Russia on the hunt for the killer of downed pilot
It seems likely that most people are unfamiliar with Alparslan Çelik, but this is not the case with the Russian government and military. He is of interest to them as he is believed to be the killer of their pilot Oleg Peshkov, whose Su-24 bomber was shot down by a Turkish F-16. As the Russians don’t take too kindly to the killing of their military personnel, they greatly desire to get their hands on Çelik to exact revenge.
Here is some background on Mr. Çelik. He is a Turkish national and a member of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), a nationalist political party in Turkey that garnered 12% of the vote in the latest Turkish election. He is also a member of the MHP’s paramilitary wing the Grey Wolves (Bozkurt). His father, Ramazan Çelik, was mayor from 1994 to 1999 and from 2004 to 2009 of Keban.
For at least a year Çelik has been in northern Syria fighting with and commanding a group of Turkmen rebels who are battling against the Assad regime. On November 24 a Russian Su-24 bomber that had entered Turkish airspace was shot down by a Turkish F-16. The two pilots successfully ejected but one (Peshkov) was killed in midair by gunfire from Turkmen rebels on the ground.
Apparently it was Çelik’s rebels, and maybe even he himself, that killed Peshkov. In the aftermath of the incident Çelik justified his actions to an interviewer:
“That pilot had bombed us five minutes [before Turkey downed the Russian jet] and our brothers were killed or wounded by these bombs. There is no place for a person who has bombed civilian Turkmens every day in my conscious. … Reprisal is the most natural right. There is life in reprisal.”
The Russians initially responded by asking Turkey to hand over the rebels responsible for the killing of Peshkov (i.e. Çelik and his men). With Turkey uncooperative, the Russians decided to “take revenge” on their own. As the Syrian army has made inroads into northern Latakiah province–the region were Çelik was fighting in–Russia troops, presumably special forces, have been combing the area in search of him. They have also been heavily bombarding Turkmen villages in the area.
The Russians have not found their prey as Çelik has recently turned up in Istanbul, attending the funeral of İbrahim Küçük, a MHP member who was killed in Syria by a Russian or Syrian airstrike. While he has said that “I came for the funeral ceremony and I will go again [back to Syria]” one wonders if Çelik had other motives for returning to Turkey, mainly that he is safer there than in Syria with the Russians hunting after him.
However, while in Turkey he also gave an interview to the Doğan News Agency in which he did not appear overly perturbed by the Russian threat to his life. He stated:
“I went [to Syria] with faith in God. It was He who gave our soul and it is He who takes it away. We are fighting there with this faith. Everyone’s day of death is already decided and mine is too … So I definitely do not have such fear. We will continue our struggle until our last soldier, our last breath and our last drop of blood”
It will be interesting to see how this situation develops, especially if Çelik remains in Turkey. Will the Russians send operatives into Turkey to kill him? Russia has already been accused of the 2007 assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, who was murdered with the radioactive substance Polonium-210. If the Russians were willing to do such an operation on British soil, what is to dissuade them from doing something similar in Turkey? Nothing in my view. Mr. Çelik should be very careful, especially of what he eats. And if he is assassinated on Turkish soil, the next question is how will Erdoğan respond?