ANKARA, Turkey — The murder of a distinguished chief of police, shot in his office today, stunned Turkey, a country with an unhappy tradition of reaching for guns to settle even minor disputes.
Altug Verdi, 46, ran the Emniyet Mudurlugu (security headquarters) in Rize, a city of 150,000 people on the Black Sea coast of northwest Turkey in a province famed for its tea plantations. He had worked with the UN peacekeeping forces of Kosovo and Haiti and served in Turkey’s consulate in Jerusalem, the prime ministry in Ankara and the National Intelligence Organization (MIT).
The officer had met Verdi to appeal against the denial of his request to be reassigned from Rize’s outskirts to the city center as he planned to study at university. On being refused, the officer left Verdi’s office, reclaimed his pistol from the firearm depository and rushed back into the police chief’s office. He was reported to have fatally shot Verdi in the neck and wounded two other officials before being subdued.
Verdi was rushed to the hospital but quickly succumbed. His bodyguard and head of personnel were not seriously injured.
The alleged assailant was detained. His name and photograph were quickly published in the media.
“We have asked his family and friends what this traitor was like,” Ceper said. “We heard that, apart from this incident, he was a person who was quiet and good natured.”
TV channels showed archive pictures of Verdi crouching down to chat with a young girl, playing soccer with colleagues and meeting locals at an outdoor event. TV also screened Turkey’s vice president announcing the slaying in parliament, and the shocked faces of Rize citizens outside the hospital where Verdi died.
In another development today, media in Ankara focused on the possibility that two opposition parties would unite behind Mansur Yavas for mayor of the capital city in the local elections in March.
Yavas is regarded as a good horse to bet on. A lawyer and former mayor of Beypazari, a town outside Ankara, Yavas ran for mayor in the 2014 elections when he presented a plan to construct a green, pedestrian belt from one side of the city to the other.
Liberals believe he was robbed of victory in 2014 by gross manipulation of the tally sheets. Burcu Akarcu of the civil society group Ankara Oylari (Ankara Votes) told Al-Monitor at the time that the winner, Melih Gokcek of the ruling Justice and Development Party, did not deserve to win.
What could well improve Yavas’ chances March 31 is that the economic winds are blowing against the government. Inflation is running at 22% and the International Monetary Fund predicts economic growth will fall to 0.4% next year.
However, the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), and the smaller Iyi Party have yet to close the gap over supporting Yavas. Reports say that while Iyi is solidly behind Yavas, some members of the CHP would prefer one of their own to be the candidate for Ankara mayor. Yavas hails from the hard-right National Movement Party (MHP), of which Iyi is a breakaway.
Vatan newspaper reported today that in a meeting with CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, Yavas had said he would only run for Ankara mayor again if he enjoyed the full support of the CHP, and he believed such backing was essential for success.
Voters still don’t know who the AKP candidate for Ankara will be. After the city voted "no" in the presidential referendum of 2017, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan forced Gokcek to resign. His replacement is not a big name. Erdogan is scheduled to meet MHP leader Devlet Bahceli on Wednesday to continue discussions over fielding joint candidates for Ankara as well as other cities.
Meanwhile, an outburst in parliament this week showed how the stature of Ataturk looms over Turkish politics 80 years after his death.
During a debate on the budget, an AKP legislator for Kahramanmaras, Ahmet Ozdemir, raised the fact that Ataturk had decreed that a limited portion of shares in the state bank Is Bankasi should belong to the CHP, the sole party in Turkey in his day. The legacy survives.
“The CHP’s being share-holders of Is Bankasi is not suitable for a legal political party,” said Ozdemir, “I suggest making a legal arrangement for this.”
The CHP legislator for Manisa, Ozgur Ozel, shot back: “The person who is trying to start a debate on Ataturk’s heritage is trying to stage a provocation.”
The argument became a shouting match, with legislators waving their fingers at each other.
“Are you monopolizing Ataturk’s name?” asked Mehmet Mus, an AKP member for Istanbul. “Don’t use Ataturk’s name for your political goals!”
Ozel questioned the government’s judgment in allowing the head of religious affairs to visit Kadir Misiroglu, a staunch secularist, when he was in the hospital. “The head of the religious affairs department visited the man who once said, ‘We are going to drag the statues of Ataturk through the streets as if they were the carcasses of dogs.’"
Mus replied, “Stop using Ataturk as a shield every time you are cornered!”
The exchange showed how Ataturk has become a weapon to be wielded by either side in the debate over how secular Turkey should be. A few years ago Erdogan shocked many people by referring to Ataturk as a drunkard. He was actually aiming at his political opponents, diminishing them by diminishing their hero. Similarly, on Monday, Ozdemir attacked not Ataturk but the CHP’s source of funds. For those opposed to Erdogan, Ataturk is a powerful tool, rallying all those who object to raising the profile of religion in daily life.
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