Bethan McKernan: Turkey's mobsters step out of shadows and into public sphere

After decades in hiding, in prison or keeping low profile, players from a bloody period in the country’s history are now seen as ‘folk idols’ by the Turkish right. At first glance, the photograph of two smartly dressed older Turkish men, posing for the camera in an office filled with flags, could be of any important figures in the country – but it is rare for a picture to say so much about both the past and the future.

On the left is Devlet Bahçeli, an ultranationalist political dinosaur who has in the past few years become an influential coalition partner in the government of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The man on the right, Alaattin Çakıcı, is the most notorious mobster in Turkey. Accused of 41 political murders, and jailed for ordering a hit on his ex-wife, who was shot dead in front of their young son, he was nonetheless freed from prison along with dozens of other mafia heavyweights in a coronavirus amnesty last year that notably ignored political prisoners.

The Turkish mafia’s sudden rehabilitation in public life has taken a hold on the popular imagination. It also suggests a new political climate is emerging in which the state at best tolerates, and at worst, embraces, previously shadowy figures….

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