They each got their personal photo of the Turkish president: Kemal Ergün, the chairman of the Islamic Community Milli Görüs based in Cologne, his colleague from the Turkish religious umbrella organisation Ditib, Kazim Türkmen, Durmus Yildirim, head of the far-right Grey Wolves umbrella organisation Atib – and Köksal Kus, new chairman of the European AKP lobby organisation UID.
All of them and other representatives of German-Turkish organisations were invited to Ankara this week and were welcomed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Turkish Defence Minister Hulusai Akar. Photos of the meeting were disseminated by the Turkish government on the internet. The content of the talks was not made public.
Nevertheless, the politically explosive trip reveals a lot about the efforts of the Turkish ruling party AKP to influence the Turkish community in Germany. This is what Burak Copur, a researcher on Turkey and political scientist based in Essen, believes.
In an interview with the newspaper WELT, Copur emphasised the “remarkable timing” of the delegation’s trip. It coincides with a time of intense discussion in Germany about the Grey Wolves and the AKP lobby organisation UID. The pressure on the organisations is currently increasing, Copur states. The meeting in Ankara is therefore a “call for help to Erdogan”.
For years, experts have pointed to the close ties of the participating organisations to the Turkish government. Erdogan’s meeting with representatives of UID, Ditib, Milli Görüs, Atib, the business association Müsiad and the Federation of Turkish Democratic Idealist Associations in Germany (ADÜTDF), which is also part of the Grey Wolves movement, has a “new dimension”. All the organisations and institutions that are important in the AKP’s network are involved. Apparently, they had come to the conclusion that “a common strategy” was needed.
Apparently, the organisations are looking for a way out of the crisis. German politicians have recently spoken more clearly regarding the activities of AKP-affiliated lobby groups and Turkish nationalists. During the visit of the German delegation, Mustafa Sentop, Speaker of the Turkish Parliament, said: “It is important that we jointly oppose the attacks on our country, our flag, our citizens and our state property within the framework of the law.
Last November, the German Parliament approved a motion by the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU), the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Green Party (Greens), which called on the federal government to consider banning the Grey Wolf associations. However, high legal hurdles have prevented this so far. A study commissioned by the American Jewish Committee in Berlin has just put the number of members of the nationalist movement at just under 18,500. This means that the group remains the most powerful right-wing extremist organisation in Germany. The report on the protection of the constitution for 2019 states: “The different forms include classical racism as well as the fringes of Islamism”.
The German government describes the UID as a lobbying association supervised by AKP functionaries, which tries to “influence the political decision-making process in Germany in favour of the AKP”. Criticism of the Islamic associations Ditib and Milli Görüs also continues.
Copur expects a reaction from Ankara to the increasingly critical words. “We have to fear,” warns the political scientist, “that the meeting was also about how to deal with Erdogan critics in Germany in the future”.
ADÜTDF President Sentürk Dogruyol also posted a photo on social media showing a meeting with the leader of the far-right Turkish party MHP Devlet Bahceli. Copur is concerned about the picture: “To all appearances, files were exchanged there. We have to expect that these talks will have repercussions in Germany.” The meeting of the participants with Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar also catches the eye, he says. What are associations that also indirectly sit at the table at the Islam Conference looking for with the Turkish defence minister?” asks Copur.
Atib is the largest member organisation of the Central Council of Muslims, which in turn is a member of the German state Islam Conference. In the latest report of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Atib is said to have an ideology “which represents an exaltation of Turkishness and is characterised by a pronounced thinking in terms of friend and foe, which leads to systematic devaluation of other ethnic groups or religions, in particular the Kurds and Judaism”.
Expert Copur therefore takes the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) to task. “The BMI must ask itself how it can be that a right-wing extremist organisation like the Atib is allowed to be involved in the Islam Conference in Germany while it is making politics in Turkey alongside Erdogan,” criticises Copur.