Nuri Bozkir is a man who many believe poses a threat to the Turkish president. The kidnapped arms dealer is believed to be one of the few people who was able to uncover systematic misconduct by the Turkish government because he was an integral part of its covert arms shipments to war zones.
Turkey’s national intelligence agency MIT has captured the whistleblower-turned arms dealer in Ukraine, Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdogan told pro-government media last week.
“Our intelligence found out that this person is hiding in Ukraine and we spoke to him [Ukrainian President] Zelenskyy about his arrest,” Erdogan said. “Our secret service and the great cooperation with its partners made this arrest possible.”
In Interviews with the Ukrainian news site Strana In late 2020, Bozkir had exposed sensitive aspects of Turkey’s clandestine arms transfers to militant groups operating in Syria and Libya, noting that MIT employees were withdrawing from the deals.
Bozkir, a former special forces captain in Turkey’s armed forces, said he would legally buy weapons in eastern European countries and have them shipped to Turkey, where Turkish intelligence would divert them to battlefields across the region.
Of 50 transports handed over to militant groups in Syria, his last one before fleeing to Ukraine in 2015 was allegedly carried out without MIT’s organizational involvement. The broadcast was intercepted by Turkish police, prompting a hasty operation by his MIT leaders to get him out of the country.
Nuri Bozkir exposed government misconduct before he was kidnapped by Turkish intelligence
Bozkir later applied for political asylum in Ukraine, fearing that the Turkish authorities would eventually turn against him, despite his involvement in many state-sanctioned operations.
Following his asylum request, Turkey released an Interpol Red Notice calling for his arrest in connection with the 2002 murder of Turkish academic Necip Hablemitoglu, a case that has been cold for two decades. According to his Ukrainian lawyer, Bozkir has categorically denied any involvement.
“I have carefully read the documents submitted by the Turkish side,” Roman Denysyk, who represented Bozkir at his extradition hearing, told DW. “The evidence is very dubious. There is no direct evidence of his involvement in the assassination of this professor.”
The former arms dealer was still fighting the extradition request when he was kidnapped, with Ukrainian judges yet to give a final verdict. The Turkish and Ukrainian governments did not respond to DW’s repeated requests for comment on Turkey’s extrajudicial operations on Ukrainian soil.
“The only thing I can say is that what the Ukrainian security service did is illegal under the laws of Ukraine – it’s an excess of power and they can be held criminally responsible,” Denysyk added.
Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdogan nodded to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as he announced the kidnapping and forced repatriation of Nuri Bozkir
Nuri Bozkir is not the first person to be targeted for revealing details about Turkey’s clandestine arms trafficking networks.
In 2015, Turkish journalist Can Dündar broke the news of how Turkey is arming militant groups in Syria. He was later charged with revealing state secrets and sentenced to 27 years in prison. He narrowly escaped an assassination attempt and now lives in exile in Berlin.
Regarding Bozkir’s arrest, Dündar told DW that the Turkish government is using tactics such as extraordinary rendition and excessive charges to silence critics and prevent whistleblowers from coming forward.
“This is a common practice of the Turkish government – silence those who want to expose the state’s dirty deeds – Dirt will be exposed,” Dündar said.
Washington-based pro-democracy organization Freedom House has identified Turkey’s involvement in at least 58 extraordinary rendition cases since 2014, mostly targeting dissidents and perceived enemies of the state.
Turkey’s transnational campaign is “notable for its strong reliance on renditions, where the government and its intelligence agency persuade target states to extradite individuals without due process or with a slight fig leaf of legality,” Freedom House said in a report 2021.
An extradition deal between China and Turkey in 2021 led to this demonstration by Uyghurs in Istanbul
Ukraine under pressure
The kidnapping was announced last Wednesday, a week before President Erdogan’s official state visit to Ukraine on Thursday, at a time when Kiev is courting international partners amid Russia’s military buildup on its border.
Experts believe Ukraine is ready to make concessions to potential allies in exchange for support amid the crisis, especially after Western partners like Germany eased their military aid to the country.
“Turkey is the guardian of the straits; it has the most capable navy of the non-Russian coastal areas,” said Gustav Gressel, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, referring to the areas near the coast. “That’s why it’s important for Ukraine to have Turkey on its side – as much as possible.”
Over the past two years, NATO member Turkey and Ukraine have strengthened ties with the defense industry, including an agreement with Turkish drone maker Baykar to set up a manufacturing facility for its popular Bayraktar TB2 drone near Kiev. The Ukrainian government has also called Turkey “one of its most important economic partners”.
Edited by: Rob Mudge