MESOP NEWS INTEL : THE ASSASSINATION OF A RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR & ERDOGAN’S CEVIK KUVVET DIVISION
The Cevik Kuvvet division of the Turkish police, a key component of Turkey’s security apparatus and a somewhat politicized force, is regularly the target of bloody attacks; on Monday one of its members assassinated the Russian ambassador to Turkey. The Cevik Kuvvet, often translated as riot police, is deployed to defend sensitive urban sites, such as embassies, and is used to engage unauthorized protests and riots.
The force was built up under the AKP rule and is seen as being somewhat sympathetic to the government, although this is hardly a blanket rule for all members. The force has known controversies over its actions against anti-government protests in large Turkish cities, the country’s Kurdish south east and against strikers.
Turkey witnessed these last weeks its latest significant incidents to involve the Cevik Kuvvet, ‘the Rapid Force’. On 10 December, 36 members of the force were killed in a twin suicide bomb attack in Istanbul, while on 19 December an off-duty member of the force assassinated the Russian ambassador to Turkey. The force is regularly the target of attacks and the recent Istanbul attack was one of many this year alone to claim the lives of multiple members of the force. In international coverage, the force is often referred to as ‘riot police’ or simply as police, which loses something of the nuance of the relevance of this particular branch of the Turkish police, and the level of losses it has incurred.
The force was built up during the ruling AKP’s years in power and has become the primary unit for urban interventions. It is used to engage unauthorized protests and riots, in crowd control, and to defend sensitive urban sites, such as embassies, touristic areas and government buildings. It is seen as broadly close to the government, although this is not by any means to say that all members are of a particular political persuasion. Nonetheless, given the trajectory of the force over the last 10 years, a significant proportion of its members could be expected to have conservative and/or nationalist leanings.
The force was deployed to contain putchist soldiers during the 15 July coup attempt. It has regularly engaged in Turkey’s restive south eastern Kurdish cities to counter unauthorized demonstrations and riots. The force was employed during the ‘Gezi Park’ unrest in 2013. It has also been used to break up strike action. It has known controversy over its use of force. Broadly speaking, it is the government’s first choice for politically sensitive actions. It is also a common target for attacks by leftist and Kurdish militant groups in Turkey. This year alone, dozens of members of the force have been killed in bomb attacks.
On Monday, an off-duty member of the Cevik Kuvvet assassinated the Russian ambassador to Turkey. The assassin claimed his action was in revenge for Russian actions in Aleppo. Despite apparent harmony at the governmental level between Turkey and Russia, many people in Turkey have been outraged by the scenes of devastation coming out of Aleppo and by the defeat of the, largely Sunni, rebels there. There has been much speculation over the affiliation of the attacker, with Turkish President Erdogan saying he had links to the Gülen movement, and some press outlets claiming Western involvement. While the seamlessness of the attack suggests accomplices, with public opinion in Turkey currently so incensed over Aleppo, it is also conceivable that he was simply acting alone.
Many Turkish conservatives and nationalists hold sympathy for the Syrian opposition. That the assassin was a member of the Cevik Kuvvet is an anecdotal reminder of the likely tendency of political identity within the force. It also reminds us of the problematic politicization of so many branches of Turkish state bureaucracy. The Gulen movement, while still allied to President Erdogan’s government, likely helped in building up the strength of the Cevik Kuvvet. The reliance on interest groups within Turkish bureaucracy to ensure loyalty is arguably a serious vulnerability and impediment to development (See our previous briefing on civil service reform).
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