The Grey Wolves movement very much does exist. It has a long history of bloodbaths across Turkey and is now a growing movement across Europe as well as the South Caucasus. The ideology of Turanism, or the Greater Turkish homeland, believes in the superiority of a supposed Turkish race and wants to unite all Turks under one country, "Turan", from Europe to the Pacific. These ideas have greatly influenced the Grey Wolves organization and its actions. Pictured: A Turkish soldier flashes the sign of the Grey Wolves as he patrols in the town of Atareb, in Turkish-occupied northern Syria, on February 19, 2020. (Photo by Aref Tammawi/AFP via Getty Images)
Last month, the US Congress passed an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that could affect the status of the far-right, extremist group that operates both inside and outside Turkey: the Grey Wolves.
The amendment, introduced by Congresswoman Dina Titus (D-NV), requires that the State Department send a report to Congress on the activities of the Grey Wolves against the United States and its allies -- including an assessment of whether the Grey Wolves meets the criteria to be designated as a foreign terrorist organization.
The Grey Wolves (Bozkurtlar) is the informal name of a Turkish nationalist organization called Idealist Hearths (Ülkü Ocakları). As a political movement, it is referred to as the Idealist Movement (Ülkücü Hareket) and is responsible for many acts of violence, including the 1981 attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II.
In 1968, the Idealist Hearths were founded as the militant wing of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), currently an ally of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The US is not the only country that has started paying more attention to the criminal activities of the Grey Wolves. In November of last year, French Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin announced on Twitter that the group was banned in France. "It incites discrimination and hatred and is implicated in violent actions," he wrote. The announcement came after an Armenian genocide memorial outside the city of Lyon was defaced with yellow graffiti and pro-Turkish slogans.
The same month, members of the European Parliament affiliated with the "Identity and Democracy" group proposed to include the Grey Wolves on the European Union terrorist list, saying the European parliament "condemns the violent acts and ideology of the Grey Wolves, whose growing influence represents a threat to world peace and to Europe."
On November 18, the German parliament adopted a motion that urged the government to outlaw the group's affiliates, prevent its online agitation, and monitor its activities.
Germany's Green Party lawmaker Cem Özdemir said he believed the group was the largest right-wing extremist organization in Germany, with up to 20,000 members. The largest Grey Wolves umbrella organization, according to Germany's domestic intelligence service, is the ADÜTF (Federation of Democratic Idealist Turkish Associations of Germany), with some 170 associations and 7,000 members. Özdemir added that the Grey Wolves were responsible for hundreds of murders in Turkey but did not limit their activities to that country.
The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the decision by France, saying:
"There is no such a movement called 'Grey Wolves'," the press release said. "Attempts to resort to imaginary decisions presuming the existence of such a movement or formation based on some individuals and their actions, reflects the latest contradictory psychology that this country lives in."
In reality, the Grey Wolves movement very much does exist. It has a long history of bloodbaths across Turkey and is now a growing movement across Europe as well as the South Caucasus.
International Christian Concern reported in September:
"Grey Wolf ideology has continued to spread throughout the world, along with the threats of violence against Christians and any other group that stands in the way of Turkic expansionism."
"Grey Wolves" in Turkic Mythology
Turkish nationalists, including pan-Turkists, believe that their ancient ancestors lived in the area between the Tian Shan and Altai Mountains in Central Asia. This region borders China. Turks in Central Asia were nomadic people who often engaged in migrations and conquests. In the 11th century they arrived in Anatolia, which was then ruled by the Greek Byzantine Empire, and invaded the area through massacre.
The grey wolf is an animal considered sacred in Turkish, Altai and Mongolian mythology. It is also a national symbol. An article on the Turkish website Karar explains:
"The belief of being descended from grey wolves has long been a great source of pride for the Turks, as well as a sense of security and confidence in their future... Many heroes in Turkish history have been represented by the grey wolf symbol.
"The function of the grey wolf in Turkish epics is purely symbolic. It expresses the growth, expansion and empowerment of the nation. As the Turks believe and obey this idea, they preserve their dominance and superiority and when they leave this idea, they are subject to disaster. It is the grey wolf who saves Turks from disasters.
"In these epics, the following qualities of the grey wolf are revealed: To ensure the continuation of the lineage [of the Turks], to guide the Turks, and to save the Turks from disasters."
According to a so-called grey wolf myth, Turks descend from humans and wolves.
"In the 'Grey Wolf Epic', a boy whose legs and arms were cut off and left to die was healed by a she-wolf who fed the child. When enemy soldiers tried to kill the boy, the she-wolf abducted him to the Altai Mountains and saved him. The she-wolf then became pregnant from this boy and gave birth to 10 sons. The growth and reproduction of these boys saved the Turkish lineage from extinction."
Turkism and Turanism
The nationalist ideology known as Turkism or Pan-Turkism, and also called Pan-Turanism or Turanism, began to emerge in the 19th and 20th centuries. This ideology believes in the superiority of a supposed Turkish race and wants to unite all Turks under one country, "Turan", from Europe to the Pacific. These ideas have greatly influenced the Grey Wolves organization and its actions.
The "Turan" ideal is still alive and well in Turkish politics. Prior to a meeting at the presidential palace on November 17, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the head of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahçeli, posed with a map of the so-called "Turkish world", or the Turan, before cameras.
Dr. Fatih Yasli wrote a book entitled Our Hate is our Religion: A Study on Turkist Fascism, analyzing its history and ideological arguments. Turanism, Dr. Yasli notes, should be called "Turkist fascism" because Turanists "based their understanding of nationalism on blood and lineage and advocated biological racism."
"They designed a state structure, one of whose fundamental duties would be to prevent the purity of the blood of the race from becoming corrupted. They also envisaged an 'order and command' society intertwined with militarism. In such a society, superior-subordinate relationships would be strictly defined and acts that would violate that hierarchy would be punished in the harshest way. They redesigned politics as biopolitics that would directly intervene in, regulate and control population, birth and marriage. They also had a very powerful desire for irredentism (expansionism), had a certain belief in Social Darwinism and considered life to be a war of survival. They worshipped death and war and felt a very deep hatred for the ideas of peace, internationalism, cosmopolitanism, intellectualism, everything that is feminine, and communism, which they thought represented all those things on their own.
"The ideological arguments of the movement called racist-Turanism clearly accorded with the universal diagram of the fascist ideology...
Turkist fascism bases itself on the thesis that it is an enemy of the whole world, the same way that National Socialism was an enemy of Jews. As Turkist fascists define life as a war, a natural result of this understanding is that they believe 'internal' and 'external' enemies of Turks are everywhere: Minorities, Jews, Kurds, Armenians, Arabs, Russians, communists are sneaky and dangerous enemies of this world of war. To Turkist fascists, whoever is foreign is an enemy. Atsiz wrote in a 1934 article that 'the external enemies of the Turkish nation are the whole world.'"
Nihal Atsız (1905-1975), a leading Turkist figure, defined the Turkism ideal as follows:
"The Turks who dominate the Turan geography (Greater Turkish homeland) are ahead of and superior to all other nations".
Turkism was one of the ideologies of the Ottoman government led by the nationalist ruling party of Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), a.k.a. the Young Turks. They committed the first phase of the 1913-23 Christian genocide targeting Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks. The most important political power of the period, the CUP, turned Turkism into the official ideology of the Ottoman government. Historian Suren Manukyan notes that Turkism and pan-Turkism during the Young Turk era "aimed to create a homogenous Turkey and a Great Turanian superpower that would unite all Turkic-speaking peoples as far as Central Asia."
The Turkist-Turanist ideology -- alongside the jihad declared in November 1914 -- was among the motivating ideologies of the genocide. Today, Turkish nationalists either aggressively deny the genocide or proudly proclaim that they "would do it again."
1930s and '40s: Turkism blends with Nazism
Antisemitism, Dr. Yasli writes, became prominent in the Turkish fascist movement in the 1930s and 1940s. During that period, many Turkist thinkers blended Turkism with German Nazism. This greatly impacted the ideological arguments of the Grey Wolves movement. From then on, ideologues such as Nihal Atsız, Reha Oğuz Türkkan, Rıza Nur, Fethi Tevetoğlu and Orhon Seyfi Orhon increasingly helped spread Turkic supremacist ideas. Nihal Atsız, a prominent Nazi sympathizer, is largely considered as the founder and ideologue of the fascist movement in Turkey. "The first country to solve the Jewish issue was Germany," Atsız wrote. "Other nations are to learn lessons from them."
Last year, a park in Istanbul was named after Atsız, known for "measuring skulls" to determine people's "amount of Turkishness."
In her book Turkey, the Jews, and the Holocaust, scholar Corry Guttstadt describes Atsız as a "Turkish apologist for German Nazism":
"Nihal Atsiz was an avid Nazi sympathizer. He called himself a 'racist, pan-Turkist and Turanist', and was an open anti-Semite. From 1934 onward, Atsiz published the Turanist journal Orhun, in which he advocated a Greater Turkish Empire extending from the Mediterranean to the Pacific. His Turkism was based on ties of blood and race; he advocated a return to pre-Islamic Turkish beliefs."
When the Jewish communities of eastern Thrace were attacked during the 1934 anti-Jewish pogrom, Atsız's writings led to violence. Historian Rifat Bali noted that before the riots, Atsız had been given free rein to make crude anti-Semitic propaganda with no interference from the state.
Another Turkist ideologue, Reha Oğuz Türkkan, penned "the testament of Grey Wolves" in 1942:
"What is our ideology?
"Grey Wolf Turkism.
"What do we believe?
"That the Turkish race and the Turkish nation are superior to every race and every nation!
"What is the source of this superiority?
"Are Turks born superior?
"Turkish people are naturally superior and talented. The Turk gets his intelligence, valor, military genius and great talent and aptitude from his blood.
"Could this advantage be lost?
"Even if it decreases with the effect of bad administration and bad environment, this is temporary. As soon as the Turk creates a good administration and a good environment, that will enable his own development, and this superiority will shine again.
"When might this superiority disappear altogether?
"If Turkish blood is smeared with foreign blood. In this case, the generations that will be born hybrid and mixed-blooded do not have the material and moral characteristics of the Turk and cannot be of superior lineage like a true Turk.
"Why are the Grey Wolves racist?
"Another reason why the Grey Wolves are racist is social; they know that only Turks can benefit Turks. Non-Turks and all kinds of converts, no matter how much Turkish culture with which they are raised, will never look like a real Turk, nor will they be able to serve this nation like a real Turk.
"When you say Turkish, do you mean those who have been [pure blood] Turkish throughout the generations?
"That is what my heart would like. But the Grey Wolves who see the realities also consider Turkish those whose ancestors are three-quarters Turkish or who have been Turkified by blood for four generations.
"Are Grey Wolves Pan-Turkists?
Racist ideas also found support from the then-Turkish government. The Turkish government at the time, Dr. Yasli noted, tolerated the activities of the Turkish fascist movement: the government had commercial and political relations with Nazi Germany during the Second World War, and some members of the Turkish government felt close to the Turkish fascist ideology and had great sympathy for Nazi Germany. The German-Turkish Treaty of Friendship, for instance, was signed between Nazi Germany and Turkey in Ankara on June 18, 1941. According to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration:
"In October 1941 Germany concluded an important trade agreement with Turkey that provided for an exchange of Turkish raw materials, especially chromite ore, for German war material, together with iron and steel products and other manufactured goods, in order to draw Turkey further into the Axis orbit. In 1943 Turkey provided essentially 100 percent of German requirements. According to Albert Speer, Hitler's Armaments Minister, the German war machine would have ground to a halt without chromite ore."
During that period, many Turkish newspapers such as Cumhuriyet were creating propaganda for Nazi Germany. Authorities such as the prime minister at the time, Şükrü Saracoğlu, a member of the Republican People's Party (CHP), and Chief of General Staff, Fevzi Çakmak, also proudly voiced racist ideas. Saracoğlu, for instance, said at Turkey's parliament: "I am a Turkist prime minister... Turkism is a matter of blood for us as much as it is a matter of culture."
In line with this ideology, Turkist government policies systematically discriminated against minority citizens. For instance, conditions such as "being of Turkish race" were sought for people to be admitted to military high schools. In addition, under Saracoğlu's government, on November 11, 1942, Turkey enacted the Wealth Tax Law targeting Armenians, Jews and Greeks, to eliminate non-Muslims from the economy. Those who could not pay the taxes were sent to labor camps, deported or their properties were seized by the government.
With the support of the then-Turkish government, the ideologies of the 1940s, that spread racist ideas, formed the ideological infrastructure of the Turkist-Turanist movement by blending these ideas with Nazism.
1969: Turkist Supremacist ideas turn into a political party
In the 1960s, Turkic supremacist ideas were officially organized within a political party. Alparslan Türkeş, an ultra-nationalist military figure, joined the Republican Villagers' Nation Party (CKMP) with his team in February 1963 and became its leader in 1965.
Türkeş released a political pamphlet titled "Nine Lights Doctrine " (Turkish: Dokuz Işık Doktrini), which became the ideological backbone of the party at its 1967 congress. Türkeş was then declared the "chieftain" of the movement. In the congress that took place two years later, the name of the party was changed to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the process of the movement turning into a political party was complete.
1970s: Islam becomes major part of Turkism through "Turkish-Islam synthesis"
The MHP, whose founding ideology was shaped in the congress in 1969, also adopted a change in the ideology of the movement. The racist ideology represented by the "historical" leader of the movement, Nihal Atsız, was then combined with Islamic motifs, a change necessary for the movement to become massive; it might not have been easy for a Turkish identity based solely on race to be popular. Hence, the MHP, led by Türkeş, aimed to appeal to the conservative and religious feelings of the masses. To this end, the MHP added Sunni Islam to its Turkish identity. Seyyid Ahmet Arvasi, (1932-1988), an ideologue of the Grey Wolves, elaborated the concept as "Turkishness is our body, Islam is our soul." The Turkish nation, Arvasi argued, should dominate the global order. According to scholar Evangelos Areteos:
"Türkeş and his followers... fully espoused the new concept of 'Turkish-Islam synthesis'. This synthesis puts Islam, in its cultural and not its political dimension, on the same level with ethnicity (being a Turk) as the two components of Turkish nationalism."
Grey Wolf Hand Sign
The MHP and the Grey Wolves have a "hand sign" that has become the symbol of the movement. Türkeş attributed a certain meaning to the sign, which he explained to Osman Bölükbaşı, the founder of the Nation Party, as follows:
"This little finger is Turkish, and this index finger is Islam. The space between them with which we make that Grey Wolf sign is the world. And the point where the remaining 3 fingers meet is the seal. In other words, if we make the sign, the following [meaning] will emerge: We will strike the Turkish-Islamic Seal on the World."
Some Turkish nationalists date the Grey Wolf sign to the artifacts allegedly found in China. According to the Turkish media:
"It is evident from the 6th century 'Turkish Khan [king] statue' found in the caves that the Grey Wolf sign was the victory sign of the Turkish Khans in the pre-Islamic Gokturk [First Turkic Empire] period and other Turkish states [nomadic confederations of Turkic peoples in medieval Inner Asia]."
This sign has been made in public not just by Grey Wolves but by other Turkish political leaders as well including Erdogan, and the head of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.
In March 2019, Austria banned the Grey Wolf salute. The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs "strongly condemned" the decision and called on Austria to "correct this mistake," saying it "deeply offends bilateral relations between Turkey and Austria."
Massacres by Grey Wolves across Turkey
By 1970, Grey Wolves formed their organizational structure within "idealist hearths" across Turkey and escalated their aggression against minority citizens including Alevis, a persecuted religious minority, and leftists in the country.
On March 16, 1978, for instance, Grey Wolves -- with the help of police -- carried out a massacre against leftist students at the Beyazit campus of the Istanbul University. Seven students were killed and more than 40 wounded.
Throughout the same year, the Grey Wolves attacked Alevis and leftists in many central and eastern Anatolian cities. Especially where the Alevi and Sunni populations lived together, the Sunni population was called to "carry out jihad against the Alevis and communists ". On April 17, in the city of Malatya, houses and workplaces belonging to Alevis were destroyed and set on fire. During the massacre that lasted for three days, seven Alevis were murdered and around 100 were wounded, according to official figures. From September 3-7, in the city of Sivas, attacks were carried out in which 10 Alevis were murdered and 93 wounded. Homes and other properties belonging to Alevis and leftists were burned.
On October 9, 1978, seven young members of Turkey's Workers' Party (TİP) were brutally murdered by Grey Wolves in the neighborhood of Bahçelievler in Ankara. They were either strangled with wire or shot in the head in their homes.
In the city of Maras in southeastern Turkey in December 1978, Grey Wolves targeted Alevis once again. Prior to the massacre, during a Friday sermon, an imam provoked Sunni Muslims to "cleanse Alevis and the nonreligious". Other violent calls were made repeatedly through loudspeakers. They burned some of their victims alive, slaughtered them with axes, and raped women. Hospitals were besieged and the wounded killed. People who gathered were set on fire and shot at with automatic weapons. Although the governor of the city declared a curfew, the mob did not stop. The police and the army stood idly by and did nothing to protect the Alevis. During the massacre, which lasted for five days, more than 100 people were killed, including babies, children and pregnant women, and hundreds were wounded. In some instances, the assailants, many of whom were Grey Wolves, poured gasoline on those who could not answer questions about Islam.
On May 16, 1979, during a massacre in the Piyangotepe district in Ankara, the Grey Wolves killed 7 people and wounded 10 by raiding and shooting at a cafe where leftists often gathered.
In 1980, the violence escalated. The Grey Wolves assassinated parliamentarians, public prosecutors, professors, and journalists, as well as one of the leaders of the Turkish workers' movement, Kemal Türkler, on July 20, 1980.
Other ethnic minorities such as the Kurds have also been targeted. The MHP has adopted a policy of rejection of solving the Kurdish issue in Turkey through democratic means. In March, the MHP officials announced that they prepared a case file that would demand from the Supreme Court the closure of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish opposition party in Turkey's parliament. In October, MHP Chair Devlet Bahçeli once again targeted the HDP, which is currently facing a closure case at Turkey's Constitutional Court, and said that the HDP must be closed. Bahçeli, in line with its party's ideology, also denies the existence of a Kurdish political issue in Turkey. In September, for example, he said:
"There is no such thing as the Kurdish issue in Turkey. Whoever says, insists or claims there is are cowards whose hearts do not beat with the Turkish nation."
The Turkish nationalistic refusal of granting Kurds equal rights leads to attempts at solving the issue through militaristic or authoritarian means, which is what the Turkish government has for decades been doing. In recent years, for instance, the democratically-elected Kurdish mayors across eastern Turkey have been dismissed and replaced by the officials of the government. A total of 49 HDP mayors have been dismissed on various charges and trustees have been appointed in their place. In addition, at least 31 HDP mayors have been arrested, joining thousands of party members as well as Kurdish journalists and lawyers imprisoned in Turkey. An ally of the Erdogan's government, the MHP, has been supporting and encouraging the anti-democratic government policies against the HDP.
The MHP's rejection of solving the Kurdish issue democratically has been accompanied by attacks including threats, beatings, attempted lynching and murders against members of the Kurdish community across Turkey.
Grey Wolves are also active in the Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus. In 2015, while two Turkish Cypriots -- Çinel Senem and Koray Başdoğrultmacı --- were tried at a "court" in the Turkish-occupied city of Famagusta for waving at their workplace the flag of their country, the Republic of Cyprus, Grey Wolves attacked the couple in front of the courthouse, and shouted slogans about death and destruction, reported the newspaper Afrika.
Armenians have also been subject to Grey Wolf violence and hate speech. In 2015, the head of the Idealist Hearths (Grey Wolves) in the city of Kars, Tolga Adıgüzel, falsely claimed that it was Armenians who committed genocide against Turks in 1915. He then went on to threaten Armenians:
"Are treacherous minds sold out inside and outside of Turkey trying to strain our patience? Or should we go hunting for Armenians in the streets of Kars?"
In October 2020, Turkish nationalists did exactly that -- this time, in France. During the 44-day war in Nagorno-Karabakh in the South Caucasus, hundreds of Turks looking for Armenians took to the streets in the French city of Lyon. The Grey Wolves, marching with Turkish flags, were chanting Allahu akbar (Allah is the greatest), and "Where are you Armenians? Where are you? We are here... sons of bitches."
Jonathan Lacôte, France's ambassador to Armenia, announced that French police were protecting Armenian community centers in France from Turkish attacks and vandalism.
As International Christian Concern notes,
"The Grey Wolves have a long history of terrorism towards ethnic religious minorities, but their skillset has evolved. They are stronger than in the early 2000's. The MHP's political alliance with Turkey's ruling AKP three years ago legitimized them, giving the Grey Wolves a new sense of unity. They are militarized, they are efficient, and they are on the move globally. Their mission is Pan-Turkic Islamism, and any ethnic Christian who exists within their targeted sphere is at risk."
It is time for civilized nations to look more closely at the violent attacks and threats by the Grey Wolves against minorities and dissident intellectuals in and outside of Turkey.
Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.