France bans Turkish ultra-nationalists: who are the “gray wolves”?

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ANKARA: In a move that risks increasing tensions between Ankara and Paris, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin announced on Monday that France would ban the ultra-nationalist Turkish group the Gray Wolves.
The group is linked to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), a political ally of the ruling government in Turkey.

During the recent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, where France and Turkey supported opposing sides, the group rose to fame for organizing “Armenian Hunting” marches in France and for vandalizing the Armenian Genocide Memorial in outside Lyon with their own slogans and references to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

During the march, members of the group threatened the Armenians with slogans such as “We are going to kill them”. Four people were injured in Lyon last Wednesday during clashes between Turkish nationalists and Armenians protesting against Azerbaijani military movements.

The group’s ban, requested by the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism and the Coordination Council of Armenian Organizations in France, will be discussed by the French cabinet on Wednesday.

The Gray Wolves were created in the 1960s in Turkey by the MHP as a militant wing and were responsible for unleashing chaos on the streets in the 1970s and 1980s when its members fought leftists and were responsible for many assassinations.

Their symbol of salvation, with the thumb touching the tips of the middle two fingers and the index and little finger raised, is considered by many to be neo-fascist and was banned in Austria last year. A ban has also been considered in Germany.

This year in August, Russia’s International Affairs Council, a pro-Kremlin think tank, also called the organization group “extremist.”

Gray wolves have active branches in European countries with large Turkish populations, such as Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France.

Samim Akgonul, a political scientist at the University of Strasbourg in France, said the Gray Wolves are not the most visible Turkish organization in France, but have been active from time to time, especially in related crises. to the Armenian question, like the French commemorative laws. recognition of the Armenian genocide.

“Historically, supporters of the Turkish far-right MHP party are organized autonomously in Europe, independent of official Turkish bodies such as the Turkish Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), the European division of the Directorate of religious affairs of Turkey, ”he told Arab News. .

He said that since the coalition between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and MHP in Turkey in 2013, the mobilization of gray wolves in favor of the Turkish state and the president has become much more frequent, in particular in Lyon and Paris. .

Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish ultra-nationalist who attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981, was also linked to the group.

According to Akgonul, the main reason for their ban in France is their recent activity against Franco-Armenians in a climate of general violence.

He said they were also a collateral victim of Islamist terror in France and of President Erdogan’s response to these acts of terror.

Neither the Turkish government nor its nationalist partner has yet reacted to French Minister Darmanin’s statement regarding the group’s disbandment.

Turkish expert Matthew Goldman, from the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul, noted that the gray wolves are not an officially organized group in France and that Darmanin’s announcement that they will be “dissolved” leaves many questions. unanswered until ministers discuss the matter on Wednesday. .

“Far-right politician Marine Le Pen accused Darmanin of using nothing but empty words, tweeting that it makes no sense to claim to dissolve a group that is not really organized. Instead, she called for the closure of the Islamic Confederation Milli Gorus, connected to the AKP, which is an official organization with 70 mosques in France, ”he told Arab News.

As French President Emmanuel Macron wants to compete with Le Pen to show he’s tough on both Turkey and Islamism, Goldman wondered if he would turn to Milli Gorus next.

German police recently stormed a Milli Gorus mosque in Berlin as part of an investigation into suspected fraud on a COVID-19 grant program, prompting a very strong reaction from Erdogan.

Goldman said that if French authorities took on Milli Gorus as well, it would likely elicit a strong response from Ankara.

“The gray wolf assaults, which respond to both the Nagorno-Karabakh war and the France-Turkey conflict, seem to be the worst of both worlds for the French public: street gang violence and Islamist violence, even if the gray wolves are actually more nationalistic. than the Islamist, ”he said.

“Hopefully the French authorities will be able to prevent further violence, but they are already struggling to control the coronavirus pandemic and anti-lockdown protests, so the situation is ripe for more conflict,” Goldman added.

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