On October 9th, 2018, legislation was introduced into the German Bundestag (Federal Parliament) to ban the display of the hand wolf symbol in public.
Notably, it received support from the conservative CDU (Christian Democratic Union) as well as the far-left (Links). More importantly, however, this move sheds light on one of the largest extremist groups in Germany: the Grey Wolves.
Like quite a few other extremist movements, the Grey Wolves got their start in the 1960s when it was founded by Col. Alparslan Turkes.
Turkes gained fame for being the spokesman of the 1960 Turkish coup, and he later founded the ultranationalist political party the National Action Party, to which the Grey Wolves were established as a youth wing.
In their early history, the Grey Wolves operated as a paramilitary unit which fought with leftist groups in a low-level civil war during the 1970s. During this period, they carried out terrorist attacks against groups such as Alevi’s and Kurds. They gained their most fame, however, when one of their members, Mehmet Ali Agca, attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II.
In the 1980s the organization began to take a more international outlook as it focused on the issue of opposing Kurdish independence as well as advocating for Pan-Turkism.
In doing so, the Grey Wolves began to spread to Germany. According to the German Center for Political Education, the Wolves were particularly successful in appealing to youth. This is because the Grey Wolves offered an outlet for many children of immigrants, many of whom felt divided between German and Turkish cultures. This growth was only accelerated by racism as well as attacks that took place on Turkish immigrants throughout the 80s and 90s.
The Grey Wolves have been very successful in developing European Turkishness, which is extreme nationalism reinforced with conservative Sunni Islam.
Part of the reason why the Grey Wolves were able to have so much success in this regard was due to the nature of immigration to Germany. Unlike in either France or England which saw record numbers of Muslim immigrants from all over the world, the majority of Muslim Germans were Turkish.
This has only begun to change in the last 20 years with an increase in migration from other parts of the Muslim world, but it created a sense of German Islam and German Turkishness being tightly bound. This made it easy for some mosques to serve a double purpose in reinforcing Turkish Nationalism. Furthermore, the Grey Wolves developed a series of closely linked organizations, such as motorcycle and boxing clubs like Osmanen Germania, which further connected them into the Turkish community.
The Syrian Civil War and election of President Erdogan all increased the presence of the Grey Wolves and affiliated Turkish ultra-nationalist groups. As Erdogan re-emphasized conservative policies, he in effect sanitized the ultra-nationalists. The Grey Wolves supported ethnic Turks in Northern Syria as well as many of Erdogan’s hard-line positions against the Kurds.
This became all the more noticeable following the June 2016 coup attempt, which witnessed a rebirth in Turkish ultra-nationalism as Turks living in Turkey and abroad were called upon to support the central government. This was a major boon to groups like Osmanen Germania, who in turn stepped up their campaign of harassment against Kurds.
This also lead to an increase in tensions between the German state and Turkish groups, especially regarding the 2017 Presidential referendum over whether or not to give Erdogan significantly more executive power. The wolf’s head symbol became a common sight at rallies supporting Erdogan, symbolizing the triumph of the Turkish far-right in Germany.
When trying to combat organizations such as the Grey Wolves in Europe, it is important for the state to see more than people who have their kids reenact scenes from the battle of Gallipoli.
Turko-German unemployment is 16%, three times higher than average. Many members of these organizations are growing in enclaves which lack quality schools and social services that could help them socially integrate. This wish to join ultra-nationalist organizations also comes from the indifference of politicians and German society towards the Turkish community’s plight.
Young people are drawn to these organizations because they feel like they lack a future in a multicultural Germany.
By increasing funding for job training agencies as well as education in disadvantaged areas, thousands of young Turks would be able to become economically integrated and feel less inclined to join the ultra-nationalists.
Germany has done this for recent refugees in Germany. It is time for Germany to help those who were left behind.