Turkish nationalist ‘Grey Wolves’ linked to targeting of Armenians in France

A march targeting Armenians in two French towns was orchestrated by Turkish ultranationalist organisation the Grey Wolves, according to a French anti-racism group and an organisation representing France’s Armenians.

A group of about 250 people chanting threats against Armenians marched through Vienne and Décines-Charpieu, both near Lyon on Wednesday. The group displayed the wolf hand signal used by the Grey Wolves, and yelled threats like “We are going to kill the Armenians”, the mayor of Décines-Charpieu, Laurence Fautra, said in a statement.

The Independent reported that a man in another video can be heard shouting: “Where are you Armenians? Where are you? We are here… sons of b*****s”, in French.

Earlier in the day, fighting with knives and hammers between pro-Armenian demonstrators blocking a motorway near Vienne and members of the Turkish community erupted with four people injured, Vice reported.

Two groups, the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA) and the Coordination Council of Armenian Organisations in France(CCAF) called for the Grey Wolves to be banned in France on Thursday, according to Vice.

“French people of Armenian origin must be able to live in France in safety, without being targeted by acts of violence and racial hatred,” a CCAF statement read.

Although no Armenians were hurt, with most people being at home due to Coronavirus restrictions, and the police breaking up the march, a spokesperson for the CCAF said the incident was “very scary... and it reminds us of the darkest stages of history”.

French anti-racism group LICRA also said in a statement that the gatherings amounted to “pogroms” and that the Grey Wolves “must be dissolved”.

“The Gray Wolves, a violent ultranationalist Turkish organization, yesterday organized in Vienne and Décines veritable "pogroms" against members of the Armenian community. The @_LICRA_

demands justice for these racist attacks. These movements must be dissolved!”

Valérie Boyer, a senator from the opposition conservative Les Républicains (LR) party also  condemned the march on Twitter,

“Turks attack the police in #Vienne and want to chase the #Arméniens like in 1915. Until when will France remain neutral? Until when are we going to close our eyes to Turkish expansionism? Why wait and not severely sanction #Turquie?”

Lyon is a centre of the Armenian community in France, and Décines-Charpieu in particular is a “heavily Armenian commune in the Lyon metropolitan area where the Armenian Genocide memorial is located”, according to Vice.

The Grey Wolves have been banned in Austria since 2019, while left-wing parties called for the group to be banned in Germany in 2018.

Former Grey Wolves leader, Abdullah Çatlı, had been active in France in the 1980s, carrying out a bombing of an Armenian Genocide memorial in 1984 and operations against Armenian militant organisation ASALA.

In 1981, Grey Wolves member Mehmet Ali Ağca attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Square, Italy. Ağca was also responsible for the murder of left-wing journalist Abdi İpekçi during a period of political violence in Turkey which led to the 1980 military coup. Ağca was sentenced to life in prison but escaped with the help of the Grey Wolves, before being sent to assassinate the Pope.

The Grey Wolves have had a long association inside Turkey with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which is currently part of Turkish President Recep Tyaip Erdoğan’s political coalition. The need for Erdoğan to rely on MHP votes in parliament is thought to be influencing Turkish foreign policy, particularly towards support for Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia.

Following riots in Austria in June, MENA Studies profiled the Grey Wolves in Europe, estimating that there were 20,000 members in Germany alone. Some members have reportedly infiltrated European political parties, and the Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has previously been photographed with Grey Wolves supporters.