A Turkish mob boss named Sedat Peker caused an uproar by setting up a YouTube channel this month to broadcast allegations of corruption against high-ranking officials in the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As of this week, Peker’s channel has become a viral sensation in Turkey.
Peker’s videos have included charges of murder, rape, drug smuggling, arms trafficking, and extortion, both inside Turkey and abroad.
The National described Peker as a cross between fictional mobster Tony Soprano and a talk show host. By all accounts, he is a spellbinding storyteller – his videos are nothing but him sitting at his dining room table, flashing some ostentatious jewelry and dishing dirt, but he is pulling 20 million viewers with each installment.
Reaching for another classic American TV metaphor, The National said his YouTube videos are studied with the intensity once bestowed upon episodes of Lost. Turkish viewers told Vice News that Peker’s videos are like a soap opera.
A great deal of speculation surrounds the contents of the envelopes and notepads he shuffles around during his videos. Many viewers believe these props contain blackmail material, and Peker toys with them as a warning to anyone in the Turkish political establishment who attempts to silence him.
Peker also decorates his set with books and religious items apparently meant to signal every faction and sect in Turkey that he is on their side – and perhaps to send coded threats to his enemies. For example, he is apparently a fan of Godfather author Mario Puzo’s book Omerta, named after the mafia’s code of silence. He is also reading a biography of Bob Dylan.
Peker does not appear to be living in Turkey at the moment, but his exact whereabouts are unknown. In one of his communiques, he suggested he is broadcasting from the United Arab Emirates.
Peker has a long criminal resume that includes years spent in prison for forgery and robbery, a history he acknowledges by cheerfully admitting he is “dirty, too” and assuring his viewers, “I am not a savior. I do this because of my personal reasons.”
His reasons apparently include a grudge against Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which Seker once loyally served, and a vendetta against Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, whom he once defended. Some of his most explosive allegations have been leveled against Soylu’s predecessor Mehmet Agar and his son Tolga. In one of his early videos, Peker accused Tolga Agar of raping and murdering a 21-year-old Kazakh journalist named Yeldana Kaharman, then arranging for her death to look like suicide.
In one of his videos, Peker suggested he was speaking out to get revenge against the Turkish establishment for treating his children poorly during a police raid on his home. Peker said he personally evaded the raid because he was tipped off by Soylu, his ally at the time, and was able to flee Turkey.
Peker has very pointedly refrained from attacking Erdogan himself, referring to the autocratic president as “elder brother Tayyip,” but he has gone after Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak. According to Peker, Albayra leads a secret wing of the AKP party. One of Peker’s main themes is that AKP has become corrupt and no longer serves the interests of the Turkish people.
“You all know what I have. You can hide like roaches no longer,” Peker said at the beginning of his first video, released on May 2. He has posted seven videos so far, each about an hour long, and it is rumored he plans for a total of 12, with some big revelations saved for his grand finale.
“Your end will come at the hands of a camera on a Tripod. Just wait and see. More is to come,” he said in another video.
Forbes noted on Monday that Peker’s videos appear to be shifting the balance of political parties in Turkey by turning nervous and enraged AKP politicians against each other. Analysts writing about his videos frequently compare him to a chess master or poker shark, saluting his habit of implying he has not only loads of dirt but also deep connections to the Turkish security establishment, so attacking him could provoke their formidable wrath.
The BBC on Tuesday described the Turkish establishment as “rattled” and “furious” over Peker’s videos. Interior Minister Solyu is acting on some of Peker’s allegations, even as he is targeted by others. For instance, Peker’s brother Atilla was arrested by Turkish police on Sunday after Sedat claimed in one of his videos that he assigned Atilla to kill a Turkish Cypriot journalist in 1996. Sedat claimed the hit was one of several attacks on journalists ordered by Soylu’s predecessor Mehmet Agar.
The rather large dog who is not barking is Erdogan, who has only made one public comment about the Peker videos to date – a milquetoast promise that AKP has taken down many gangsters over the past two decades and would “foil this dirty script, too.”
Erdogan is not usually reserved about responding to perceived insults and political threats. In one of his videos, Peker recalled the time he ordered a member of the Turkish parliament beaten and had his bones broken because he supposedly insulted Erdogan’s wife.
Astoundingly, the MP in question, former AKP deputy Feyzi Isbasaran, responded to Peker’s revelation by saying, “my bones weren’t broken, but a police officer’s finger was,” because the beating was administered after he had been handcuffed by the police. According to Isbasaran, the guy sent by Peker to beat him up was another AKP deputy.
Theories abound as to why Erdogan has not denounced Peker more strongly or taken action against him, ranging from “Erdogan is worried about Peker blackmailing him” to “Erdogan is enjoying the show and doesn’t mind Peker clearing some dead wood from AKP’s ranks.” Erdogan might simply appreciate Peker keeping the angry and frustrated public distracted while Turkey endures another coronavirus lockdown.
A poll by Istanbul Economics Research (IEA) released on Monday suggested roughly 40 percent of Turkish citizens find Peker’s allegations serious and credible, but despite his phenomenal YouTube popularity, a roughly equal percentage of the respondents claimed not to know anything about him. Unsurprisingly, Peker’s fans tend to believe the Turkish state is controlled by shadowy alliances and conspiracies.