You read the news: A group of thugs attacked three US sailors whose ship was on a call to the port of Istanbul. The news agencies dubbed the attackers "nationalist." The truth is far more complicated than that.
The attackers belong to a well-organized political group known as the Aydinlik. They are led by veteran politician and master agent provocateur Dogu Perincek. Aydinlik doesn't really have a coherent philosophy or politics. Instead, they follow the wishes and whims of Mr. Perinçek who fashions himself a labor leader not unlike, say, Vladimir Ilich Lenin.
The aspiration to Lenin is not a tangential detail. The Aydinlik group was part of the illegal Turkish (Communist) Labor Party in 1960s. Perinçek is one of the towering names of Turkish communist history.
Yet Perinçek finds true fame in relation to the Turkish-Kurdish armed group Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK.
In 1970s and 80s, we see Perinçek following a strictly pro-PKK, anti-military line. He is one of the first Turkish politicians to have established contact with the PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. Perinçek was widely thought to be one of the mentors of Ocalan too.
In 2000s, when Ocalan decides to work with Ankara toward finding a lasting solution to Turkey's Kurdish insurgency, Perinçek changes sides.
As we stand today, Perinçek is vehemently anti-PKK (even anti-Kurd), anti-Erdogan and pro-military. He wants the Turkish military to take over the government and establish a secular dictatorship.
With a daily newspaper and a nationally distributed cable and satellite TV channel, Aydinlik today mainly operates as a media empire.
Aydinlik thugs are often at the forefront of various political demonstrations, seemingly with no purpose but to cause commotion and disturbance. Yes, they are Turkey's anarchists.
As Turkey progressed toward a solution to its Kurdish problem, Aydinlik adopted an increasingly rigid line. Their politics today is defined by being against peace with the Kurds and being against President Erdogan. A lot of other issues derive from this simple basis. For example, they support the Assad regime in Syria. That being the case, it is factually correct that Aydinlik has fallen on a parallel political direction as Turkey's nationalists. They both oppose President Erdogan's attempts to normalize relations with Armenia and apologize to the Armenians for the tragedy of 1915.
Aydinlik and Turkish nationalists also cooperate closely with another shadowy group, the remnants of the Turkish Cypriot "National Resistance," often referred to by its Turkish initials TMT. A powerful para-military structure in its heyday, TMT today is little more than a mafia organization with waning power in Turkey's bureaucracy and business world.
Yet Aydinlik are not nationalists. They are hard core leftists. They have a lot of overlap with ultra-left-wing groups like Dev Sol. They cooperate with various Kurdish Alevi groups as well. However, as is often the case for Turkey's left-wing groups, they can't stand each other and they fall back to following their authoritarian leader when group interests diverge.
For the Voice of America to say "Assault on Sailors Highlights Turkish Anger at US" is utter rubbish. This wasn't an eruption of anger. This was a well-planned premeditated media stunt pulled by Turkey's best organized Leninist group.
One more critical detail: How was it that Turkey's Dogan News Agency was able to film the assault on the US Sailors? Yes, you guessed it right: The most likely scenario was Aydinlik group coordinated the assault with the Dogan News Agency. Dogan News belongs to a supposedly pro-Europe secular media group that is often a major source of anti-American press in Turkey. Like Aydinlik, they too are opponents of President Erdogan.
It was far messier than a just a group of students pulling a stunt.
For me, a long time observer of the Turkish scene, the attack on the US sailors were disgusting to say the least. As an American friend observed, most Americans won't even hear about the incident and hence its harm on US-Turkish relations will be limited. The true silver lining is how the US Navy responded to the incident: Turkish papers write that although regulations didn't require it, USS Ross left Istanbul flying the Turkish flag. I read it as a message that the US Navy knew the true nature of the attackers.
As a PR and communications professional, I'm amazed by how incomplete and even misleading today's wire agency reports can be: No, the thugs that attacked the US sailors were not nationalists. They were hard core ultra left wing Leninists who were passing themselves as some sort of Youth Union. Remember Hitlerjugend? If we really want to call them the "youth," that's the kind of youth they are.