France Set to Ban Turkish Ultra-nationalist Group ‘Grey Wolves’ after Defacing of Armenian Genocide Memorial

France Set to Ban Turkish Ultra-nationalist Group ‘Grey Wolves’ after Defacing of Armenian Genocide Memorial

An inscription defacing an Armenian genocide memorial in Decines-Charpieu, near Lyon, in Southern France, reading “RTE”, the initials of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: TV grab from France24

The government of France is planning to ban the “Grey Wolves”, a Turkish ultra-nationalist group, after an incident over the weekend involving the defacing of an Armenian genocide memorial center in the town of Decines-Charpieu near the city of Lyon.

The memorial in Decines-Charpieu near Lyon in Southern France, dedicated to the mass killing of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I, was discovered defaced with graffiti.

Some of the graffiti in question read “Grey Wolf”, and “RTE”, i.e. the initials of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – as well as pro-Turkish slogans.

In another seeming act of vandalism on Monday, the Armenian consulate in Lyon was tarnished with yellow paint, with inscriptions reading “1915” and a heart-shaped emoji followed by “RTE”.

The mass murder of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I and in the ensuing years – from 1915 until 1923 – is recognized as a genocide by a total of 32 countries so far, including France – while Turkey rejects the notion and protests adamantly against any mention of an “Armenian genocide”.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told a parliamentary committee on Monday, November 2, 2020, that the ban of the Grey Wolves would be voted upon by the French Cabinet on Wednesday.

“To put it mildly, we are talking about a particularly aggressive group,” French Interior Minister Darmanin said with respect to the Grey Wolves, as cited by France24.

“It deserves to be dissolved,” he added, explaining that the ban would provide for punishing any actions or meetings by the Grey Wolves in France by fines or prison sentences.

“It is excellent news. These violent groups have no place in our country,” reacted on Twitter French MP Yael Braun-Pivet who chairs the laws committee where Darmanin made the announcement.

The Grey Wolves are a Turkish ultra-nationalist group considered the militant wing of one of the major political parties in Turkey, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) led by Devlet Bahceli.

The MHP has been in a tight political alliance with Turkish President Recep Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP). Bahceli’s support for Erdogan is deemed a crucial factor contributing to the latter’s victory in 2018’s presidential election.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Grey Wolves (“Bozkurtlar” in Turkish) wrought havoc on the streets in Turkey with frequent clashes with leftist activists. Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish nationalist who attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981, has also been linked to the movement.

France’s potential ban of the Grey Wolves is likely to strain further the already very tense relations between the country and Turkey, technically allies within NATO.

Most recently, the tensions between France and Turkey have played out against the backdrop of the ongoing war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Turkey has been supporting its ally Azerbaijan, while France, which has a sizable Armenian diaspora, has been more favorable to the Armenian cause.

The issue has been complicated by clashes between the ethnic Armenian and the Turkish communities in France.

Last Wednesday, four people were wounded outside Lyon in clashes between suspected Turkish nationalists and Armenians protesting against Azerbaijan’s military offensive.

The new causes of tensions between France and Turkey, however, have come against the backdrop of last month’s diplomatic conflict between the two countries following the beheading of a French schoolteacher who showed his pupils cartoons mocking Islam’s Prophet Mohammed.

In the wake of the killing, France has taken steps against radical Islamist groups, while French President Emmanuel Macron spoke out passionately in defense of free speech, including the right to mock religion.

Turkish President Erdogan responded by questioning Macron’s “mental health”, and calling for a boycott of French-made goods. France reacted by recalling its ambassador to Ankara for consultations.

In an interview with Al-Jazeera on Saturday, Macron accused Turkey of adopting a “bellicose” stance towards its NATO allies, saying tensions could ease if Erdogan showed respect and did not tell lies.