Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan kicked off his election campaign for Turkish voters in Europe with a closed-door meeting not on his official schedule on November 3.
Nordic Monitor has learned that during the “European-based umbrella NGO gathering” to which only Islamist and pro-pro-government foundations operating in Europe were invited, Erdoğan shared details about his election campaign, titled “The Century of Turkey,” which he recently unveiled. Secular and opposition organizations in Europe were not invited to the meeting.
Contrary to previous similar meetings held by Erdoğan, the presidency’s office did not share any content or photos from the private gathering. Nordic Monitor has learned that at the meeting, which also included the participation of top bureaucrats, Erdoğan mentioned the importance of Muslims living in Europe acting together and that concrete solutions would be realized for the problems of the Turkish diaspora by the elections in June 2023.
For instance, the penalty imposed on Turkish citizens living abroad who leave their cars in Turkey for a period of time even if they are out of the country, was reduced from 1,650 euros to around 100 euros with a new regulation last week.
Abdullah Eren, the head of the Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (YTB) and a participant of the gathering on November 3, said during a meeting of the parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee on April 7 that they had taken measures to prevent the assets of citizens living abroad from being detected by the countries in which they live. European countries demand that information on assets, income and bank deposits belonging to Turkish citizens living in Europe be accessible for them to prevent tax evasion and unfairly benefiting from social assistance.
In the 2018 presidential elections, there were a total of 3,032,206 voters registered abroad, but the turnout was only 44 percent, meaning that 1,335,901 people voted for the presidential candidates. Erdoğan had achieved success well ahead of his rivals by garnering 59.41 percent of these votes.
However, this success notwithstanding, the party that is exerting the most effort to win the votes of the European diaspora in the upcoming elections is again the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The ruling party carries out its activities in Europe through an association called the Union of International Democrats (UID). AKP deputies visit European voters and mosques almost every week in groups under the coordination of the UID. The UID is often described as the long arm of President Erdoğan in Europe for mobilizing the Turkish and Muslim diasporas for the goals of political Islamists back in Turkey. Turkish government agencies, particularly the Turkish Development and Cooperation Agency (TIKA) and the YTB, are mobilizing their resources to support the UID. In addition, religious associations funded by Turkey including the Turkey Youth Foundation (TÜGVA), which is run by the Erdoğan family, have close relations with the UID. In documents that were revealed by journalist Metin Cihan in January 2022, TÜGVA’s operations abroad using state facilities were exposed. The foundation is believed to be involved in intelligence operations abroad.
Erdoğan frequently meets with UID delegations and gives them various instructions. Erdoğan last year instructed UID members to be more aggressive and active, telling them, “Don’t defend. Attack, explain our cause!” promising that Turkish state institutions would provide them with increased assistance.
He also urged his supporters to work hard to secure important posts in the governments of their host countries, pledging them the support of Turkish government agencies during a workshop with a representative of the UID in 2019.
Kemal Ergün, head of the Islamist National View Foundation (Die Islamische Gemeinschaft Millî Görüş) headquartered in Germany, was among the participants of the meeting. National View has traditionally been close to the political stance of Turkey’s first Islamist prime minister, the late Necmettin Erbakan, and his successors. Erdoğan, a former member of Milli Görüs, said he took off his National View hat and would pursue a more liberal policy, distancing himself from his former colleagues in 2001. However, after Erdoğan’s consolidation of power, defeating the military tutelage and reintroducing his former Islamist agenda, the supporters of Milli Görüş began to vote for Erdoğan to a large extent. Erdoğan attaches great importance to the group whether at home or abroad since each and every vote will be critical.
Last year President Erdoğan struck a deal with Oğuzhan Asiltürk, leader of National View in Turkey and chairman of the National Vision Foundation, in order to expand his support base and woo the rest of the Islamists who questioned his rule. Asiltürk made several public statements in support of Erdoğan after the two met in private. The project was dealt a blow when Asiltürk passed away at age 86 on October 1, 2021.
The Erdoğan government filled many civil service positions with people with a National View background after a massive purge in 2016 in which nearly 150,000 people were dismissed from public service and the military by presidential decrees issued by Erdoğan.
Nordic Monitor previously reported that Erdoğan mobilized his religious operatives working in foreign countries to canvass the diaspora in order to bring him votes critical to his political survival amid a worsening outlook for Turkey’s economy.
Religious affairs attachés serving in Turkish embassies and consulates in Europe were brought to the presidential palace on June 2 for a private audience with Erdoğan. No word on the content of the talks was ever reported by the Turkish press, meaning the presidential communications office did not share anything with news outlets.
Meanwhile, Şentürk Doğruyol, president of the Federation of German Democratic Nationalist Associations (Grey Wolves), Hayrat Foundation European Representative Mehmet Köroğlu; and representatives from businessmen’s organizations close to Erdoğan also attended the meeting.
France had 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), a staunch supporter of the Erdoğan government.