The People’s Special Forces (HÖH), a pro-Erdoğan jihadist militia that emerged allegedly to counter a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and later became a legal foundation, has changed its name under the guise of closing down after a warning from the Interior Ministry.
The jihadist militia’s leader, Fatih Kaya, said they closed the HÖH and have now set up another foundation, dubbed “Sustaining the July 15 Unity and Solidarity,” which will be active only in Trabzon province.
According to a report by the Hürriyet Daily News, the Interior Ministry on Jan. 12 announced that an investigation had been launched into the group, along with a demand that it be shut down amid allegations that individuals linked to the group were being armed to form a paramilitary force.
Following this, the governor’s office in the Black Sea province of Trabzon, where the foundation’s headquarters was located, applied to a court for the closure of the organization. Upon this application, the group’s management decided to shut itself down.
“We have received a warning that our foundation’s name echoes the names of the gendarmerie and police special operations [JÖH and PÖH], which has led to incorrect perceptions among the public. To avoid damaging the state and to head off more discussion, we have shut down our HÖH foundation and its 46 branches across Turkey,” Kaya said, adding that it would be replaced by the Trabzon-based Sustaining the July 15 Unity and Solidarity foundation.
Kaya, who served in the gendarmerie special forces for 10 years, said in a previous interview that the HÖH had 7,000 members in cities across the country, with a mission to “ensure the legacy” of those who fought against the July 15, 2016 coup attempt.
“We set up a small tent after the heinous July 15, 2016 coup attempt while on duty on July 16,” Kaya told private broadcaster CNN TÜRK in an interview on Dec. 29, 2017. “On Nov. 30, 2016, we looked into whether there were any problems with the group’s name and then founded the organization in Trabzon’s Ortahisar district,” Kaya added, referring to a province on the Black Sea.
Article 121 of Decree Law No. 696 dated Dec. 24, 2017, which has been interpreted as a “licence to kill” for radical Islamist and neo-nationalist pro-government circles, reads: “Regardless of their official duties, or appointments, any individuals who took part in suppressing the attempted coup d’état on July 15, 2016, terror acts, and other acts which are considered to be a continuation of these, will be subjected to the first clause [on immunity].”
The HÖH, which has been called a militia group close to autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, had announced that they would take to the streets only if Erdoğan ordered them to do so. In a newspaper interview, Kaya said they established their organization on Nov. 30, 2016 and have 7,000 members and 22 branches across Turkey including in İstanbul and Ankara.
About a photo taken with President Erdoğan, the HÖH chairman said: “I went there to explain to our president that we are in this kind organization. Why are some people annoyed by a photo with a person who was elected by the people?” Denying claims that they would take to the streets to put down events like the Gezi Park protest of 2013, Kaya said, “We will not go into the streets unless amir al mu’minin Erdoğan orders it, like on July 15, 2016.”
Denying accusations that they are the militia of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Kaya said they do not receive support from the state and had to close many branches due to financial difficulties. Kaya also denied any links to cars carrying signs reading “HÖH,” underlining that they had sued many of the owners.
Stating that they do not accept people who have photos of themselves posing with guns, about his own photo taken with ammunition and military fatigues in Syria Kaya said: “I am a public worker. I took a six-month unpaid vacation and went to Syria. I helped the Turkmens there. Everyone who goes there poses in military fatigues as I did.”