A discreet, decade-long alliance between the Iranian-backed Turkish Hezbollah and the Islamist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become official, with four Hezbollah figures securing nominations on the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) tickets.
According to the list of candidates submitted by Erdogan’s party to the Supreme Election Board on April 9, four individuals from Hezbollah’s political arm, the Free Cause Party (HÜDA-PAR), were listed as candidates for parliamentary seats in the May 14 election.
The Hezbollah members were nominated from provinces where the AKP enjoys strong support and is likely to be elected to parliament. It is the first time that Hezbollah as a political front will be represented in Turkey’s legislative body. Their nomination is part of a deal between Erdogan and Hezbollah’s leadership in exchange for Hezbollah’s support among Kurdish voters for Erdogan’s presidential bid.
Turkish Hezbollah has a strong presence in some parts of Turkey’s Kurdish population, particularly in religious and conservative segments, and is considered an archenemy of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community. With the deal, Erdogan hopes to get a boost from Kurdish voters against the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which is contesting the election under the banner of the Green Left Party (YSP) and is seen as linked to the PKK.
Erdogan has allied with HÜDA-PAR in national and local elections since 2014, but the deal was discreet, was not public and did not have an official seal or nominations on AKP tickets. In return for the support, Erdogan secured the release of all convicted Hezbollah terrorists including notorious murderers serving life sentences for the killing of 91 people in the 1990s and early 2000s in Turkey.
The government also allowed the re-establishment of banned Hezbollah organizations such as Mustazaf-Der (meaning “The Oppressed”, Mustazaflar ile Yardimlaşma ve Dayanışma Derneği in Turkish).
Apparently, Hezbollah wanted more for the upcoming election, where Erdogan needs every single vote to win the presidential election against the joint candidate of the opposition bloc, which according to opinion polls has a narrow lead over Erdogan.
The four Hezbollah politicians who will run on AKP tickets are Zekeriya Yapıcıoğlu, the chairman of HÜDA-PAR, nominated from Istanbul’s third electoral district; Şehzade Demir, Party Secretary General, nominated from Gaziantep; Serkan Ramanlı; party spokesman, nominated from Batman; and Faruk Dinç, member of the party’s executive board, nominated from Mersin.
In terms of political support, HÜDA-PAR is not a popular party. In the 2018 election, it received only 155,539 votes, or 0.31 percent of the total votes. But in hotly contested districts, it can tip the balance, where every vote counts.
What’s more, HÜDA-PAR and Hizbullah have a highly organized structure where the consultative body (İstişare Heyeti) decides all issues. That will help Erdogan push his religious narrative, which appears to be the main theme of the AKP’s election campaign this year. Erdogan has positioned himself as the protector of Muslims and defender of Islam against the West, and his campaign speeches are based on this divisive narrative.
Hezbollah is able to appeal to larger masses using religious themes such as Koran burnings in Europe and the Palestine issue, and punches above its political weight in organizing rallies and demonstrations across Turkey. Erdogan also wants to exploit that potential.
By enlisting Hezbollah as his ally, Erdogan also sent a positive signal to Iran, which has secretly funded Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish Hezbollah and affiliated units and provided intelligence and weapons training to its militants. In other words, Erdogan secured for his own benefit Iranian influence operations in Turkey, which cover several media, organizations and foundations. In 2013 corruption investigations involving money laundering on behalf of Iran using Turkish state banks, it was revealed that Iranian funds were used to pay for poll work for the AKP as well as the distribution of free food in poor neighborhoods to buy votes.
Confidential documents obtained by Nordic Monitor show that Turkish police and military intelligence units had previously mapped the money trail leading to Mustazaf-Der and other Hezbollah-linked entities and individuals from Iran. The documents incorporated into a terrorism investigation by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force identified the transfer of half a million dollars from Iran to Hezbollah in February 2012 alone.
A report filed by the Anti-Terrorism Bureau of the Diyarbakır Police Department on 9 May 2012 stated that Hezbollah received $100,000 each month from Iran in addition to one-time payments for special operations. It noted that Mehmet Hüseyin Yılmaz, head of Mustazaf-Der; Mehmet Göktasha, the owner of the Hezbollah publication Doğru Haber; and Sait Gabari and Fikret Gültekin, Hezbollah propagandists, received half a million dollars from Iran in February 2012. It also added that Iran sent $10,000 to the family of Ubeydullah Durna, a Mustazaf member who was killed by the PKK in the town of Yuksekova near by. Turkey’s border with Iran on May 5, 2011.
The report further revealed that Iran created a special unit within Hezbollah for espionage and surveillance in Turkey to monitor military activities, especially around NATO facilities. Members of this group were selected from people working in government jobs and media for easy access to sensitive sites and installations. It stressed that the unit was running surveillance on a NATO radar base in Malatya province, photographing and videotaping the base and its surroundings and passing the results on to its Iranian handlers.
Intelligence report on Hezbollah’s activities in Turkey and how they received funding and training from Iran:
The Quds Force investigation was throttled by the Erdogan government in 2014, and the investigating prosecutor was fired before he had a chance to secure arrest warrants for the suspects or file an indictment. The Hezbollah report and other evidence in the case files were all buried by Erdogan’s people who were in bed with Hezbollah.
Hezbollah is a deadly group backed by Iran that seeks to establish an Iranian mullah regime in Turkey. It was created in the 80s but made a name for itself in the 90s when it recruited mostly Kurds in southeastern Turkey and was supported by some elements of the Turkish intelligence, military and police establishments against the outlawed PKK.
They were brutal in their murders, kidnapping moderate Muslims and executing them after torturing them in rooms built under safe houses.
However, it faced a major crackdown in early 2001 following the death of its leader, Hüseyin Velioğlu, in a clash with the police during a raid on a safe house in Istanbul on 17 January 2000. Hezbollah then adopted a low-key profile and changed tactics to survive the impact. It had quietly reorganized itself under a series of foundations, associations and other entities during the first two terms of the Erdogan government. The group established the political party HÜDA-PAR in December 2012 with the support of the Erdogan government, giving the green light for the party’s entry into politics.
Hezbollah’s lobbying efforts to save its members from prison bore fruit in the wake of corruption investigations that rattled the ruling party in December 2013 and incriminated then-Prime Minister Erdogan and his inner circle. The group struck a deal with Erdogan in exchange for political support before local elections in March 2014. Some members of Hezbollah were released after the elections.
The alliance became more important to Erdogan when the AKP lost its majority in parliament in the June 2015 elections for the first time in its 13-year rule. To help Erdogan’s party, Hezbollah did not field independent candidates in the election and instead supported AKP candidates in Kurdish regions. Several imprisoned Hezbollah militants were released from prison, while some Hezbollah members were given key positions in government agencies, especially to fill the void in the bureaucracy after a massive purge of members of the Gülen movement, a government critic.
To add insult to injury, police chiefs, prosecutors, and judges previously involved in investigating, prosecuting, and prosecuting Hezbollah members were all removed by the Erdogan government, and some were even jailed on false charges.
For example, Dündar Örsdemir, the president of the Ankara 11th High Criminal Court, which heard the Hezbollah case in 2009, was arrested by the Erdogan government, while two judges on the same panel, Hakan Oruç and Kadriye Çatal, were slapped with criminal cases on Gülen- related charges. Similarly, three judges – Bayram Demirci, Ayşe Bolaç Yalçın and İrfan Yıldız – on a panel hearing the 2008 Hezbollah case at the Adana 6th High Criminal Court were all dismissed and/or imprisoned by the Erdogan government in 2016.
Now Hezbollah, with its political party, associations, foundations, media, charity groups and other networks, has grown rapidly in Turkey, especially among Kurds, as well as in a number of European countries.