The Grey Wolves (Turkish: Bozkurtlar), officially known as Idealist Hearths (Turkish: Ülkü Ocakları)(Turkish: [ylcy odʒakɫaɾɯ]), is a Turkish far-right organization and movement affiliated with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
Commonly described as ultranationalistic, Islamistic and neo-fascistic, it is a youth organization that has been characterized as MHP’s paramilitary or militant wingIts members deny its political nature and claim it to be a cultural and educational foundation, as per its full official name: Ülkü Ocakları Eğitim ve Kültür Vakfı (Idealist Clubs Educational and Cultural Foundation)
Established by Colonel Alparslan Türkeş in the late 1960s, it rose to prominence during the late 1970s political violence in Turkey when its members engaged in urban guerrilla warfare with left-wing activists and militants. Scholars have described it as a death squad, responsible for most of the violence and killings in this period. Their most notorious attack, which killed over 100 Alevis, took place in Maraş in December 1978. They are also alleged to have been behind the Taksim Square massacre on May Day, 1977. The masterminds behind the Pope John Paul II assassination attempt in 1981 by Grey Wolves member Mehmet Ali Ağca were not identified and the organization’s role remains unclear. Due to these attacks, the Grey Wolves have been described by some scholars, journalists, and governments as a terrorist organization. The organization has long been a prominent suspect in investigations into the Turkish “deep state“, and is suspected of having had close dealings in the past with the Counter-Guerrilla, the Turkish branch of the NATO Operation Gladio, as well as the Turkish mafia. Among the Grey Wolves’ prime targets are non-Turkish ethnic minorities such as Greeks and Armenians.
A staunchly Pan-Turkist organization, in the early 1990s the Grey Wolves extended their area of operation into the post-Soviet states with Turkic and Muslim populations. Up to thousands of its members fought in the Nagorno-Karabakh War on the Azerbaijani side, and the First and Second Chechen Wars on the Chechen side. After an unsuccessful attempt to seize power in Azerbaijan in 1995, they were banned in that country. In 2005, Kazakhstan also banned the organization, classifying it as a terrorist group.
Under Devlet Bahçeli, who assumed the leadership of the MHP and Grey Wolves after Türkeş’s death in 1997, the organization has been reformed. According to a 2014 estimate, the Grey Wolves are supported by 3.6% of the Turkish electorate. Its members are often involved in attacks and clashes with Kurdish and leftist activists. The organization is also active in the Turkish-controlled portion of Cyprus and has affiliated branches in several Western European countries with significant Turkish communities, such as Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. They are the largest right-wing extremist organization in Germany.
The organization’s members are known as Ülkücüler, literally meaning “idealists”. Its informal name is inspired by the ancient legend of Asena, a she-wolf in the Ergenekon, a myth associated with Turkic ethnic origins in the Central Asian steppes. In Turkey, the wolf also symbolizes honor. The Grey Wolves have a “strong emphasis on leadership and hierarchical, military-like organisation.”
The Grey Wolves also use what scholar Ahmet İnsel describes as “fascist slogans imported from America”, such as “Love it or leave it” (Ya Sev Ya Terk Et!) and “Communists to Moscow” (Komünistler Moskova’ya).
The salutation of the Grey Wolves is “a fist with the little finger and index finger raised” Turkic hand gesture. It was banned in Austria in February 2019. In Germany, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Left Party proposed banning the salute in October 2018, calling it fascist.