An Insight in Istanbul’s Recent History Assassinations

According to a classical definition from the science of criminology, an assassination is the deliberate killing of a person, often a political leader or ruler, usually for political reasons or […]

According to a classical definition from the science of criminology, an assassination is the deliberate killing of a person, often a political leader or ruler, usually for political reasons or payments. The assassination may be based on religious, military or political motives. It is an act that may be done for financial gain, to avenge a grievance, from a desire to acquire fame or notoriety or simply because of a military, security or insurgent group’s command to carry out the homicide.

For movie lovers who have watched Se7en in 1995, you definitely remember that the entire movie was structured around the seven capital sins: hubristic pride, greed, lust, malicious envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth. The two detectives, one a rookie acted by Brad Pitt and a veteran, Morgan Freeman hunt a serial killer who ironically uses the seven deadly sins as his modus operandi. Also, in Dante Alighieri’s ‘The Divine Comedy’, specifically in the Purgatorio, the seven sins were perceived as the seven ways of eternal death.

According to our classification of the seven cases, we will try to link every assassination with a capital sin in relation to the victim and the killer’s declarations after committing the crime as well as statements made during trial. The following is a chronological list of personalities from Istanbul murdered during the modern and recent history of the Turkish Republic. Many of the victims are intellectual proponents of ‘laicism’ and the strict separation of religion and state in Turkey as stipulated under the Constitution, businessmen, political activists and public servants.

  1. Abdi İpekçi (1929-1979) – Wrath

He was a journalist, an intellectual and important human rights activist. At the time of his assassination, he was the editor-in-chief of the main Turkish newspaper Milliyet, which at the time had a Centre-left political stance. On February 1, 1979, two members of the ultra-nationalist “Grey Wolves”[1], Oral Ҫelik and Mehmet Ali Ağca murdered Abdi İpekçi in front of his apartment in Istanbul whilst in the car on his way from office. Mehmet Ali Ağca also attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II which did not yield fatal damage except for wounds that the Pope sustained.

   Ağca was captured following a tip off from an informant and sentenced to life imprisonment. However, after serving a period of only six months at a military prison in Istanbul, he escaped with the aid of military officers and the grey wolves. He first fled to Iran and later on to Bulgaria which at the time was operating as a base for the Turkish mafia. According to Reuters, Ağca had escaped with the suspected help of sympathisers in the security services. Some sources claim that Abdi was murdered at the behest of CIA’s station chief in Turkey Paul Henze[2], after he had asked Henze to stop CIA’s illegal activities.

  1. Metin Yüksel (1958-1979) – Hubristic Pride

Metin Yüksel was an Islamist political and social activist and one of the main leaders of Turkey’s political Islamist movement during the 1970s. He also led the Akıncılar Organisation which was an Islamist political organisation. Although Turkish Islamists of that time were careful to steer clear of the political violence between nationalist and Marxist factions in Turkey, many of them lost their lives nevertheless.

   On February 23, 1979, while leaving Friday prayer, Yüksel was shot dead outside Istanbul’s Fatih Mosque by ultra-nationalist gunmen. He was only 20 years old at that time. Following his assassination, he became a martyr among Turkey’s Islamist factions. His assassination also led supporters to declare February as the month of Șehit (Martyr’s month). Every year on the anniversary of his death, supporters make pilgrimage to the spot where he was murdered in the Fatih Mosque’s yard. He is best remembered for his famous quote, ”Martyrdom is a message for all generations and ages.”

  1. Nihat Erim (1912-1980) – Greed

Ismail Nihat Erim was a Turkish politician and jurist. He served as the Prime Minister of Turkey for about 14 months following the 1971 Turkish coup d’état. Upon graduating from Istanbul University Law School in 1936, he acquired a doctorate degree from the Paris Law School in 1939. He served as an advisory in the Turkish committee at the 1945 conference on the foundation of the United Nations in San Francisco.

   Erim was shot to death by two gunmen near his home in Kartal, Istanbul on July 19, 1980 along with his bodyguard. Radical leftist Turkish militant group Dev Sol (Revolutionary Left) claimed responsibility for the attack. The assassination might have accelerated the military coup on September 12 of that year led by chief of staff Kenan Evren. The motive behind the assassination is thought to be related to the parliament’s approval to execute three leftist militants, one of them being Deniz Gezmiş during his mandate as prime minister. Erim’s assassination was part of a wave of political violence in Turkey in the late 1970s between left-wing Marxist and right-wing ultra-nationalist groups.

  1. Kemal Türkler (1926-1980) – Malicious Envy

He was a Turkish socialist trade union leader, founder and first president of the Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions of Turkey[3] and also one of the founders of the Workers Party of Turkey (Türkiye İşçi Partisi, TİP) in 1963. For quite a period of time, Kemal worked as a metal worker whereon he became the president of Turkey’s Metal Workers’ Union and a leading figure of the Democratic Trade Union Movement in Turkey.

   Kemal Türkler was assassinated on July 22, 1980, in front of his home in Merter by ultra-nationalist militants belonging to the Nationalist Movement Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi, MHP) leaving no trace to incriminate the killers.

  1. Onat Kutlar (1936-1995) – Sloth

Mehmet Arif Onat Kutlar, also known as Onat Kutlar, was a prominent Turkish art critic, writer, poet as well as columnist for the daily Cumhuriyet newspaper and founder of the Turkish Sinematek. He was also one of the founding fathers of the Istanbul International Film Festival, which is held annually during April in movie theatres within Istanbul, Turkey.

   He died on January 11, 1995 in Istanbul as a result of injuries sustained from a bomb attack carried out by the PKK organisation at the Marmara Hotel cafeteria in Taksim. He was laid to rest at the Aşiyan Asri Cemetery. Today, the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) award is named after him to commemorate his contributions to Turkish cinema.

  1. Üzeyir Garih (1929-2001) – Gluttony

Üzeyir Garih was a famous Turkish-Jewish businessman, engineer, writer, investor and founding partner of the Alarko group of companies. He was one of the best engineers in the country and together with Ishak Alaton, they founded what was to become Alarko Holding serving as its president and co-chairman until 2001. As an international business leader, philosopher and nationwide teacher, Garih has written more than 200 articles in various newspapers and magazines in addition to eight books titled ”My Experiences”.

   He was stabbed to death on August 25, 2001 near the Eyüp Muslim Cemetery during a visit. After a religious funeral ceremony at the Neve Shalom Synagogue, he was laid to rest at the Ulus Sephardi Jewish Cemetery. The assassin was captured ten days later, tried and sentenced to life imprisonment. To this day, the motive behind his assassination is still debated.

  1. Ahmet Yıldız (1982-2008) – Lust

Ahmet Yıldız was a 26 year old Physics student in Marmara University’s physics department and was preparing for his final exams to complete his studies. In 2007, he had represented his country at the international gay gathering in San Francisco. On July 15, 2008, he was shot at while leaving a café near the Bosphorus. It is alleged that his father Yahya Yıldız[4] fired 5 bullets which led to his death.

   His attempts to get away from the aggressor by running to his car and driving off were futile as he lost control of the steering wheel and crashed into a pharmacy’s wall because of injuries he had sustained in his chest. He died on spot. His body was not claimed by his family until a few days later when his uncle received it from the Yenibosna Forensic Medicine Institute.

   The man who might be described as “Turkey’s gay poster boy”[5], was considered by his friends to be a victim of the country’s deepening friction between an increasingly liberal society and its entrenched conservative traditions. The murder of Ahmet Yıldız is often characterised by sociologists as ”the victim of the first homosexual honour killing in Turkey to surface publicly”. This case will be a significant turning point in Turkey’s judicial history with its procedure, handling and conclusion.

   It is however naive to believe that Ahmet Yıldız was the first person in Turkey to be killed by his family because of his sexual orientation. He is just one of the many victims of family murders that have gone unnamed and swept under the carpet.

[1] Bawer ҪAKIR, ”Families of Murdered Intellectuals Follow Up Dink Murdered Case”, Bia News
[2] Stanford J. SHAW, ”History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey”, Vol. 2, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002, p. 354.
[3] Gökçer TAHİNCİOĞLU and Ersan ATAR, ”Suspects told the murders”, Milliyet

Leave a Reply