Turkey is interfering in the Ukraine-Russia conflict over Crimea and adopting the Syrian experience. Non-governmental organizations arm and supply local groups of Turkomans fighting against Bashar al-Assad there, while the “Grey Wolves” ultra-nationalist movement send its militants there. Its militants attempted the life of Pope John Paul II in 1981, Prime Minister of Turkey Turgut Özal in 1988, they were involved in both campaigns in Chechnya and in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, they organized this year’s explosion in Bangkok, and murdered hundreds and made reprisals against those who, as the radicals claim, posed danger to Greater Turkey.
Despite their demonstrative confrontation with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, radicals mostly act in tandem with the authorities. It appears that Ankara actively uses them to promote its interests and fight against Moscow. The “Grey Wolves” masquerading as Turkomans occurred in the area where the Turkish Air Force shot down the Russian warplane and shot dead the catapulted Russian pilot.
It is no secret that Alpaslan Celik, the deputy commander of the so-called Turkoman group, is a Turk and a member of the “Grey Wolves.” Furthermore, on the accounts of radicals in social media one can find images of detachments of Turkish nationalists in Syria and prayers for the killed comrades, for instance, Burak Mishinci who was killed in Latakia by the government troops this July.
In December, representatives of the “Grey Wolves” visited the camp of radicals blocking the peninsula from Ukraine. Coordinator of the civil blockade Lenur Islyamov posted their photos in social media and left a comment reading “Our Turk guests.” The guests in turn called the Crimean Tatars as “Crimean Turks” in social media saying they were happy to see that the blockade has its effect on “Russian dogs.” They posted how they deliver certain assistance, but did not specify what particularly. In ten days, the Crimea blockade group posted the picture of a batch of the NATO army boots delivered from somewhere. By that time, the leaders of the so-called “Majlis” Refat Chubarov and Mustafa Cemilev had just left for Turkey to ask money for the Crimean-Tatar battalion, but the aid had been apparently supplied already. EADaily followed the emissaries of the “Grey Wolves” in social media and found out that the Turkish radicals have inherently become informal representatives of the authorities in the places where, as they claim, they have national interests. They have spread everywhere from China to the Balkans.
Ankara’s ambitious plans to restore the Ottoman Empire are evident. Even the maps sold in Turkey feature them. For instance, the online store of a large publishing house in Istanbul sells the map of Independent Turkey and Turkish-speaking peoples for 20 liras. Yet it does not demonstrate Ankara’s ambitions in full. For instance, the underlined border of “Independent Turkey” expand beyond the country’s present borders embracing part of northern Iran, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan, as well as part of Bulgaria and Greece in the west. The map features Turkish enclaves in Syria, Iraq, south of Iran and the Balkans. Turkey’s area of interests embraces Crimea, part of the Caucasus, the central and northern parts of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. The Eastern Turkestan –Turks call so the north-west of China where Uyghurs live - is indicated on the map as a separate country. “Grey Wolves” love to post their pictures with the map of “Independent Turkey” as backdrop. They actively share the photo of the Turkish-American scientist Aziz Sancar who was awarded Nobel Prize in Chemistry this October. In his photos, Sancar is receiving a memorable tablet from radicals or wearing a T-shirt depicting him with a slogan “Release Eastern Turkestan.”
There is something more interesting in this story of Turkey’s imperial ambitions. In all the regions depicted on the map there are both Turkish charitable organizations and “Grey Wolves.” One of the major projects of Turkey’s expansion into Turkic-speaking regions is construction of schools and education of Turkic-speaking youth. TIKA state charitable organization with a budget of $3.5 billion and notorious IHH are engaged in construction of schools. IHH is a non-governmental charitable organization that does not conceal its pro-Islamic views and unlike other similar NGOs, it openly demonstrates on whose side it is. For instance, in the Syrian war, it supports the opposition and directly declares its stand on its website. For IHH charity is a loose concept. For instance, it organized a flotilla on Qatar’s money to break the Gaza blockade in 2010, while in Syria it was caught transporting arms for the militants and was blamed for supporting Islamists in the Balkans.
Both the state-funded TIKA and IHH NGO have their representations in Ukraine. After Crimea’s unification with Russia, they are implementing projects of charitable assistance to refugees from the East and Crimea. Where there are TIKA and IHH, they are “Grey Wolves” too. One can draw such a conclusion following the last year’s travels of emissaries of that national-extremist organization to the border with Crimea. For instance, within the year, Deniz Guiseley travelled to Jordan (there is a Turkish enclave not far from it in Syria), the Turkic-speaking regions of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Kosovo, Macedonia, and visit the Uyghurs in China. He has been nearly everywhere where Turkic-speaking peoples live and where Turkey has charitable projects. The visits were official and “Grey Wolves” openly participated in conferences, meetings and supplied teaching literature to the schools.
In fact, expansion into the Turkic-speaking regions of other countries and even seizure of territories is what Ankara and “Grey Wolves” pursue. One can get such impression also from the event that radicals organized for representatives of Iraqi Turks last year. At a meeting with armed militants and under flags of “Grey Wolves,” they said that Kirkuk (a town populated with Turkomans in the north of Iraq) must become Turkish. In a year after that event, Turkey deployed dozens of tanks and a battalion in the north of Iraq allegedly to train Kurds to fight ISIL.
When the relations of Turkey and Russia spoiled, “Grey Wolves” were again in the forefront of the conflict. National-extremists are behind not only the pilot’s shooting, but also all the anti-Russian actions that are made allegedly on behalf of the Turkish people. The November picket of the Russian Embassy allegedly against air strikes targeting Turkomans and the December march in Istanbul for protection of the rights of the Crimean-Tatars was the work of “Grey Wolves.” Among them, one can easily recognize the emissaries that travelled to the border with the peninsula earlier.
In Kherson region, the Crimean-Tatar radicals want to create something like Crimea where they will be dominating and claiming to govern the region. Many Crimean-Tatars that left the peninsula have settled in the western regions of Ukraine and in Kiev. Leader of Majlis Mustafa Cemilev has already called his compatriots to move to the Kherson region, as together it will be easier to fight for their rights. They will do it, considering that the Crimean-Tatars will have their own battalion. Mustafa Cemilev said the battalion will become part of the Defense Ministry and together with Refat Chubarov they left for Ankara for money to maintain it. The Syrian experience and the visit of “Grey Wolves” shows that Turkey can help not only with money. Keeping confidential the details, the Majlis leaders said they are satisfied with the meeting with the authorities. It is noteworthy that both the prime minister and the president of Turkey found time for Crimean-Tatars, though it is not surprising. After all, the current political doctrine of Turkey “protects” the Turkic peoples, and Crimea is not the last issue on Ankara’s agenda. It is not a fact that even the idea to settle the Kherson region with Crimean Tatars originated in Ukraine and not on the other side of the Black Sea.
On the one hand, Istanbul may pursue several short-term goals by creating an enclave of Crimean-Tatars on the border with the peninsula and funding its battalion. It will get a new area of influence that lost together with Crimea, create problems to Moscow in response to its policy on Syria that spoils Ankara’s plans to take control over the north of Syria where Syrian Turks live. In addition, if Turkey continues its confrontation with Russia, the West will close eyes on Ankara’s expansion into the Middle East as it has done for centuries. On the other hand, the new Crimean policy of Turkey perfectly fits into the long-term dream of Turkey’s ruling elite – recreation of the Ottoman Empire with its borders and vassal countries, along with Crimea and the Crimean Khanate that were part of it more than two hundred years ago.
It is not for nothing that Lenur Islyamov threatens that the Crimean-Tatar battalion will be the first to enter Crimea. It is hardly possible now, but Turks obviously entertain a hope that there is nothing permanent under the moon. Then they will manage to influence the Crimean-Tatars – something they cherished for years. Even when Crimea was in Ukraine, they yielded even to such Islamists as Hizb-ut Tahrir. Yet the Crimean-Tatars should not forget that for Turkey they are “Crimean Turks” not an indigenous community. Now the “Grey Wolves” say so, but the recent developments showed that their thoughts are not far from the ones of Ankara.