Right-wing extremist organization: Who are the “Grey Wolves”?


Lerato Khumalo

Merih Demiral celebrates at the European Championships with the hand sign of the “Grey Wolves”, a right-wing extremist organization that persecutes and threatens Kurds in particular.

After the celebrations of Turkish national player Merih Demiral, the right-wing extremist Turkish organization “Grey Wolves” is once again in the public spotlight. After scoring his second goal in the European Championship round of 16 against Austria, Demiral showed the organization’s hand sign with both hands. Read more about it here.

After the final whistle, he justified the gesture with pride in his Turkish identity. There was “no hidden message” behind it. The “Grey Wolves” have long been known as a right-wing extremist organization that persecutes Kurds and Armenians and sees violence as part of its ideology.

The movement has its origins in the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, when Turkish nationalism was gaining strength. In 1968, the “Grey Wolves” were officially founded under the name “Ülkücüler”. Their initial goal was to hunt down communists. The “Grey Wolves” wanted to establish Turkish nationalism. These ideas were accompanied by an extreme national consciousness in which Turkishness is seen as a superior nationality and culture.

Over time, their focus increasingly shifted to ethnic minorities in Turkey, especially Kurds and Armenians. Their former leader Alparslan Türkeş once threatened: “If you Kurds continue to speak your primitive language, the Turks will wipe you out in the same way that Georgians, Armenians and Greeks were wiped out to the roots on Turkish soil.”

The Wolves subsequently became a kind of street organization, ideologically allied with the right-wing nationalist MHP party, which was founded almost at the same time and which in the recent past was an important partner of the AKP government under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The movement is also growing steadily in Germany. According to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, more than 12,000 people belong to it in this country, making it the largest right-wing extremist organization in the Federal Republic. They are mostly organized in associations that appear inconspicuous to the outside world, but spread a right-wing extremist ideology internally.

The movement is clearly trying to operate within the law, not to commit any crimes and not to allow itself to be provoked by political opponents. The racist and anti-Semitic ideology therefore tends to be expressed externally through actions or statements by ordinary members or local associations. Nevertheless, the wolf salute keeps cropping up at demonstrations. Showing the wolf salute is not prohibited or punishable in Germany. In Austria, however, it is “punished with a fine of up to 4,000 euros or a prison sentence of up to one month,” as the parliament decided in 2014.

The unorganized scene of the “Grey Wolves” repeatedly calls for witch hunts, especially against Kurds and Armenians. They spread threats against these minorities on social media. According to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the supporters “have a high affinity for weapons and enjoy adopting warlike poses.”