Turkish Grey Wolves: Forgotten Story of Cold War-Era Paramilitary Group


Why has Washington been blind to Turkey’s misdeeds in Syria and Iraq, including the bombing of the Syrian Kurds and oil smuggling in Syria and Iraq? The truth of the matter is that since the beginning of the Cold War era US leadership has viewed Ankara as a valuable geostrategic ally.

During the Cold War era Turkey was regarded by Washington as an entity capable of containing the USSR’s access to the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

“Since the earliest days of the Cold War, Turkey’s strategic importance derived from its geographic position as the West’s easternmost bulwark against Soviet communism. In an effort to weaken the Soviet state, the CIA also used pan-Turkish militants to incite anti-Soviet passions among Muslim Turkish minorities inside the Soviet Union, a strategy that strengthened ties between US intelligence and Turkey’s ultra-nationalists,” prominent American author and expert on far-right movements and terrorism, Martin A. Lee, wrote in his essay for The Consortium in 1997.

In 1952 the Tactical Mobilization Group, a counter-guerilla special force, was founded in Turkey (later absorbed by the Turkish Army’s Special Warfare Department). It was established as a part of NATO’s covert “stay-behind” anti-Communist initiative, also known as Operation Gladio.  The roots of the initiative lay at the Truman Doctrine voiced by President Harry S. Truman on March 12, 1947, before a joint session of Congress.

“I ask the Congress to authorize the detail of American civilian and military personnel to Greece and Turkey, at the request of those countries, to assist in the tasks of reconstruction, and for the purpose of supervising the use of such financial and material assistance as may be furnished. I recommend that authority also be provided for the instruction and training of selected Greek and Turkish personnel,” Truman said in his official speech, pledging to “protect” Greece and Turkey from “Soviet aggression.”

A number of Turkish soldiers were sent to the United States in 1948 in order to undergo training in “special war methods” including assassinations, bombings, kidnappings, attacks, torture and militia training.

Alpaslan Turkes

One of these Turkish military servicemen was Alparslan Turkes (Türkeş), a would-be founder of the Turkish National Action Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi, MHP) in 1969 and its militant arm the Grey Wolves (Bozkurtlar).

“Led by Colonel Alpaslan Turkes, the National Action Party espoused a fanatical pan-Turkish ideology that called for reclaiming large sections of the Soviet Union under the flag of a re-born Turkish empire,” Lee narrated, adding that Turkish nationalists widely used translations of Nazi texts and formed a Nazi-like credo “the Turkish race above all others.”

Although many Turkish ultra-nationalists were both “anti-Western” and “anti-Soviet,” they continued to cooperate with NATO and US intelligence.Interestingly enough, the Grey Wolves had also established close ties with the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations (ABN), backed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The ABN was an umbrella organization for anti-Communist émigré — former Nazi collaborators — formed in 1943 by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). Headed by the infamous Nazi collaborator and OUN member Yaroslav Stetsko, the organization brought together a wide range of Eastern European emigration groups.

It is no secret that the CIA used former Nazi collaborators and executioners as a Cold War instrument against the USSR. For instance, the CIA and the US State Department sponsored OUN leaders’ immigration to the United States in 1949, according to Dr. Per Anders Rudling, a Swedish-American historian (The OUN, the UPA and the Holocaust: A Study in the Manufacturing of Historical Myths, 2011).

Remarkably, Ruzi Nazar, a leader of the Munich-based ABN, had longstanding relations with the CIA and MHP. Being a former member of SS Turkestan legion, he had been involved in paramilitary training of Grey Wolves in the 1960s.In general, Turkes established over 100 camps across Turkey for MHP’s military arm.

The ultra-nationalist group took part in terror activities aimed against their leftist rivals and Kurds in the 1970s, resulting in the death of almost 6,000 people. It is believed that Bozkurtlar were also responsible for a 1981 assassination attempt aimed against Pope John Paul II.

Despite the massacre they unleashed, the Grey Wolves enjoyed full protection from Turkey’s counter-guerilla units of a Special Warfare Department.

Needless to say, the collapse of the USSR was seen by pan-Turkish MHP and Bozkurtlar as a brilliant opportunity to expand their influence over the former Soviet Republics with Turkic and Muslim population.

​The Grey Wolves took part both in the Nagorno-Karabakh War of 1992 between Azerbaijan and Armenia (on the Azerbaijani side) and in the First and the Second Chechen Wars, in 1994 and 1999, respectively, on the side of Chechen Islamists. Furthermore, in 1995 Bozkurtlar were spotted making an attempt to seize power in Azerbaijan.

Bangkok-based geopolitical analyst Tony Cartalucci calls attention to the fact that the Grey Wolves have recently bolstered their activity in Central Asia, including former Soviet states and, most notably, China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The analyst assumes that Bozkurtlar could have been behind numerous terror attacks carried out by Uyghur separatists in China.

Given the history of the Grey Wolves organization, Bozkurtlar’s purported cooperation with Crimea Tatar nationalists and the Ukrainian far-right groups, as well as Islamists in Syria and Iraq comes as no surprise.

However, the question remains open whether there is a force capable of controlling the Turkish Frankenstein, created during the Cold War era.


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