The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on September 23 that includes an amendment requiring the secretary of state to submit a report assessing whether Turkey’s Grey Wolves — a far-right militant group — meet the criteria to be designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). If the Senate adopts a comparable provision, the United States will join key European allies in targeting a violent group linked to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s far-right coalition partners.
Representative Dina Titus (D-NV) proposed the Grey Wolves amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2022 in mid-September. If Foggy Bottom determines that the Grey Wolves do not meet the criteria for designation as an FTO as set forth in section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the amendment would then require the secretary of state to provide a justification explaining which criteria have not been met.
The Grey Wolves movement brings together myriad ultranationalist groups in Turkey and beyond. At the center of the movement is Idealist Hearths, a pan-Turkist and neofascist organization established in 1968 by the late Turkish ultranationalist leader Alparslan Turkes, the founder of Turkey’s far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP). Since 2016, the MHP has served as a key coalition partner for Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), and Grey Wolves militants have repeatedly assaulted political figures who oppose the AKP-MHP ruling bloc.
During the 1970s, Grey Wolves militants played a leading role in an assassination campaign targeting Turkey’s left-wing politicians. They also carried out pogroms against Turkey’s Alevi religious minority, such as the 1978 Maras Massacre, which left at least 111 people, including pregnant women and children, dead and dismembered. Mehmet Ali Agca, the would-be assassin who shot Pope John Paul II in 1981, was also affiliated with the MHP and Idealist Hearths.
Since 2019, various EU member states have taken action against the Grey Wolves. In February 2019, the Austrian Interior Ministry banned the flags and symbols of the Grey Wolves alongside those of Hamas and Hezbollah. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry condemned Vienna’s move as “scandalous,” warning that the ban “deeply offends bilateral relations between Turkey and Austria.”
In November 2020, France banned the Grey Wolves, accusing the group of “extremely violent” threats and actions. The ban came after Grey Wolves militants attacked French residents of Armenian descent and spray-painted Erdogan’s initials on an Armenian Genocide memorial, prompting a call by the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism to outlaw the militant group. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry criticized Paris, warning that Ankara “will react to this decision in the harshest way.”
The Grey Wolves also came under scrutiny from Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which flagged the militant group as a potential threat to the German constitution. Germany’s former Green Party co-leader Cem Ozdemir, who is of Turkish background, stated his support for banning the Grey Wolves, saying that its militants “threaten members of the Turkish opposition and minorities in Germany.” In November 2020, the German parliament adopted a motion urging the government to outlaw the group’s affiliates, prevent its online agitation, and monitor its activities.
That same month, four Italian members of the European Parliament called on the European Union to add the Grey Wolves to the EU terrorist list. Later in the month, members of the House of Representatives of the Netherlands passed a motion with near-unanimity asking the Dutch government to impose a similar ban, blaming the militant group for causing “serious tension within the Dutch community.”
Since 2014, journalists have reported that the Grey Wolves have fought in Syria and colluded with U.S.-designated jihadist groups. If the Senate agrees to include the measure against the Grey Wolves in its version of the NDAA, Washington will join its European allies in their pushback against Erdogan’s far-right partners, who serve as his militant long arm in the West.
Aykan Erdemir is a former member of the Turkish parliament and senior director of the Turkey Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he also contributes to FDD’s Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP). For more analysis from Aykan, the Turkey Program, and CEFP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Aykan on Twitter @aykan_erdemir. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CEFP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.