As Thai intelligence agencies try to catch the culprits of the Bangkok blast, many people instinctively thought that Thai ISIS recruits or al-Qaeda sleeper cells might be responsible. It seems however, that both these PR hungry organisations would have not only claimed responsibility for the attack but within hours would have flooded social media with their own slickly produced propaganda films. So, if they did not do it, who did? Often people seem to forget that there is no dearth of psychotic and sociopathic groups in nearly every country and amongst most ethnic and religious groups.
As theories abound about the perpetrators of the attack at a Hindu temple (which actually welcomes mostly Chinese pilgrims), the name of one ultranationalist group has not received as much coverage as it should have. In fact, just recently Bozkurtlar or The Grey Wolves have been in the news not because of terrorism but because of a Victoria's Secret lingerie model. The Daily Mail recently published a video in which Adriana Lima was seen saying "Bozkurtlar" and then making the sign of the group with her little finger and index finger standing for the ears of the wolf and the thumb and middle fingers forming the snout. Poor Ms Lima thought it was the sign for a gym in Turkey and so happily obliged the Turkish man who requested her to say the word and flash the sign.
"[T]he Grey Wolves have been staunch ethno-nationalists with a particular penchant for targeting non-Turkish ethnic groups like the Alawis, Kurds and Armenians..."
The Grey Wolves are an ultra-nationalist, neo-fascist Turkish group that serve as the unofficial militant arm of the Nationalist Movement Party or MHP. Founded as the youth wing of the National Action Party in the 1960s by Colonel Aspaslan Turkes, the Grey Wolves have been staunch ethno-nationalists with a particular penchant for targeting non-Turkish ethnic groups like the Alawis, Kurds and Armenians and for also killing large numbers of the Turkish left. As is often the case of right-wing parties, the symbol of the wolf has been expropriated from Turkish folklore -- it is the national animal. Interestingly, Ataturk was often referred to as a Grey Wolf and indeed this is the title of one of his biographies.
Like most other such terrorist groups, the Grey Wolves have had links -- always denied -- with the Turkish intelligence agencies, especially when it came to fighting the Kurds. When it came to a failed assassination attempt on Pope Jean Paul II in 1981, there was a blame game as to whether the Soviets had worked through Bulgarian intelligence to kill the Pope while using a member of the Grey Wolves. It is worth keeping in mind that historically the Grey Wolves have been deeply opposed to all shades of "the left". In the 1970s when the mujahideen were the good guys fighting alongside the Americans against the Soviets, the Grey Wolves were also supplied weapons by Counter Guerrilla, a group left behind by NATO and the CIA in order to resist Russian influence.
Domestically in Turkey, the parent organisation of the Grey Wolves, the MHP was the subject of controversy when in 2013 Erdogan publicly referred to them as "brothers" and even pointed out MHP supporters at a public rally. The leadership of the MHP said the entire thing was staged but this public gesture by Erdogan was evidence of the increasing importance of the conservative, nationalistic and religious right wing. Turkish commentators have written about how pro-Gulen bureaucrats in the government are being replaced by those sympathetic to the MHP.
Fethullah Gulen is a self-exiled and self-fashioned "Sufi" Islamic scholar with an extensive network of educational schools and trusts in Turkey, Central Asia and the Balkans. Head of a popular movement with supporters within and outside Turkey, he lives in America and is politically opposed to Erdogan whose government issued an arrest warrant for him last year. Despite differences with Erdogan, Gulen also espouses the uniqueness of Turkish Islam and its inherent superiority to the religion in other countries.
"Regardless of whether the Grey Wolves are responsible for the Bangkok bomb blast, the fact is that ethno-nationalist terrorism is a potent threat to global security."
Internationally, over the years, the Grey Wolves have been involved in various theatres including Azerbaijan, Belgium, Chechnya, France, Germany, Kazakhstan -- where they were banned in 2005 --and South-West China. Anthony Davis, a security analyst, made a convincing case at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Bangkok about the potential involvement of the Grey Wolves in the shrine bombing. Citing widespread anger and an attack on the Thai embassy in Istanbul in July when more than a 100 ethnic Uyghurs were repatriated to China from Thailand, Davis persuasively argued about the reasons for this being an attack orchestrated by the Grey Wolves.
The Grey Wolves support the Uyghurs not only because they are fellow Muslims but, perhaps more importantly, because they claim ethnic solidarity with them. The Uyghurs refer to Xinjiang as East Turkestan. Just last month, Korean tourists were mistakenly attacked by members of the Grey Wolves who thought they were Chinese, thus further proving their antipathy towards China. Interestingly, amongst the many variants of the founding myth of the Turkic people is the story of a she-wolf who brought up a young boy who survived after the entire village was killed by Chinese attackers. The Turkic people are believed to be the descendants of a son produced from the union of the she-wolf and the boy.
At a time when right wing groups of various shades are becoming increasingly popular in Europe, it is perhaps not surprising that Turkey too, sandwiched between Europe and Asia while dreaming of the lost glory of the Ottoman Empire, is increasingly dominated by right wing nationalist politics. Of course, it has been convenient for this relatively unknown Turkish militant outfit to shift its position to accommodate a more conservative Muslim stance within Turkey but irrespective of this, the Grey Wolves remain at their core ethnic ultra-nationalists. Regardless of whether the Grey Wolves are responsible for the Bangkok bomb blast, the fact is that ethno-nationalist terrorism is a potent threat to global security. The map of the world is relatively new as it exists today and there are plenty of people all over the world who dream of expanding their country's borders to reflect some distant glorious past. In addition to religious extremism, xenophobic nationalism and claims of ethnic superiority remain pressing issues in our increasingly fractured and splintered world.