Iran and its ally Syria, both countries knowledgeable on how to wage proxy battles using terrorist groups in other countries, are now revisiting their Turkish assets in terror portfolios they have been investing in for decades.
It is a well established fact that both Iran and Syria, state sponsors of terrorism, are now actively throwing their support behind the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) to exact revenge on Turkey because of Ankara's critical stand against the brutal Syrian regime. But there are others, little known terrorist groups, that Iran and Syria are pushing to the frontline to destabilize Turkey in border areas. One of these small groups is called the Turkish Peoples Liberation Party/Front (THKP/C) and its deadly splinter faction called the Urgent Ones (Acilciler), whose name comes from a manifesto titled “Urgent Problems of Turkey's Revolution.”
Acilciler was set up in 1975 by a gang of three -- İlter Akman, Basri Temizalp and Ahmet Kuş. The current leader is Mihraç Ural, a long-time fugitive wanted by law enforcement in Turkey. He is from Hatay but has spent most of his life in Syria. Married to a Syrian woman and the father of three, Ural worked side by side with PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, who was sheltered by the Syrian regime for many years. He used to travel to France often in the past despite an Interpol red notice against him. French intelligence never lifted a finger to apprehend him.
Ural operates out of Syria with the support of the notorious Syrian intelligence agency the Mukhabarat. His terrorist group, the Urgent Ones, is known as the “Hatay Liberation Army” in Syria and is based in the coastal city of Latakia. His mission at the moment is to stir up sectarian conflict in Hatay and other provinces with the hope that the Turkish government will abandon its anti-Assad Syrian policy. The organization singled out the provinces of Adana, Hatay, and Mersin as possible flashpoint provinces to create trouble for the Turkish government. So far he has failed to gain any real traction to that end. Turkish intelligence is watching every move of Acilciler operatives and has successfully foiled some of the plots hatched by this group.
The group has intensified its activities in the southern province of Hatay on the border with Syria and is recruiting Alawite youths to its ranks in order to create tension in Turkey's border provinces as well as provide manpower to embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's dwindling army. It is estimated that some 300,000 Alawites live in Turkey, with at least half of them feeling strongly for their brethren in Syria ruled by Assad, himself an Alawite. The rest is somewhat assimilated into larger Turkish society and has no interest in being drawn into a cross-border conflict.
Unfortunately, many confuse Alawites with Turkey's Alevis, as The New York Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman did in an article posted on Aug. 4. Alawites are of Arab descent while Alevis are Turkish in origin and their numbers are estimated to be between 10 to 20 million. That does not mean, however, that Turkish Alevis are 100 percent behind the government policy on Syria. Many Alevis today feel the government is making a mistake by openly taking a position against the Syrian Alawite regime. In other words, there are some Alevis who take a position similar to that of the Alawites.
That is where the THKP/C comes into play. Using the leftist, anti-US and anti-EU ideological campaigns overtly laced with anti-imperialist jargon, the group strives to broaden support for the Assad regime by enlisting the help of Turkish Alevis who traditionally vote for the leftist parties in Turkey. Ironically, the unrelenting bashing of the government by deputies belonging to the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) over its Syrian policy is lending a hand to this cause as well. Considering allegations that CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu hired many people with a THKP/C background while he served as the head of the Social Security Authority (SSK) General Directorate between 1992 and 1999, this does not come as a surprise.
Police have discovered that some of the pro-Assad rallies were actually organized by the THKP/C. The terrorist organization is also spreading rumors that Syrian refugees have been creating disturbances, getting into fights, stealing and killing people in Turkish provinces, which were purposefully spread by the terrorist organization to create unease at a local level. The police said, however, that there is no data corroborating these rumors. It is no coincidence that some members of the THKP/C use their cover as journalists, using advantages enjoyed by the press to promote hate, violence and terror. According to the Ministry of Justice, seven journalists currently in jail are accused of being members of the THKP/C.
Syria is not the only issue that the THKP/C faction was employed in against Turkey. It was hired by Iranian operatives throughout Syria in 2010 to derail the critical public referendum in Turkey, which was a turning point in transforming Turkey into a more democratic country by overhauling some important articles of the Constitution. If the referendum had not taken place, the country would not have been able to solve many systemic problems in the judiciary and other areas, thwarting Turkey's development -- something Iran is very much in favor of.
In the months leading up to the referendum, the National Police Department's intelligence unit had to issue a warning for the Hatay region, saying that the THKP/C and the Urgent Ones were looking for ways to provoke a sectarian conflict. It said the group was planning the assassination of high-profile Alawites in Hatay to provoke a backlash and create a sectarian disturbance.
Again in the run up to the June 12 national elections last year, THKP/C militants were involved in a violent protest that erupted on May 31 in the city of Hopa during a visit by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was holding an election rally. One person was killed and three people injured in the incident. The Ankara Prosecutor's Office indicted 28 suspects in November for the attacks, with some of them being charged with membership in the THKP/C.
The THKP/C has many violent factions operating under different names. They are responsible for many assassinations in Turkey as well as bombings to create chaos, ostensibly for a violent takeover of the government. In fact, they are simply contract killers and guns for hire. Iran and Syria have used these militant groups in the past not only to kill Turkish nationals but also foreigners as well.
For example, the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C), a Marxist-Leninist terrorist organization, is a splinter group of the THKP/C. It was formed in 1978 and was responsible for many terrorist attacks, including the assassinations of two US military personnel in 1991 and the killing of prominent businessman Özdemir Sabancı in 1996. THKP/C Dev-Sol, another splinter group, was responsible for bombings against Western interests during the first Gulf War. Non-Muslim minorities and vulnerable groups in Turkey have also become targets for these groups over the years.
I'm sure the THKP/C and the PKK are not the only terrorist groups in the basket. No doubt Iran, the mastermind behind many terrorist groups operating in a large region stretching from Afghanistan to Somalia, has already diversified its portfolio of terrorist groups, waiting for the right moment to push more pawns in a dangerous game against Turkey. If Tehran is aiming to antagonize Turkey to turn hostile against Persian interests, I think it is working well.