His killers, Mehmet Ali Ağca and Oral Çelik, were members of the ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves. Throughout the 1970s, the Grey Wolves were involved in a series of assassinations of left-leaning activists, intellectuals and journalists. Their biggest attack was the Maraş massacre in 1978, during which hundreds of Alevis were murdered.
Ipekçi was a hugely popular journalist, and had been instrumental in bringing together Greek and Turkish journalists following Turkey’s invasion and subsequent partition of Cyprus in 1974. He was considered a political moderate, and was a harsh critic of the political extremism which defined Turkey at the time, with political assassinations becoming commonplace throughout the 1970s.
Whilst Ipekçi’s death is known to be the work of Mehmet Ali Ağca, the mastermind behind the assassination has never been found. Ağca escaped from prison after six months by walking out wearing a private’s uniforms, fuelling speculation that he was helped by certain military officers who were sympathetic to him. Two years later, he was involved in an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981.
In 2010, he was released from prison after serving 19 years in Italy for the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II and a further 10 years in Turkey for murdering Abdi Ipekçi. Although the true mastermind behind Ipekçi’s murder remains unknown, with many believing that Ağca may have been acting under the orders of groups or individuals linked to Turkey’s national intelligence agency, MIT.
During a commemoration for Ipekçi in 2010, his daughter Nükhet İpekçi explained that they have never been fully satisfied with the reasons behind Ipekçi’s murder: “Our conviction has not finished yet. We have not been become free yet.” During the same commemoration, Günsel Tekin, a deputy for the CHP, called for an investigation on the matter, “All who fell victim to unsolved murders were social democrat figures. The prime minister has all the means necessary to enlighten the dark incidents that have marked the last three or four decades.”
The dangers facing journalists in Turkey continue to this day. In November, Can Dündar, the editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet newspaper, was arrested after he published photos allegedly showing weapons being transferred to Syria in trucks belonging to MIT. This was followed by a severe crackdown on journalists and freedom of the press in Turkey, with many being threatened or arrested simply for criticising the government.
In truth, Ipekçi’s death was one of the many political killings in Turkey which continue to be shrouded in mystery to this day. Ipekçi was killed for his principled journalism, and for his honoured, moderate stance against the extremism of Turkey in the 1970s. The state failed to shed light on the true circumstances of his death, and similar murders of prominent journalists such as Hrant Dink serve as a deadly reminder to the dangers of speaking out as a journalist in Turkey.