In the 1980s, Turkey’s far-right Grey Wolves enjoyed a widespread presence in Europe with the aid of Ankara’s intelligence networks. After four decades, there are signs that the group is making a comeback. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been increasingly appointing to the management of Turkey-sponsored organizations in Europe members of the ultranationalist political party with which he has allied himself domestically. The growing influence of the radical movement has made it to the agenda of Germany’s Bundestag. Belgian authorities foiled an assassination plan in its early stages allegedly connected to Turkish intelligence following the revelation of a similar plot in Austria.
Erdoğan’s cooperation with the far right
The Union of International Democrats (UID) is known as Erdoğan’s largest network in Europe. Operational since 2004, the organization’s funding has been constantly increasing, which has allowed it to expand. Traditionally headed by people with conservative or Islamist backgrounds and with close ties to Erdoğan, the UID underwent a significant change in management in January when Grey Wolves-affiliated Köksal Kuş became its chairman.
The Cologne-based network’s new leader was one of the people who fled Turkey’s leftist-rightist turmoil to seek refuge in Germany in the 1980s. In the ’90s he carried out tasks for Germany’s Grey Wolves-linked associations. He was subsequently transferred to the UID.
Kuş is not the only ultranationalist in the UID’s new management. Tuğrul Selmanoğlu is known for his radical vitriol targeting Germany and several names from the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DİTİB), a group that operates a number of mosques in Germany. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (LfV), Germany’s federal domestic intelligence agency, is monitoring the UID under the category of “espionage and other intelligence activities” and describes the group as the international network of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Increasing Grey Wolves presence in Germany
The Grey Wolves’ growing presence with Erdoğan’s support has been noticed by the Bundestag. The Left Party (Die Linke) directed a written parliamentary inquiry to the federal government about the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Erdoğan’s nationalist governing ally that represents the Grey Wolves.
On behalf of the government Chancellor Angela Merkel responded: “The federal government observes that the MHP’s requests are reciprocated among the members of the Turkish government and regularly translated into laws. In addition, the federal government has knowledge that the portion of MHP-linked individuals in government positions has noticeably increased in recent years.”
Ulla Jelpke, the deputy who had submitted the question on behalf of the left-wing party, stated that Erdoğan’s declining public support has pushed him to attempt to cling to power by continuing its alliance with the fascist MHP under all circumstances. Jelpke said Erdoğan espouses the items on the MHP’s agenda and opens the keys of government positions to the party’s members.
“The German government must be aware that the Grey Wolves are constantly an invisible interlocutor at the table during its talks with Ankara,” Jelpke said.
The parliamentary question was titled “The influence of the Grey Wolves on the UID, a lobbying agency of the Turkish government,” and it involved questions regarding the impact of the Grey Wolves within the organization as well as the number of executives with ties to the group. To these questions, the German government refrained from responding on the grounds that the disclosure of such information would permanently damage its relations with other countries and cause harm to its foreign policy interests.
The definition of the MHP by the Left Party as the “Turkish government’s fascist partner” and the German government’s response indicating awareness with regard to the dangers posed by the far-right party have sparked reactions in Turkey. Devlet Bahçeli, Erdoğan’s ally and the leader of the MHP, slammed Merkel and the Left Party as well as the Deutsche Welle news agency with a statement he released on Twitter.
Bahçeli accused Germany of supporting terrorism, the Left Party of harboring hostility against the Turkish identity and DW of carrying out a smear campaign against Turkey.
Steps towards banning the Grey Wolves
Last year, a ban imposed on the Grey Wolves movement in France brought the topic to Germany’s political debate as well. An initiative spearheaded by the Left Party and the Greens was supported by the government and turned into a joint motion titled “Stand up to nationalism and racism – Repel the influence of the Grey Wolves.” The motion included clauses such as informing the public about the group’s objectives and propaganda, combating its provocations on the Internet and acting in solidarity with the people threatened by the network.
In light of recent events, the Left Party suggested that outlawing the group as in France should be taken up again.
Allegations of planned assassinations on the rise
The Grey Wolves are associated with a number of violent incidents still present in the European memory. In the 1980s members of the group took part in a series of assassinations in Europe, including the famous shooting of Pope John Paul II on May 13, 1981 by the Grey Wolves-linked Mehmet Ali Ağca.
The rise of the group in Europe in recent years has brought with it an increase in allegations of assassination plots, which has been interpreted as the return of Turkey’s policies of the 1980s.
Last year Austrian authorities launched an investigation into alleged plans by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) to assassinate Kurdish-Austrian politician Beriven Aslan from the Green party. The investigation was expanded following the confession of Feyyaz Ö., who turned himself in to Austrian authorities. According to a report by the Etkin news agency, Feyyaz Ö., who holds an Italian passport, told Austrian officials that he had received instructions from a MİT operative in Serbia and had been following Aslan in Austria for some time.
Most recently, French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche brought up an allegation of another plot in Belgium according to which two former Turkish military officers, Zekeriya Çelikbilek and Yakup Koç, were intercepted by the police in Brussels while following prominent Kurdish figures Remzi Kartal and Zübeyir Aydar as part of a plan to murder them. The police also raided the homes of Hacı Akkulak and Necati Demiroğulları in Ghent. Çelikbilek and Koç, who were allegedly members of the hit squad, left Belgium and returned to Turkey.