Are hit squads about to take aim at Turkey's dissidents abroad?
Garo Paylan, a member of parliament for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said he had received confirmation from Western officials about Turkish individuals with alleged connections to the Turkish state who are planning to carry out sensational assassinations of several prominent journalists and other government critics. “There is a list of targets,” he told Al-Monitor in a telephone interview.
Paylan emphasized that there is no evidence that the operatives are acting under direct orders from the government. “Rather, in gray and turbulent times such as those we are experiencing today, rogue networks inside the state take matters into their own hands, as we saw with the murder of Hrant Dink,” he said, referring to the Armenian Turkish newspaper editor gunned down outside his Istanbul office on Jan. 19, 2007, by a young man thought to have been put up to the job by ultra-nationalist security officials.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly lashed out at Western governments that have offered refuge to a growing population of political exiles fleeing possible imprisonment in Turkey for alleged ties to Fethullah Gulen, the Sunni cleric and No. 1 suspect in last year’s failed coup. Others are accused of connections to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Having offered sanctuary to many of the exiles, Germany is the leading target of the Turkish government’s ire, resulting in a meltdown in relations between the NATO allies and tit-for-tat arrests of German nationals in Turkey on dubious terrorism charges.
Paylan said the government’s incendiary rhetoric, singling out some of its critics by name, has created a climate of impunity. “[This] can be interpreted by overzealous vigilantes as a green light to go after them,” he asserted. The lawmaker added that he had alerted several senior Turkish government officials about the alleged scheme to carry out extrajudicial killings. Paylan declined to identify them by name, but offered, “They thanked me.”
Celal Baslangic, a veteran Turkish journalist, has written extensively on Kurdish matters. He is living in exile in the German city of Koln, where he runs the independent online news portal Arti Gercek and its television arm. Baslangic, charged with belonging to a terrorist organization along with several other journalists — for editing the now shuttered pro-Kurdish newspaper Ozgur Gundem in an act of solidarity — shares Paylan’s worries.