Counter-Guerilla Becoming the State, the State Becoming the Counter-Guerilla


The end of the World War II following the surrender of Japan on August 15, 1945, divided the world in two, although it initially remained unnoticed due to the “euphoria of peace”. The larger of those blocs was then led by the USA and the other bloc was under the leadership of the Soviet Union.

On March 5, 1946, Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, delivered a speech in the US state of Missouri, at a conference also attended by US President Harry Truman. It was this speech that triggered the “Cold War” that was to continue for many years between West and East. Churchill stated; “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent”. A response to this declaration soon came from the leader of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin. What ensued was an ice age in the world’s political scene that would continue until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. 

With this new and unknown type of warfare, regular armies, fighter aircraft, tanks, cannons and face-to-face battles lost their significance. They were all replaced by a much more sophisticated arena for survival, one that depended on strong intelligence networks, whereby the mutual arms race was instigated at dangerous limits through provocative threats. This was the end of the colonial policies put into effect by openly occupying countries with weaponry, and the beginning of secret methods of occupation realized through collaborative powers.

This new type of war also generated its own organization and working methods. Firstly, mutual war pacts were made, even though they were never to face noteworthy combat. The world was militarily divided between the Warsaw Pact led by the Soviet Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) of the capitalist block. Through these pacts, intelligence and counter intelligence methods were developed in other areas as well, dragging the countries into endless chaos. Inner conflicts never ceased, governments fell, and new governments were established. The nuclear arms race progressed at full speed. Mutual placement of nuclear missiles, although they were never launched, caused great crises, led the world into an unimaginable level of tension and toughened diplomacy; secret operations ensued and civil wars took the lives of thousands. Investigations initiated in many NATO countries in Europe after the end of the Cold War in 1991 revealed that behind all these bloody events stood the deep state operation called the “Gladio” (Short-sword).

Turkey’s choice

As this unabated global polarization continued, Turkey changed its distant policy that it had maintained throughout World War II. Following the track of NATO, which it joined on September 8, 1952, Turkey assumed the role of the battering ram against the Soviet Union and soon found its lands full of radar and army bases. The relationship with NATO had already begun, and by all means, requests from it were to be met.

The state organization was redesigned, based on the propaganda suggesting that the Soviet Union could at any moment start an internal conflict in Turkey by provoking the communists, traitors and minorities. This new style of state organization was, in fact, quite suitable to the “müesses nizam” (the established order) coming from the Committee of Union and Progress (Ittihat) tradition. After all, they had the experience of The Special Organization (Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa), which was the source of many dark operations. The police forces, the intelligence organization and the army, in a very short time and with no difficulty, turned into anti-communist instruments. The plan, strategy and the organization of the Turkish Armed Forces in particular were reshaped according to the NATO concept. This restructuring also included Gladio-like organizations in the other NATO countries.

In an interview, retired artillery officer Lieutenant Colonel Talat Turhan, who served in the Plans and Operations Department of the General Staff, described the transformation in the army based on his own experiences1: “The field manuals of our army are direct translations of the American field manuals. In the USA, the field manual related to the counter-guerilla organization is FM-31, i.e. field manual-31. That was translated for our army as ST-31, i.e. Sahra Talimnamesi (Field Manual) 31. According to this field manual, unconventional warfare consists of two stages: covert and overt operations. The covert, or underground, part is the very organization that we talk about now, which has begun to be unearthed in the NATO countries. So, what do we see in this organization that has roots going as deep as the villages? There are intelligence units, sabotage units, assassination units. Quoting from the official field manual; ‘Terrorization and provocation through assassination, bombing, armed robbery, torture, mutilation and kidnapping; retaliating and holding hostages captive, arson, sabotage, disseminating falsified news, despotism and blackmailing’. Again, I quote from the field manual: ‘The covert elements of an unconventional warfare force are in principle not subject to law’”.

The first encounter at Ziverbey

The first encounter of the intellectuals in Turkey with the counter-guerilla was after the 12 March 1971 memorandum, when they were detained and taken to the Ziverbey Mansion in Erenköy, Istanbul, which was used as a torture center. In his compilation2, author Ilhan Selçuk used the following sentences to convey what was told to him in this counter-guerilla base: “Ilhan Selçuk, you are standing against the counter-guerilla organization affiliated with the General Staff. You are our detainee. There is no constitution or whatsoever here. The organization has sentenced you to death. We are authorized to do whatever we want with you”.

The counter-guerilla organization was secret, illegal, but not organized outside the state. The center of the counter-guerilla organization was the Mobilization Investigation Board (MIB) established by Brigadier Daniş Karabelen, who was trained in the USA in 1952 after Turkey was accepted into NATO. The aim of this organization was to organize resistance and insurgency against an enemy occupation during times of peace. This was a type of action equivalent to the “Low Intensity Conflict”, a concept that appeared with the Cold War. Adoption of this concept developed by the US Army Training and Doctrine Command was equal to the organization of anti-revolutionist insurgencies, establishment of hidden armories and ammunition stores in various sites in the country3, assimilation of opponents and even discontented masses through provocation, assassination of mass leaders and many other similar operations.

MIB was hierarchically affiliated with the Special Forces Command, which was attached to the Second Chief of General Staff. Although it was officially set up in 1952, preparations dated back as early as 1948. 16 officers who were sent to the USA in 1948 to receive strategy training on “special warfare” institutions and “stay behind” constituted the core of the Special Forces. Turgut Sunalp and Alparslan Türkeş were among those officers. Therefore, it was no coincidence that Türkeş, after being dismissed from the army, set up the Nationalist Movement Party (in Turkish, MHP)4, training and organizing paramilitary fascist powers who were to be released against all the progressive powers in the mid 70’s and Sunalp assumed leadership of the Nationalist Democracy Party (in Turkish, MDP), which was established with personal support from Kenan Evren following the military coup of 12 September.   

Nightmare of the minorities

The first significant action of the MIB was the role it assumed during the attacks against minorities in Turkey, known as the 6-7 September events. The attacks were initiated against minorities on September 6-7, 1955, upon the falsified news of the bombing of the house in Salonika where Ataturk was born. 5,583 houses and stores were looted. After the attacks in 52 different places, retired Full General and former commander of the Special Warfare Department, Sabri Yirmibeşoğlu said: “The 6-7 September events were also the job of the Special Warfare. It was a splendid organization. And it achieved its goal.”5

MIB actions were not only limited to Turkey. On August 1, 1958, upon instructions from then Prime Minister, Adnan Menderes, a secret, illegal armed organization called the Turkish Resistance Organization (TRO) was established. Sabri Yirmibeşoğlu let the operation style of TRO in Cyprus slip out during an interview he gave to Habertürk newspaper6: “To increase the resistance of society, you attack something valuable and pretend that it was the enemy who did it. For instance, you burn down a mosque. That’s what we did in Cyprus, we burned down a mosque”. He then tried to correct this historic confession by saying “it was just an example”. In 1967, the commander of the MIB, Brigadier Cihat Ayol, changed the name of the board to the Special Warfare Department (SWD). Specialized in operations against the unconventional warfare forces, SWD was also called “the secret army within the army”.

Auxiliary forces of the State

The fact that political bodies were unaware of the existence of SWD became clear during the prime ministry of Bülent Ecevit, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP in Turkish). In 1974, when funds were requested for SWD from the discretionary budget, Ecevit asked for a briefing about this official body that he had never heard of previously. After receiving a briefing from Yirmibeşoğlu, Ecevit wanted to audit SWD, however, that was a failed attempt. The second time Ecevit came into contact with the SWD organization and its area of activity was in 1978. He was visiting Sarıkamış as the Prime Minister and he and his wife were invited to dinner at the Officer’s Club. Over dinner, Ecevit tried to obtain information from Yirmibeşoğlu about those who took part in the civil organization of SWD. The following conversation took place between them7:

“Ecevit: Take the provincial leader of the Nationalist Movement Party, for instance; can’t he be, at the same time, one of the secret people within the civil extension of the Special Warfare Department? Yirmibeşoğlu: Yes he is, but he is a very reliable and patriotic colleague.”

The person who was then the provincial leader of the Nationalist Movement Party was Yılma Durak, the very person who was known to be the “nationalist leader of the East” and who was involved in the assassination of Abdi Ipekçi and the break out from the Maltepe Military Prison of the assassin Mehmet Ali Ağca.

Gladio involved in crash

Durak was merely one of many other examples. A car crash on November 3, 1996 near Susurluk, Balıkesir revealed to everybody that SWD housed other names who were involved in many fascist massacres. The victims taken out of the black Mercedes that hit a truck included the chief of police, Hüseyin Kocadağ and Abdullah Çatlı who was wanted by police for the strangling death of seven young members of the Worker’s Party of Turkey (in Turkish, TIP) in Ankara. Sedat Bucak, tribal leader and Deputy of Şanlıurfa survived, but was seriously wounded. The question of why Çatlı, a chief of police and a member of parliament were in the same car was the most important topic on Turkey’s agenda for many months to follow.

Eventually, it surfaced that this dark network, described as the “state – politics – mafia triangle”, was responsible for many bloody murders and massacres that had been going on for years and that had always been covered up. Çatlı and his idealist (Grey Wolves) friends were not merely responsible for firing off bullets into worker’s cafes or striker’s tents and organizing dark assassins of young leftists and revolutionists; they also had a significant and determinant role in the Çorum, Sivas, Malatya and Kahramanmaraş massacres that took place at the end of the 1970’s. While they were executing those murders and massacres, they were also supported by the state.

After the military coup of 12 September 1980, a team was specifically organized by the junta leader, Kenan Evren, to be used against the Armenian organization ASALA (Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia), and to take part in hundreds of operations against the Kurds in the 1990’s. The investigations initiated and reports issued after the crash in Susurluk revealed the fingerprints of the state on many different events, including unsolved murders, disappearances while in custody, Hezbollah’s serial killers against the Kurds, people thrown alive into wells of acid, kidnapping and assassinations of Kurdish intellectuals and businessmen. However, there was no green light for bringing a lawsuit against the suspects.

The missed opportunity with Ergenekon

The Ergenekon investigations initiated in 2007 have brought about a new opportunity in Turkey to bury the counter-guerilla, the organization similar to Gladio that was disbanded after the Cold War in Europe. It was an opportunity for names like Veli Küçük and Arif Doğan to be arrested; they were the founders of the Gendarmerie Intelligence and Counter Terrorism Unit (in Turkish, JITEM), a deep state organization that cannot be touched despite its connections with the counter-guerilla uncovered during the Susurluk investigations. Nevertheless, this opportunity was long gone when the archives of JITEM that were seized from Arif Doğan were added to the additional documents of the second indictment of the Ergenekon trial after being censured. They not only secreted this archive, containing information on the planning of many dark operations, but they also limited the Ergenekon investigations to the “attempted coup” to once again hide the numerous dark operations, including unsolved murders and disappearances.

All of these developments made it clear that Gladio in Turkey, unlike in the rest of the NATO countries, was not going to be disbanded as it was serving a much different purpose in this country. Süleyman Demirel, the 9th President of the Republic, was a guest on a TV program on CNN Turk called “Ankara Kulisi” on April 17, 2005. His statements on this program were quite descriptive: “The deep state is the state itself. Deep state is the soldier. The soldiers who founded the Republic are always afraid of the collapse of the state. People sometimes abuse the rights granted to them; whenever they gain the right to hold a protest march, they go and make a mess, break windows and fight with the police. If the country needs the deep state, it is because the country cannot be managed.”

The results of using the deep state effectively against the Kurds since the beginning of the 1990’s have led Turkey into a dead end in this war in which Turkey has never been able to keep within legitimate limits. The state that insisted on not giving rights to the Kurds and, therefore, which could not be managed on legitimate and legal grounds, was obviously going to be “in need of the deep state” for a very long time.


1. Milliyet newspaper, 16 November 1990.

2. Ilhan Selçuk, Ziverbey Köşkü, Cumhuriyet Publications, 2009.

3. Chief of General Staff Ilker Başbuğ, confessed the existence of these armories for the first time in a press conference on 29 April 2009: “Until 1986, Turkish Armed Forces, Special Forces Command in particular, had arms and ammunitions buried in different locations in Turkey. In 1986, instructions were given to collect all those arms and ammunitions and to bring them to storage areas. This operation was completed in 1998”.

4. Before the 12 March 1971 Memorandum, Ismet Inönü, the leader of CHP (Republican People’s Party), warned the President of the Republic, Cevdet Sunay, about the Grey Wolves, the branch of the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party). The answer he received from Cevdet Sunay was: “They are just some young ones fighting against communism”. (Metin Toker, Solda ve Sağda Vuruşanlar (Fighters of the Left and the Right) page 157) This response from Sunay, a former Chief of General Staff, is based on his knowledge of the relationship between the Special Warfare Department and the commando camps of the Grey Wolves training paramilitary fascists.

5. Fatih Güllapoğlu, Tanksız Topsuz Harekat, Tekin Publications, 1991.

6. Habertürk newspaper, 23 September 2010.

7. Bülent Ecevit, Karşı Anılar, DSP (Democratic Left Party), 1991, page 43.