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  • The Ultra–Nationalist Grey Wolves:A Turkish Government Tool to Persecute Kurdish People
  • Diliman Abdulkader (bio)

Since its inception, the Turkish government has used the Grey Wolves, a Turkish ultranationalist organization, to target Kurds both within the country and abroad to advance Turkish nationalism, in addition to state political and military goals. This article examines the historical context of Turkish nationalism, the Turkish government's persecution of the Kurds, and the state's use of the Grey Wolves specifically to persecute the Kurds. The article concludes by offering policy recommendations to resolve the question of Kurdish autonomy in Turkey through peaceful means, with steps the Turkish government can take, and how the United States can play a vital meditating role between the Kurds and Turks.


An outside observer might think Turkey is only made up of Turks because of the widespread dis plays of Turkish nationalism within the country. Nationalism and Turkish pride manifest in the ubiquitous presence of bright red Turkish flags, the mandated use of the Turkish language, and the criminalization of anyone who insults "Turkishness."1 These are only some reflections of Turkey's strong culture of nationalism which forms the foundation of the state and society. However, ethnic minorities make up 25–30 percent of the country's population. Notably, the Kurds form the largest minority group, estimated to be 19 percent of the Turkish population.2

Despite the diversity within country, Turkish nationalism continues to flourish and target non-Turks, and the Turkish state is complicit in its dissemination of violent nationalist policy. For example, the government uses the Grey Wolves—an ultra–nationalist, far right organization—to target the Kurds, advance Turkish nationalism, and promote state political and military goals. The Grey Wolves is ultimately a convenient tool for the government to use to persecute the Kurdish people.

Historic background on Turkish nationalism and Grey Wolves

Today's Turkish state was founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. In the creation of the new state, Atatürk promoted a sense of "Turkishness" to create the foundations of Turkish national identity.3 Atatürk's nationalist vision is illustrated in the 1930 statement of the Turkish Minister of Justice who said that "the Turk must be the only lord, the only master of this country. Those who are not of pure Turkish stock can only have one right in this country, the right to be servants and slaves."4

This nationalist ideology is still present today, as violent groups have formed in the name of defending Turkey and Turkishness. One such group is the Grey Wolves. Founded by Alparslan [End Page 92] Türkeş in the late 1960s as the paramilitary wing of Turkey's Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi or Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the Grey Wolves—"Ülkü Ocaklar" in Turkish—is a fascist, ultra-nationalist, pan-Turkic organization.5 The group attempts to blend Turkish identity with Islam, as evident in the Grey Wolves's motto: "your doctor will be a Turk, and your medicine will be Islam."6 The Grey Wolves emerged during the Cold War as an anti-communist paramilitary group and shifted to heavily targeting non-Turkic minorities. Despite the Kurds being majority Sunni Muslims, the Kurds are still targeted due to their strong ethnic identity. Specifically, the group seeks to create a unified Turkic nation from the Balkans to Central Asia made of true and pure Turks—those who identify as Turks, call themselves Turkish, and live in Turkic territories.7 As such, the Grey Wolves target those who do not identify as pure Turk, including prominent minorities such as the Kurds, through political violence such as targeting pro-Kurdish political parties or Kurdish activists.

The Turkish state and the Kurds

The Kurds make up an estimated 35–45 million people across the Middle East, from Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey, all striving for greater rights which acknowledge their identity and existence. They have a unique language, culture, dress, and identify as Kurds, rather than as Arabs, Persians, or Turks. As the largest ethnic minority without a state of their own, they have sought since World War I to establish an...