Grey Wolves, Turkey’s neo-fascist group that is banned in France

During its founding as part of a covert, US-funded anti-communist Gladio operation, the Grey Wolves integrated into Turkey’s “shadow state” and later emerged as a military tool employed by Ankara.
Tuesday 10/11/2020
A man in  Turkish officer’s uniform flashes the sign of the Grey Wolves, a Turkish far-right ultranationalist organisation, north of Aleppo. (AFP)
A man in Turkish officer’s uniform flashes the sign of the Grey Wolves, a Turkish far-right ultranationalist organisation, north of Aleppo. (AFP)

 PARIS – The Grey Wolves, a right-wing ultra-nationalist Turkish group, is under increased scrutiny after engaging in violent confrontations with members of the Armenian community in Paris and Lyon.

France opted to ban the extremist group’s activities after the scuffles and other international security services are now looking into them.

Founded in Turkey by fierce anti-communists during the Cold War in the mid-1960s, the Grey Wolves have long been active in foreign countries that have a significant presence of the Turkish community.

But their recent brazen attacks have triggered widespread outrage in Europe and revealed the extent to which they are connected with Turkey’s intelligence services.

Earlier this month, Grey Wolves extremists desecrated a memorial for victims of the Armenian genocide in France. Around the same time, crowds of angry Turks were seen wandering around Armenian neighbourhoods in Paris and Lyon, as fighting escalating between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

France’s move to ban the Grey Wolves, which angered the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, seems to have alerted other nearby countries to their activities.

The German Green Party, the German Left Party and the Alternative for Germany have all called for Berlin to take the same step, amid growing concern about Ankara’s efforts to use the Turkish community in Europe to advance its agenda.

Supporters of Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party, (MHP), make the sign of a “Grey Wolf” during a rally in Turkey. (AFP)
Supporters of Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party, (MHP), make the sign of a “Grey Wolf” during a rally in Turkey. (AFP)

According to intelligence and media reports, Erdogan is running an extensive intelligence network across Europe that relies on mosque gatherings, nationalist factions and a conservative Islamic tradition that Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have been vocally promoting.

Turkish intelligence mobilised the Grey Wolves to do Ankara’s dirty work, experts say, after fighting broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The Turkish foreign ministry’s harsh reaction to Paris’s move to ban the group is indication that it is supported by the Turkish state.

During its founding as part of a covert, US-funded anti-communist Gladio operation, the Grey Wolves integrated into Turkey’s “shadow state” and later emerged as a military tool employed by Ankara.

In 1966, a group of law students at Ankara University nicknamed Grey Wolves leader Alp Arslan Turk the “Basbug,” or “The Leader” — a title inspired by the Adolf Hitler’s moniker “Fuhrer.” During the 1950s, Alp Arslan had worked in the US as a young army officer and trained in irregular and guerrilla warfare.

In addition to allegedly engaging in criminal activity such as the destruction of public and private property, raids, ambushes, assassinations, bombings, armed robbery, torture, mutilation and kidnapping, the Grey Wolves have also been accused of taking part in covert acts such as espionage, disseminating propaganda and rumours, relaying or directing orders and issuing false or misleading reports.

Turkish writer Ergun Babahan describes the Grey Wolves as a structure in which the state security apparatus, political parties and youth organisations are intertwined. “Long story short, the use of Grey Wolves against Armenians in Europe is not new for Turkey,” Babahan said in an article published by Ahval.

In the 1970s, the paramilitary group’s activities continued under the auspices of the Turkish state, becoming most powerful under the government of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, before the country headed towards a military coup in 1980.

In the 1990s, the Grey Wolves, then viewed as a nationalist mafia-type organisation, began actively participating in Turkey’s war against the Kurdish political movement, further complicating relations between Kurds and the Turkish state. The group eventually succeeded in taking full control of the drug route from Afghanistan to Europe and the Americas.

The former head of the counterterrorism department of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation, Mehmet Eymur, said the Grey Wolves were used against the secret Armenian army in Turkey, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary left.

“These activities cannot be carried out with ordinary people,” Eymur said, adding, “We [the Turkish state] need men who can break things.”