Erdogan’s Neo-Fascist Turkish Allies

Exclusive: Turkish President Erdogan’s push toward nationalistic authoritarianism has an important ally in the political arm of the neo-fascist Grey Wolves, reports Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

All but one of Turkey’s major opposition parties denounced Sunday’s referendum to create an authoritarian new presidential system as marred by fraud and as a threat to the country’s political freedoms. The exception was the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), founded in 1969 to promote a neo-fascist, ultranationalist program. Its fortunes bear close watching as a clue to Turkey’s political direction.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses citizens in front of his residence in Istanbul on July 19, 2016. (Photo from official website of the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey)

The MHP and its paramilitary wing, the Grey Wolves, were among the leaders of Turkey’s death squad violence against leftist intellectuals, academics, and Kurdish activists in the 1970s and 1980s. In return, right-wing state security forces protected their organized criminal operations, including drug trafficking. One associate of the Grey Wolves, Mehmet Ali Agca, was convicted of trying to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981.

A New York Times reporter at that time described the MHP’s followers as a “xenophobic, fanatically nationalist, neofascist network steeped in violence.” The party’s U.S.-trained leader helped execute a successful military coup in 1960, and by 1980 was implicated in smuggling heroin into Western Europe.

Turkish Prime Minster (now President) Recep Tayyip Erdogan broke the back of that “deep state” alliance of secret intelligence, criminal, and right-wing forces through mass purges and indictments in 2008. Last year, however, he made up with many of these former opponents, making them allies of his own increasingly authoritarian government and his military adventures in Syria and Iraq.

One winner in that realignment was the MHP. Like the National Front in France, the MHP has shed many of its extremist positions in recent years to join the mainstream of respectable politics in Turkey.

Still, its racist roots were exposed to full public view in 2015, when Grey Wolves members attacked a South Korean tourist in Istanbul and hung banners saying “We crave Chinese blood” to protest Beijing’s crackdown on Turkic separatists. The MHP’s leader, Devlet Bahceli, defended his street supporters, saying “how are you going to differentiate between Korean and Chinese? They both have slanted eyes. Does it really matter?”

As an advocate of ethnic Turkish supremacy, moreover, the MHP remains violently opposed to making any concessions to Kurdish separatists, and denounced Erdogan for starting peace talks with them in 2013.

Allies Against the Kurds

Two years later, Erdogan reversed course and began waging total war against the Kurds, both at home and in Syria. That set the stage for a tacit alliance between his ruling party, the AKP, and the MHP.

F-15 Eagles from the 493rd Fighter Squadron at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, taxi to the runway during the final day of Anatolian Eagle June 18, 2015, at 3rd Main Jet Base, Turkey. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Eric Burks)

Grey Wolves thugs attacked offices of the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party, which supports the rights of Kurds and other political minorities. Senior MHP officials, along with members of their youth organization, also joined the fighting in Syria to support ethnic Turks against the Assad government and Syrian Kurds. Remarked one Turkish journalist, “The ultranationalists are the most fertile pool for secret operations.”

Even with his opponents cowering or imprisoned under a state of emergency declared after a failed military coup last year, Erdogan needed the MHP, which holds 36 seats in the 550-member parliament, to win approval of the constitutional amendments at issue in Sunday’s referendum. MHP officials reportedly hope to earn seats in the president’s new cabinet.

MHP leader Bahceli hailed Sunday’s vote to grant President Erdogan immense new powers as “a very significant achievement” and the “final word” for the future of “the great Turkish nation.” The head of the Grey Wolves vowed that his followers would “take up our arms and fight if necessary” to defend the outcome.

Fighting may indeed become inevitable if opponents, backed by foreign election observers, continue to contest the referendum vote.

“Even if they are demoralized in their defeat, Erdogan’s project will arouse significant resistance among the various ‘No’ camps,” comments Steven Cook, a Mideast expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The predictable result will be the continuation of the purge that has been going on since even before last July’s failed coup including more arrests and the additional delegitimization of Erdogan’s parliamentary opposition. All of this will further destabilize Turkish politics.”

It remains to be seen how the Trump administration will deal with Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian regime and aggressive foreign policy. President Trump’s first national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, took more than half a million dollars from a pro-Erdogan Turkish businessman to promote Ankara’s interests. Flynn was also joined by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes for a private meeting at Trump Hotel in Washington with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavu?o?lu on Jan. 18.

More important than secret lobbying activity, however, is the strategic importance of U.S. access to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, from which U.S. warplanes launch attacks in Syria. The base also houses some 50 hydrogen bombs for NATO, giving Washington all the more reason to stay friendly with the Turkish government.

But if Erdogan and his new allies among Turkey’s ultranationalist right continue to make new enemies at home and abroad, the Trump administration will need to rethink the viability of continuing to rely on Ankara to make possible continued military intervention in the Middle East.

Jonathan Marshall is author of “Turkey’s Revival of a Dirty ‘Deep State’”, “Turkey’s Nukes: A Sum of All Fears,” and “Coups Inside NATO: A Disturbing History.”

17 comments for “Erdogan’s Neo-Fascist Turkish Allies

  1. BrownScent87
    April 21, 2017 at 12:06

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  2. Brad Owen
    April 20, 2017 at 07:31

    Based on “the return of the Monarchs” from EIR’s search box, and also what EIR has to say about Synarchism, PanEuropa, and the revival of another “Holy Roman Empire”, I foresee long-term, big-time problems for Turkey when “the Holy Roman Empire” gets around to reclaiming Anatolia and the East Roman capital of Constantinople…but that is a very long way off, probably requiring the return of the surviving House of Czar Nicholas II to Russia (which is on the “chalkboard” of their planning sessions).

  3. turk151
    April 19, 2017 at 21:45

    It is a bit like saying pro military republicans, extremist Christians who want to replace the constitution with the bible, the US Military, and CIA black ops are all the same.

  4. turk151
    April 19, 2017 at 21:36

    You are muddling military with paramilitary, not the same thing.

    Ergenekon and Sledgehammer are Gulen and AKP/Erdogan alliance, (not MHP/Grey Wolves) these were operations to neuter a strong secular military, which were a threat to Erdogan, and bring in Islamists. Turkey’s military brass is not the same as paramilitary under Grey Wolves Paramilitary or the MHP, which is a Nationalist political party. The Turkish military was highly respected by the country and a protector of the secular foundations of Turkey under Ataturk.

    • Sleep_state
      April 19, 2017 at 22:07

      Fair enough, I do actually understand the distinction, what muddled things for me was that Turkes was a colonel. Him being a military figure made me think, mistakenly perhaps, that the author meant to include elements of the military also as parts of the so-called “deep state.” Through this lens, the author seemed to be condemning Erdogan accepting a return to power of former military “convicts” from the Sledgehammer/Ergenekon (S/E) cases:

      “Turkish Prime Minster (now President) Recep Tayyip Erdogan broke the back of that ‘deep state’ alliance of secret intelligence, criminal, and right-wing forces through mass purges and indictments in 2008. Last year, however, he made up with many of these former opponents, making them allies of his own increasingly authoritarian government and his military adventures in Syria and Iraq.”

      The author uses the sequence “secret intelligence, criminal, and right wing forces” but then in the same breath says that those that were implicated in S/E have become allies, when those that were part of S/E were not actually convicted of anything nor, to my knowledge, were they known to be part of the deep state plot. Now, yes, I do agree Erdogan has made a pact with MHP and he has made amends with the former military brass, but those are not the same thing and the author seems to think that they are.

  5. Sleep_state
    April 19, 2017 at 19:31

    Not sure what the angle is here. Ergenekon and Sledgehammer were, to my knowledge, mostly fabricated cases, which means that no proof existed that these figures were in on any conspiracy. To then blame Erdogan for taking them back, and implying that these current figures are indeed guilty of some crimes/conspiracy, requires, in my view, some additional information. That is, the author seems to be stating that the military brass is indeed corrupt and part of a deep state conspiracy that still supports violent paramilitary groups. And yes, while I have heard about this Susurluk incident, does having criminal operatives or informants imply a conspiracy? Isn’t that part of running a country? Sometimes you have to cut deals with bad people. Perhaps there is more than I know, but I’m not sure how this current generation of military brass is necessarily implicated with past shady behavior. Not that it can’t happen, but I just get the feeling this article was a little hysterical. Still opened by eyes to a piece of Turkish history I didn’t know of though, with these violent occureneces in the 1970’s.

  6. Tristan
    April 19, 2017 at 18:48

    Interesting analysis of the situation. I tend to think, prompted by your closing thoughts “…the Trump administration will need to rethink the viability of continuing to rely on Ankara…” that the U.S. won’t alter its relationship much. In fact it is possible that these events will be misunderstood and even ignored on the highest levels of the Trump administration, ie; by the president himself.

    Our history shows that we aren’t disturbed by democracies being undermined or replaced by military or dictatorial regimes if only they continue to allow the U.S. to operate from that nation to carry out U.S. foreign policy/war(s). Thus the crux of the biscuit is Erdogan willing in the name of Turkish nationalism and the pursuit of personal power to disengage Turkey from the Nato umbrella and the U.S.?

    I don’t think Turkey is quite ready to pursue an independent nationalist agenda due to the geographical location and the conflicts surrounding that nation. Additionally the weight of great powers playing power games in the near place the ambitions of Turkey subordinate to the ambitions of the U.S. and others operating in the region. If Turkey were to do pursue a nationalist independent agenda in its dealings with other nations the political vehicle chosen by Erdogan is not one which engenders optimism.

  7. April 19, 2017 at 17:00

    It is curious about Flynn and the Israel pipeline connection, also wonder about Fethulleh Gulen, whom I read in an article without much detail is a billiionaire with CIA connections. Turkey is a wild card in the ME geopolitics and looks to be a significant player of curious significance. More needs to be brought out on the geopolitics going on there.

  8. nona
    April 19, 2017 at 16:01

    Bahceli was almost toppled last year. There are rifts in the MHP. His most prominent opponent is now Meral Aksener. Her wing of the MHP did not support the referendum and she was actively campaigning against it and is still saying it was fraudulent. She is a former Interior Minister. Her job dealt with intelligence and defense units. She is not a shrinking violet, nor old like Bahceli. She also despises Erdogan. So no, not all of MHP worked with Erdogan. Because of her efforts, some Anatolian districts went with a high NO vote. She is very combative and highly respected.

  9. kemerd
    April 19, 2017 at 13:57

    To be fair, the leader of MHP was sarcastic when he said “how are you going to differentiate between Korean and Chinese? They both have slanted eyes. Does it really matter?”. Indeed, he condemned what they did. But, it is true that they are neo-fascists and I doubt that he was sincere. Perhaps, he regrets that his paramilitary is composed of idiots.

  10. turk151
    April 19, 2017 at 11:38

    I am not sure what the angle of this author is, he is barely scratching the surface on the Grey Wolves and the MHP.

    The Grey Wolves were similar to the South American paramilitary death squads fought against communism, killing liberals, professors and intellectuals in the 60s and 70s and was instrumental in the 1980 coup, as discussed above. The fight against communism, was an American project, which along with other evidence points (see Susurluk scandal) to the CIA.

    Fast forward to the present day situation and the Grey Wolves have converted from neofacists to a ultra nationalist political party, whose chief enemy is the Kurds. You may recall that there was a recent parliamentary election in 2014. In this election, Erdogan’s party, the AKP did not receive the majority vote and should have been weakened because he had a strong Kurdish party the HDP to contend with. Erdogan decides to call a second election because the MHP refused to align with the opposition parties despite serious courting by them. The second election nullifies the results of the first. This win was done through the MHP aligning with the AKP and a sudden increase in violence in the country, causing voters to cling to the strongman. (Of course the source of that violence was never confirmed.)

    The question behind all of this, which I was hoping this article would consider, is that does the CIA/US still pull the strings in Turkey by aligning with the MHP, as they did with the Grey Wolves? If so, that would imply that the new dictatorship is US policy in Turkey.

    • April 19, 2017 at 11:52

      agreed…ive also wondered about the “coup” against Erdogan…who did this coup actually benefit? erdogan…i still feel this feeble and ineffective coup was staged…it handed all the power to Erdogan that he needed…or possibly some weak oppostion group was “groomed” to try an otherwise useless coup attempt…Look at what Erdogan has been able to do since, that otherwise would have taken him years to do in parliament..if ever. peace

      • turk151
        April 19, 2017 at 12:13

        Because the MSM is touting that position, I am inclined to believe that is the one scenario we can rule out.

  11. Chet Roman
    April 19, 2017 at 11:10

    “Actually, this is what the Dutch company Inovo, who is owned by this Turkish-American businessman, is claiming — that in fact, they were not hired by… they did not hire Flynn in order to get him to release Fethullah Gülen, but in order to promote the interests of an Israeli gas company.”

    It’s interesting that the author does not mention the claim Inovo makes that it was actually paying Flynn to promote Israeli interests.

    • pft
      April 19, 2017 at 18:56

      Not just the MSM thats controlled

  12. April 19, 2017 at 10:53

    i guess what is in my mind these days, is the motivation for a major war….as mentioned by many contributors here, these last 15 years of USA imperialism has cost, what? on the order of 20 trillion Dollars? These wars have been FINANCED! none of this has been paid for. I am supposing that the attempt to take most of the social programs funding and dump it into Defence and Intelligence, is simply to forestall a real economic disaster until they can start a major war and receive the special powers and privileges that come with it. This Big War maneuver has been done before. They have no way to handle the Mother of All Economic Depressions that is coming. We the people that survive this disaster will have to pay for it. Again.

    And we have the arrogance to test a Weapon of Mass Destruction on the sovereign lands of another country…unbelievable

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