Orhan Kemal Cengiz

Orhan Kemal Cengiz

Uniformed Grey Wolves in disguise

Ultranationalist infiltration of state institutions casts a shadow over Turkey’s democratization

There are certain moments in which a picture or a scene could give you insights that you cannot get by reading lots of books. A short video clip that leaked onto the internet in October 2021 was one of these illuminating "a-ha! moments" for many of us living in Turkey. In this video (you can find the link here: https://tele1.com.tr/polislerin-bozkurt-isaretli-toreni-tartisma-yaratti-489037/) hundreds of police "officers" who had just graduated from the police academy were cheering and whistling with a nationalist song playing in the background, while displaying the hand gesture of the Grey Wolves. It was a hair-raising moment for many of us who know the violent history of Grey Wolves and know their ideology which is racist and fascistic.

Members of this movement have always been associated with atrocities and violent attacks. For example, the 1978 Maras Alevi massacre is attributed to them. The 1978 Bahcelievler massacre in which seven university students were killed in cold blood in their apartment was carried out by people who identified themselves as Grey Wolves. The unsuccessful attempt at the assassination of Pope John Paul II in 1981 bore the signature of one of them. If I fast forward this history, in recent years they have been associated with many attacks against journalists, and they were seen once again in the lynching attempt of main opposition party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu in Ankara in April 2019.

There were a few developments at the beginning of this October; if you read them through the glasses of political science and sociology, you could see that the Grey Wolves' involvement in state institutions goes far beyond taking over the police force. A few days ago, a "judge" with the name of Serkan Tuzun shot and killed his wife before killing himself in Ankara. As the story was unfolding, many details of concern came to light. Mr. Tuzun happened to be the former head of the Alperen Ocakları, an offshoot of Grey Wolves, and the head of the Justice Ministry Support Service. It was understood that he was beating his wife for many years before finally killing her. In a shocking scandal, the Council of Judges and Prosecutors issued a brief statement in which they expressed condolences for Mr. Tuzun and after receiving harsh criticism from the public, they withdrew the statement. 

A few days ago, a musician was killed in Ankara, his throat slit with a broken bottle; the killers happened to be high-ranking bureaucrats in the Ministry of Labor and one in another state institution. It is understood that two of the attackers had criminal records indicating their violent behavior in the past. They wanted the musician to play a nationalist song and they attacked him after he refused to play it. Everything tells me that they are also part of this notorious organization.

One last development, which also happened in the first week of October again was a clear and shocking indication showing how Grey Wolves and state institutions are intertwined with each other. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, who is also the de facto commander of the Turkish Army, paid a visit to Isparta (a province in south Anatolia) Idealist Hearths Organization (Ulku Ocaklari). Ulku Ocaklari is an association that is synonymous with Grey Wolves. What could explain this visit? What could a retired general who was once the chief of general staff and is still dominating the Turkish Army consult with these ultranationalist youngsters? Put the question from different angles: what was the commander of one of the NATO armies doing with the members of an organization for which the European Parliament has called on the European Union to add it to its terrorist list?

Even if the upcoming election is won by the opposition, this reality will be haunting us for a long time. How could Turkish democracy and rule of law in this country reconcile with the fact that almost all state institutions are occupied by ultranationalist people with a tendency toward –or history of— violence? We face here a dark, insidious, and ominous problem for which there are no ready answers. 




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