Turkey puts an end to Russian ambassador murder investigation

Russia's foreign ministry is satisfied with the results. But questions still remain

Last week, the trial of Andrey Gennadyevich Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, who was killed on December 19, 2016, during the opening of a photo exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Arts, was completed in Ankara. Bulat Nogmanov, a columnist for Realnoe Vremya, about how the investigation of this case went and what embarrassing questions remained unanswered.

How trial ended

The investigation established that the FETÖ terrorist organisation was behind the Karlov case that intended to provoke the deterioration of Russian-Turkish relations by killing the Russian ambassador. The accusatory sentence includes the expressions such as “for attempting to eliminate the constitutional order” and “premeditated murder with a terrorist purpose”.

The defendants in the case were 28 people, including well-known religious figure and preacher Abdullah Gulen, who is living in the United States. The Turkish leadership considers Gulen to be the head of the FETÖ terrorist organisation, which tried to carry out a coup in Turkey on July 15, 2016. Gulen himself denies these and other accusations against him.

The court sentenced three of the accused to life imprisonment, twice aggravated, and two — to life imprisonment. The seven members of FETÖ were given sentences ranging from 7 years 6 months to 10 years 6 months in prison. The organiser of the exhibition, at the opening of which the ambassador was killed, was sentenced to 3 years and 9 months in prison for “intentionally and knowingly promoting FETÖ".

Six suspects were acquitted. The rest, including Gulen himself, are wanted. At the request of the prosecutor's office, their cases were included into separate procedures. Let us remind that the killer of the ambassador-police officer Mevlut Mert Altyntash was shot by law enforcement officers.

MFA satisfied, the widow doubts

The wife of the murdered ambassador, Marina Karlova, in an interview for the Russian-language department of BBC on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the tragic events said:

“I'm sure this case will never be solved. At first I was hoping, but now I think it will not. Sooner or later, they will just find some fall guy or say that it was a lone terrorist.”

Nevertheless, the Russian foreign ministry expressed satisfaction with the decision of the Turkish court. The official statement of the ministry of foreign affairs was as follows: “We pay tribute to that the Turkish justice has strongly condemned this terrorist act, the victim of which was an outstanding Russian diplomat. We state that the development of bilateral relations in recent years gives reason to believe that they have passed this difficult, in the full sense of the word, unprecedented challenge.”

According to Marina Karlova, at least four months before the tragic events, her husband received threats. She attributes this to differences in the positions of Moscow and Ankara on the Syrian issue. Moreover, on the eve of the murder, very tough demonstrations were held in front of the Russian consulate in Istanbul and the embassy in Ankara because of the successful completion of the military operation to retake Aleppo. According to witnesses of the tragedy, who tried to leave the exhibition hall in horror, Mevlut Altyntash, after shooting the ambassador, shouted: “Let's not forget Syria! Let's not forget Aleppo! Everyone who committed these crimes will be punished!”

Syrian trace and awkward questions

The results of the search conducted in the house of Altyntash, as well as the testimony of some witnesses, also point to the Syrian trace. According to them, Altyntash had connections with radical Syrian organisations affiliated with ISIL and Al-Qaeda (terrorist organisations banned in the territory of the Russian Federation). However, according to the investigation, these connections were deliberately made to confuse the traces and divert suspicion from FETÖ.

For example, the investigation found that back in 2013, Altyntash attended religious meetings of the so-called Gulenists, but soon renounced them. According to the investigation, this was a maneuver, the ties with the “Gulenists” were not actually severed.

There are a few awkward questions left in the Karlov case that we are unlikely to get answers to.

  • Why was the direct perpetrator of the crime, Mevlyut Mert Altyntash, shot, although there were all opportunities to take him alive?
  • What is the basis of the prosecutor's office's statement that “even if it was possible to take Altyntash alive, he would not have told anything”?
  • Why did Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, 48 hours after the tragedy, say that the FETÖ terrorist organisation was behind this crime, and, apparently, the investigation did everything in its power to make the president's statement true?

Anyway, the Ankara court put an end to the Karlov case. This end, as far as can be understood, satisfies the Russian and Turkish sides. The court's decision meets the expectations of both sides and follows the development of Russian-Turkish relations.

By Bulat Nogmanov

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