Although the Turkish mafia is increasingly recognised as a powerful force in the ongoing trade in weapons, narcotics and people in Europe and beyond, there are few critical histories of organised crime's origins in Turkey. Rather than present some pedantic general survey of the history of organized crime in modern Turkey, this essay attempts to address two broader critical points of departure. First, how did Anatolia's journey from imperial to republican rule impact, and how was it impacted by, criminal gangs? Second, how do we situate the experience of modern gangs in Turkey in a global context? In attempting to answer these questions, this paper looks at the development of criminal syndicates among Laz migrants in the greater Istanbul area during the first half of the twentieth century. The case of the Laz shows particularly how war, migration, imperial politics, urbanisation and the rise of the international drug trade shaped the parallel development of organised crime and the nascent Turkish Republic.