Every city has an underside, and Istanbul, the city of desires, has always been rocked by an epidemic of gang violence. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know about Istanbul’s longstanding legacy with organised crime which has changed and evolved over the years.
10 – Hiristo AnastadiyaDis
Given the fact that the life of Hiristo Anastadiyadis was adapted into three Turkish movies, he is one of the most interesting criminals in the history of Istanbul. He is also considered as the first serial killer of the Ottoman Empire. According to the Ottoman documents, he was born in 1898 in Istanbul to a Greek family, but it is said that his father left the family for Athens later. With his older brother Koço, who had long been involved crime, Hiristo began his crime career by stealing people’s money in tramways and in the whorehouse that his mother was owned in Peremeci Street in Beyoğlu. After a while, Hiristo founded his own gang together with some other famous bullies, and he soon began shaking down the areas of Beyoğlu, particularly the areas of Tatavla (Kurtuluş), Dolapdere and Galata. He got the attention of police in 1918 when he murdered pudding shop owner Recep Usta on Boğazkesen Street, cutting his throat and stealing all his money before escaping, but eventually, he and his men were arrested, receiving 15 years sculling punishment. However, Hiristo escaped to Greece with his lover, Eftimya, who was said to be responsible for bringing the death to Hiristo. Eftimya returned to Istanbul after a while, which made Hiristo very angry, and he followed her to Istanbul. One night, while he was hiding in a house in Istanbul, Eftimya’s father went to police and informed them about Hiristo’s location. During the gun battle, Hiristo was killed by a policeman named Muharrem Alkor, who was the father of famous contemporary Turkish actress Selda Alkor (1943-present) – Hiristo said to be responsible for 21 murders, 13 were policemen among all.
9 – Solak LIgor
One of the most wanted men of his time, Solak Ligor cuts a frightening figure. In a gun battle because of the continuing blood vengeance between his family and its rival, Ligor, in his childhood time, became mutilated on his right arm. Despite the dangers, his family continued to live in the city of Konya for some more time, but eventually, his tailor father Todori decided to move to Istanbul. Ligor was not able to do his father’s work due to the injury on his right arm, and so he thought of starting off a crime career in the big city. He had already learnt how to use the knife very fast with his left arm. He tried his skill for the first time on a Jewish man living in the Balat neighbourhood, and many other crimes followed this murder. His amazing use of his left hand gave him the nickname ‘left-handed’ (solak), and Solak Ligor established his rule from Unkapanı to Eyüp. For at least four years, he was the most fearsome in his area on the Golden Horn, but a love affair with a prostitute is said to be the reason of the end of his life story. It is said that his lover convinced Ligor to join a former gang, and in 1921 Ligor was busted by foreign spies (sort of James Bonds) in Istanbul, while he was distributing counterfeit British money to the market. Nobody heard anything about him since then.
8 – İdrİs Özbİr aka Kürt İdrİs
Born in Kars in 1937 to a Kurdish father and Greek mother, İdris Özbir was one of the top members of Istanbul crime family, and among all the mob leaders he was one of the most respected without the doubt. Probably some people would remember his interesting statement that as follows; ‘these Turkish people who called Mustafa Kemal, İsmet Pasha and Kenan Evren as ‘father’ calls me as a ‘father’ too’ – İdris Özbir received his ‘Kurd’ nickname in Istanbul because he couldn’t speak Turkish when he arrived in the city. After the 12 September 1980 military coup d’état, he was accused of trafficking heroin and was asked for 10 years in prison. Charges of narcotics trafficking continued to dog Kurd İdris as he was taken into custody after his brother-in-law Eftim Veriopolos tried to sell heroin to police in the city of Elazığ. In the world of organised crime in Istanbul, it is rare for a high-profile boss to remain out of jail for a long period of time, but interestingly Kurd İdris, one of the most notorious crooks of all time, served just eight months behind bars. In 2012, İdris died in his house in Sarıyer in Istanbul. Today, he is most remembered for taking famous singers İbrahim Tatlıses and Bülent Ersoy under his wings, and it is also known that he was the great friend of Yılmaz Güney, Kurdish film director, most known his political stance, which was, of course, left.
7 – Dündar Kılıç
Known as leftist ‘father’, Dündar Kılıç was born in 1935 in a village outside of Trabzon. Like many ‘Laz’ families of the region, his family also moved to the capital city of Ankara, where Kılıç first time entered crime world, getting a gun in his hand at the age of 10. In the 1960s he was already known as one of Ankara’s leading criminals, but what brought him the fame was the murder of Kurd Cemali, a crime which he long denied any responsibility, but it was this event which forced him to leave Ankara for Istanbul. In this new city, Kılıç established a lifelong friendship with another mafia leader with deeper roots in Istanbul, İdris Özbir, Kılıç’s first partner in gambling trade in Istanbul. In a time, Kılıç came to be known as the ‘good godfather’, professedly because he would only have his people to collect money from those who were already involved in illegal deals. Kılıç was arrested as part of a large-scale joint operation against organised crime by Turkey’s National Intelligence Operation in 1984. By the request of Semra Özal, the wife of Turgut Özal, who ruled Turkey in the 1980s as a prime minister, and as a President between 1989 and 1993, Dündar Kılıç became the referee for the issue between Selim Edes and Engin Civan – known as Civangate Scandal – which led him pit against Alaattin Çakıcı. Çakıcı himself was a mafia leader and husband of his daughter. In 1995, his daughter was shot dead by the men of Alaattin Çakıcı, but Kılıç never attempted to take a revenge. It is rumoured that it was, in fact, an honour killing jointly ordered by Kılıç and Çakıcı. Dündar Kılıç died in Istanbul in 1999.
6 – Nurİ Ergİn
The son of a mob leader who came from Erzurum to Istanbul in the 1950s, Nuri Ergin was born in one of the most violent neighbourhoods of Istanbul, Karagümrük, which gives its name to the gang that he founded with his younger brother Vedat Ergin; Karagümrük Gang, one of the most powerful criminal organisations in the history of Istanbul. After torturing and killing oceans of people, bombing many places of his rivals, Nuri Ergin took the attention of the media by the murder of Mustafa Duyar, a member of Revolutionary People’s Liberation Front (DHKP\C), who was accused of murdering a member of one of Turkey’s richest families, Özdemir Sabancı. In his quest for power and wealth, Nuri Ergin also clashed with other gangsters, including Alaattin Çakıcı. The conflict between them went beyond one can imagine; he and his brother forced about 200 inmates at Uşak prison in western Turkey to stage a three-day riot, during which Ergin tortured and killed five men of Alaattin Çakıcı, and he later had a bargaining with the state officials telling them that ‘send me to Bilecik, so my brother will release 26 hostages free.’ – Indeed, he was sent to Bilecik prison and the hostages were released. In 1998, Nuri Ergin appeared on news once again, in which he was said to be responsible for torturing Can Kuzu, who blackmailed Sibel Can, one of the most successful singers of Turkey, and according to the police reports Sibel Can literally asked for help via phone. Most recently, Nuri Ergin was sentenced to 39 years imprisonment, and his legacy is now being carried on by his son, Anıl Ergin, who also was arrested in Edirne in 2015.
5 – Osman Cevahİroğlu aka Oflu Osman
Three brothers from Of, one of the famous districts of Trabzon city, Hasan, Osman and Ismail were mob leaders, known for brute force, violence, and wealthy. Oflu Osman has become most famous among them for a reason; he highly invested money in construction and tourism sector. His older brother Oflu Hasan was one of the most famous mob leaders in the 1960s, thanks to the reputation he had gained during the gang war between Laz and Arab mobsters. However, he did not want to continue his criminal career and left his heritage to his brother Osman, who had already involved in the crime world of Istanbul. Oflu Osman began his career as a mobster by collecting money from those who were involved in prostitution business: among them the most famous Matild Manukyan, Pamuk Enver, Kesik Ali, Kasımpaşalı Muzaffer. Meanwhile, he also set up several gamble houses in Istanbul, and in a while he began to be known as ‘father of fathers’, who built a legendary mafia model, turning the petty criminal activity into a smoothly operating enterprise that turned serious profits. In his funeral in the Fatih Mosque in Istanbul, the visitors included politicians such as the President Erdoğan, singers such as İbrahim Tatlıses, Adnan Şenses, Metin Şentürk, Mustafa Topaloğlu, actors and actress such as Oya Aydoğan, Nuri Sesigüzel, Süheyl, Behzat and Nejat Uygur, and businessmen Sadan Kalkavan, Ergün Gürsoy, to name a few. His nephew Kurban Yazoğlu replaced Oflu Osman and carries on his uncle’s legacy.
4 – Hasan Heybetlİ
Hasan Heybetli is the son of ‘Arap Hüso’ (Hüseyin Heybetli), one of Küçükpazar’s famous gangsters in the 60s and 70s. Arap Hüso died in 1979, leaving behind a great legacy for his son, Hasan, who is widely considered the last of the old-style mobster in Turkey. In the way of his father, Hasan Heybetli was only 14 years old, when he ordered his two 12-years-old ‘men’ to back-stab a 14-years-old boy. But that was just the beginning of a long, dark career. By the 1980s, Hasan Heybetli was one of the regular fixtures in the black-market mafia; he was guilty of any number of sins, from gambling and arm dealing with bribery and narcotics trafficking to robbery and murder. But Hasan Heybetli didn’t become famous because of his crime portfolio. He was rather coming to known as a romantic gangster due to his love affairs with Muazzez Abacı, one of Turkey’s most famous singer in the Turkish Classical Music genre, who has been active since 1973. It is said that Hasan Heybetli sent Muazzez Abacı 24 red roses every other time when she performed at the bars. And again, one night, the street which Abacı’s windows looked at was decorated with red roses, and when Abacı saw it, she decided not to resist to such a romantic man; Abacı and Heybetli married in 1980, and again 1989, each of which proved short-lived. In the 1990s he completely withdraws into his shell and began a new life in the United States. In 2011, he was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment, due to his relationship with the murder of businessman Fatih Edremit in a resident in Şişli neighbourhood.
3 – Kürşat Yılmaz
Kürşat Yılmaz is Turkish mob boss who has strong relations with the ultra-nationalist ‘Grey Wolves’. He began his crime career with printing counterfeit lottery tickets, but what made him famous in Turkey was the murder of Osman Ayanoğlu, Turkish drug lord. Kürşat Yılmaz ordered his most trusted man Yavuz Kaşıkcı to kill Osman Ayanoğlu, and in the night, that turned from 1991 into 1992 Osman Ayanoğlu was shot to death in Istanbul’s famous Çakır Gazino where he was with his family for the new year eve celebration. Next year, his name involved in the murder of Kayhan Güvelioğlu, and he was sentenced to 19 years imprisonment, but while he was being transferred from prison to hospital in 1994, he succeeded to escape from security forces. He got busted for two times more, but with the help of invisible hands, he was able to escape from prison in 1997, and again in 1998. He was arrested in Bulgaria in July 1998, and extradited to Turkey in April 1999. He was also found guilty of arranging the 1995 murder of former Kuşadası Mayor Lütfi Suyolcu. His statement in one of his trials is never-forgotten; ‘I did not kill anyone for money. I have at least 4 trillion. Why shall I kill someone for a few billion?’ One of the interesting events which was proof of his power took place on 14 February 1997; a former policeman Dursun Iri kidnapped the daughter of Kürşat Yılmaz, Ülkü Gümgüm, and only a few days later the event took place, two brothers of Dursun İri were found dead in their hometown.
2 – Sedat Peker
Known as the ‘godfather’ who fights against drugs, Sedat Peker is the most famous mob leader in Turkey nowadays; not because of the crimes he has committed, but surprisingly because of his political views that are based on Pan-Turkism and his recent statements that are a party to President Erdoğan. In 2016, Sedat Peker said in a well-attended speech that the academics who signed the petition for peace in Southern Turkey will be massacred; “We will let your blood stream and we will take a shower in your blood.” But the fact is that his relationship with politicians is not a new thing; curing one of his trials, Peker made remarks that were never cleared up; “an older member of parliament sent me an SMS which said I shouldn’t behave too arrogantly. I would like to tell you everything because if I don’t it could come to pass that I commit suicide under suspicious circumstances.” Just to remember, Sedat Peker made name for himself with the murder of the drug smuggler Abdullah Topçu in 1997. Following this event, he fled to Romania, but brought back to Turkey in 1998, and was put in prison for less than nine months. In 2005, Peker was arrested during ‘Operation Butterfly’, and sentenced to 14 years and five months, because of leading a criminal organisation, robbery, forgery, and two counts of false imprisonment. He got out of prison in 2014, and since then he has been living in Istanbul.
1 – Alaattİn Çakıcı
You cannot have a list of mobsters without mentioning the man who sticks in the minds of most Turkish people: Alaattin Çakıcı. He is, without doubt, Turkey’s most notorious mafia leader. He is the former member of the ultra-nationalist organisation Grey Wolves, and his strong relationship with the country’s intelligence service is known by everybody. It is well-known that the law enforcement couldn’t have touched him for many years, thanks to the protection he received from several high-profile politicians. It is known that Çakıcı joined the ultra-nationalist groups in Şişli neighbourhood during his youth time, and according to the claims, he joined the MIT (National Intelligence Organisation) in May 1987 as the manager of the security department. Çakıcı is said to be responsible for 41 political murders and his name was on the assassination list of Marxist-Leninist Dev-Sol in the 1990s. At the end of the 1990s, he was finally wanted by the state in connection with extortion, illegal property deals and the murders of several people, including his ex-wife Uğur Kılıç. He was captured in France and imprisoned in Turkey. His capture revealed his connections to high-level politicians; the publication of taped conversations between Çakıcı and a construction magnate – Korkmaz Yiğit – ultimately led to the fall of the Turkish Prime Minister Prime Mesut Yılmaz in 1998. Çakıcı was convicted of ordering an armed attack in 2000 that injured 15 people at a cafe owned by a rival gang and sentenced to 14 years, nine months and 20 days. Nowadays, he takes media attention by his political statements; he often criticises President Erdoğan, to whom he wrote a letter, and said that he was not able to bring Fethullah Gülen to Turkey, but able to bring death to him in the United States.