Assassination of Russian ambassador shows depth of Turkish political crisis

Mohammad Behzad Fatmi
Mohammad Behzad FatmiDec 22, 2016 | 10:02

Assassination of Russian ambassador shows depth of Turkish political crisis

The Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, was assassinated while delivering a speech at an art gallery in Ankara’s Cankaya district, where most foreign embassies are located. His assassin, Mevlut Mert Altintas, was an officer serving in the capital’s riot police squad.

Altintas, a 22-year-old, had graduated in 2014 from a police academy in the western Turkish city of Izmir. After firing multiple shots at the ambassador, he raised religious slogans and shouted: “Don’t forget Syria, don’t forget Aleppo.”


In initial statements, both the Russian and Turkish governments said the assassination was an attempt at straining the relationship between the two countries. Russian President Vladimir Putin added that the killing was aimed at derailing the efforts his country is making along with Turkey and Iran to find a solution to the Syria crisis.

No investigation has yet reached its conclusion, but finger-pointing has nevertheless begun.

Senior officials in the Turkish government have suggested that the ongoing investigation is trying to determine whether the killer had any links to the movement of US-based Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen. Going a step further, a number of pro-government journalists and columnists have openly pronounced the Gulen movement guilty of the murder.

Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, was assassinated while delivering a speech at an art gallery in Ankara.

The government also blames the movement for orchestrating a failed military coup in the month of July this year and launching a massive corruption probe involving figures close to the ruling AKP in December 2013.

By accusing the Gulen movement of trumping up corruption charges and the aborted putsch, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has purged tens of thousands of state employees, including police and military officers, anti-terrorism experts, judges and prosecutors over the past three years for their alleged links to the movement.


Back in 2014, in order to prevent the recruitment of Gulen-inspired youth in the police departments, the government had decided to shut down all police academies and training schools in the country.

Most of those who graduated that year from these institutions were denied positions in the police — except for those who came with strong recommendations from ruling AKP politicians.

Notably, the murderer of the Russian envoy graduated in the same year when the government started a systematic campaign to stop the recruitment of Gulen sympathisers or anyone it did not want in the police departments. Had he been a "Gulenist", Altintas could not have secured a job in the Turkish police by any means.

Again, the government has carried out a purge at an alarming scale in the country in which thousands of police officers have been sacked or detained or both for their alleged ties to the Gulen movement.

This intensified after the coup of July 15, 2016. It is hard to explain why the government would not take any action against Altintas if he was really a "Gulenist" even after the coup attempt.

To add to this conundrum, it has emerged that he has served in President Erdogan’s security details eight times since the coup attempt. That Erdogan would let a person with ties to the Gulen movement occupy such a crucial position around him is ridiculous – especially when he has purged even janitors and miners across the country.


The slogans raised by the assassin after he gunned down the ambassador also suggested that he can hardly be associated with the movement known for promoting interfaith and intercultural dialogue. They hinted at his alignment to a radical Islamist ideology - which Erdogan has supported for far too long.

It will be too early to name anyone for orchestrating the heinous crime, but two things are clear: one that the Gulen movement has no involvement whatsoever in the murder, and that the domestic crisis in Turkey is not domestic anymore; it is international.

Last updated: December 22, 2016 | 10:02
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