Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned in front of the symbolic monument of Hagia Sophia that red vests (gilets rouges) could become a new threat in France if his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, remains in power. His veiled threat might be construed as a warning for the deployment of jihadists his government has aided and abetted for years as well as the Grey Wolves his far-right nationalist allies have been promoting with government resources.
Although Erdoğan did not give further information on the nature of the red vests whom France will have to deal with, many believe Erdoğan and his associates are pondering the use of proxies to stir up trouble for the French. Over the last decade the Turkish president has been transformed into an advocate of spreading extremism through the activities of his long-arm institutions around the world while seeking new methods to influence the Turkish diaspora in Europe. The Erdoğan government has already dispatched trained jihadists to fight for the groups it has been trying to prop up in Syria, Libya and Azerbaijan.
President Erdoğan has been accused by the international community of using jihadists to push forward his political agenda in a wider region, contributing to violence and promoting Islamist terrorism in Europe. He has not hesitated to project himself as the sole protector of Islam and Muslims in Europe.
On the other hand, the Turkish government considers its diaspora in Europe as a foreign policy instrument and has invested substantial resources in the growth of both government and nongovernmental organizations to further its political agenda throughout Europe.
Alaattin Çakıcı, Turkey’s most notorious mafia leader who was convicted and served time on multiple charges from organized crime to drug trafficking, was released from prison thanks to a government amnesty and has now become part of the de-facto coalition government in Turkey run by a trio of Islamists, far-right elements and neo-nationalists. Çakıcı’s background in the far right Grey Wolves (Bozkurtlar or Ülkü Ocakları, as they are known in Turkish) and his secret missions overseas suggest Erdoğan and his allies want to put a known crime machine at work running an intimidation campaign both at home and abroad.
The tensions between Turkey and France peaked as France moved to crack down on Islamist extremism after several attacks on its soil.
“Macron is trouble for France. With Macron, France is going through a very, very dangerous period. I hope France will get rid of Macron as soon as possible,” Erdoğan told reporters after Friday prayers at Hagia Sophia on December 4.
Hagia Sophia was converted back into a mosque last July, sparking a debate on the re-establishment of the caliphate in Turkey.
He said the French should dump their leader, “otherwise they will not be able to get rid of the yellow vests,” referring to the protest movement that erupted in France in 2018. “The yellow vests could later turn into red vests. [France] is facing this kind of trouble,” Erdoğan stressed.
He has previously suggested that Macron get “mental checkups” and urged the Turkish people to boycott French-labeled products.
Erdoğan had also slammed his French counterpart in October 2019 over Macron’s criticism of Turkey’s military operation in northeast Syria, saying that he was suffering from “brain death.” Following Erdoğan’s remarks, the Turkish ambassador in Paris was summoned by the French foreign ministry.
At a trilateral summit in October, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi warned the leaders of Greece and Cyprus about a potential “wave of jihadists” in the wider region of the eastern Mediterranean as well as about how Erdoğan has engaged Islamist terrorism in his plans, according to Greek media.
Similarly, Cem Özdemir, a former leader of the Greens and one of Germany’s highest-profile politicians of Turkish origin, accused the Turkish president of promoting Islamic terrorism in Europe. “Measures must be taken against all these inciters who continue to fuel Islamist extremism for their own purposes, motivated by cheap interests,” he told the German Deutschland network in October.
Erdoğan has repeatedly warned Western nations that he would release people who were believed to be members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and send them back to their home countries if governments continued to pressure Turkey with sanctions.
Nordic Monitor previously released the latest report of the UN Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team revealing that Turkey continues to be an important transit hub for foreign terrorists and jihadists and a safe haven for ISIS-affiliated groups across the region as well as for women escaping from camps in Syria.
In March 2017 President Erdoğan threatened some countries with a possible reaction from his supporters living in Europe.
Turkey was mired in a diplomatic row with Germany and the Netherlands after they banned Turkish officials from campaigning in support of a 2017 referendum to boost the Turkish president’s power.
“If Europe continues this way, no European in any part of the world can walk safely on the streets. … Turkey is not a country you can push or pull around, not a country whose citizens you can drag on the ground,” Erdoğan told journalists at the time.
Last month France banned the far-right Grey Wolves, which is linked to a top ally of the Turkish president and is seen as the extremist wing of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The group was accused by the French government of “extremely violent actions,” spreading “extremely violent threats” and creating “incitement to hatred against authorities and Armenians.”
French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal stated that an Armenian memorial near the eastern city of Lyon was found defaced with pro-Turkish slogans including “Grey Wolves” and “RTE,” in reference to President Erdoğan.
France on October 24 recalled its ambassador to Turkey for consultations after Erdoğan questioned the mental health of his French counterpart Macron.
“President Erdoğan’s comments are unacceptable. Excess and rudeness are not a method. We demand that Erdoğan change the course of his policy because it is dangerous in every respect,” a French presidential official told AFP.
Erdoğan’s remarks at a local party congress were an apparent response to statements by Macron about “Islamist separatism” that came following the beheading of Samuel Paty outside a school in a Paris suburb. The teacher had shown cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad during a class on free speech.
Tensions between NATO allies France and Turkey have escalated in recent months over issues that include the fighting in Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh.