulen, but such a claim does not easily hold out. On the contrary, when he was chairman of the so-called Nationalist Hearts, he managed to exonerate several members of the clan and secure their release from prison.
This unfortunate event coincided with the forthcoming national elections in Turkiye, which are scheduled to be held in a few months’ time. Erdogan’s AKP is far short of the winning range. The president is in dire need of every single vote. The MHP’s support was the only meaningful backing that he could count on. Now, if the MHP disintegrates as a result of Ates’ assassination, Erdogan may face greater risks.
If the MHP disintegrates as a result of Ates’ assassination, the Turkish president may face greater risks.
A bigger calamity may fall on the MHP. The Bursa branch of the party — where Ates was operating — is already in turmoil and looking for a scapegoat.
As a skillful politician, Erdogan may still find a way to manage the situation within his own party, but the future looks bleaker for the MHP. This party had already been exposed to harsh criticisms from Meral Aksener’s IYI (Good) Party. One of the biggest winners of this situation may, therefore, be Aksener.
The incident also promises more revelations because of its sensitivities.
If Erdogan manages to maintain Bahceli’s support until the elections, he may not rely on him afterwards.
The MHP will probably emerge from this incident seriously bruised, if not shattered. Whether Erdogan will be able to emerge unscathed is difficult to tell.
- Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkiye and founding member of the ruling AK Party. Twitter: @yakis_yasar