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Armed group threatens Istanbul attacks over burial of left-wing folk musician

Far-right Turkish groups have threatened the family and body of Ibrahim Gokcek, who died after a death fast last week
Still from the video by an unknown armed group threatening attacks over Ibrahim Gokcek's burial (screengrab)

A mysterious armed group has released a video threatening attacks in Istanbul over the burial of "infidel" folk musician Ibrahim Gokcek, in the latest in a number of threats by far-right groups linked to his interment.

Gokcek, a member of the left-wing folk band Grup Yorum, died last week after 323 days on hunger strike, protesting the banning of his group's concerts and the imprisonment of its members.

His funeral, which took place on Friday, descended into anarchy after police fired tear gas at the huge crowd of mourners attempting to enter the cemevi religious house in the Istanbul district of Gazi for the ceremony.

Several mourners, including Gokcek's father, were detained by police, who accused the mourners of violating social distancing measures imposed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Far-right groups in the central Anatolian town of Kayseri have protested against the decision to bring Gokcek's body there for burial, claiming the bass player was a terrorist associated with the Marxist-Leninist Revolutionary Peoples Liberation Party/Front (DHKP-C).

'We don’t want a terrorist’s grave. Police will wait for a couple of days and then will leave. When they’re gone, we will take the body out of the grave and burn it'

Members of the Ulku Ocaklari movement - more commonly known as the Grey Wolves, and linked to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) - attempted to block the convoy carrying his body in Kayseri on Friday, with one protester saying they were planning to "unearth and burn" Gokcek's body once the police guarding the grave left.

Writing on Twitter, the head of the Kayseri Grey Wolves, Serdar Turan, warned that if Gokcek's family attempted to bury him in his city, "their heads will not be on their bodies".

"No one should doubt that Turk’s fist will come down on them like a sledgehammer,” he wrote.

On Sunday, far-right activists in Kayseri held another demonstration in which a similar threat was made.

“We don’t want a terrorist’s grave. Police will wait for a couple of days and then will leave. When they’re gone, we will take the body out of the grave and burn it,” said one of the activists.

In the wake of the threats issued by the Grey Wolves, the MHP reportedly closed the group's offices in Kayseri and removed Turan from his position. His Twitter account is now no longer public.

In the video released on Thursday, the armed men voiced support for the Kayseri Grey Wolves, with the balaclava-clad speakers claiming they were ready to launch armed attacks in Istanbul in support of the group if Gokcek was interred in the "land of the martyrs".

"In case of self-defence, the president of Kayseri Ulku Ocaklari has invisible armies and brothers," said one man, reading the text from his phone.

Describing Gokcek, who apart from being a Marxist activist was also a member of the Alevi minority, as an infidel, the armed men said they would exact revenge on his allies.

"One night, wherever you are in Gazi [Istanbul neighbourhood], Iraq, Raqqa, you will be asked for an account," one said, suggesting Gokcek's supporters are linked to armed Kurdish leftist groups operating in Syria and Iraq's north.

The armed men are shown holding AK-47s and prominently displaying a black and white flag featuring the shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith, which led a number of Turkish media outlets to suggest they were from al-Qaeda.

However, commentators have noted that the group said it had "full faith in the military and police of our state" and also called for God to protect the "Turkish state and nation", phrases that were uncharacteristic of the openly anti-nationalist al-Qaeda.

A number of Turkish far-right groups are known to have fought in Syria for many years, either in defence of the country's Turkmen population or in support of Syrian rebel groups.

Groups such as the Alperen Ocaklari, associated with the Great Unity Party that split from the more secular MHP in the '90s, have also been known to fuse Turkish ultra-nationalism with Islamic fundamentalism.

'Continue this struggle'

Gokcek died last Thursday, just two days after pausing a death fast that he had been on for almost a year.

Another band member, Helin Bolek, died on 3 April, while an allied hunger striker, Mustafa Kocak, died on 24 April.

Turkish folk singer dies two days after pausing 'death fast'
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Members of Grup Yorum have been accused of being part of the DHKP-C, a group responsible for carrying out numerous attacks on government officials and foreign officials in Turkey and abroad.

Speaking to Middle East Eye a day before Gokcek's death, fellow band member Ihsan Cibelik said that there had been an outpouring of support from domestic and international allies, who would continue pressuring the Turkish government over their demands.

"Our demand has been taken by representatives of all parts of our people, intellectuals, artisans, politicians," he said.

"They promised to continue this struggle to get the rights of freedom to our concerts and freedom to our imprisoned members."

Grup Yorum has long been a staple in Turkey's music scene since it was founded in 1985 at Marmara University by a group of students inspired by the Nueva Cancion movement in South America.