Eleven men sit around a conference table, mugs of coffee at their side, with the German and Turkish flags proudly displayed at the head. It’s an innocuous snapshot shared on social media, announcing a new cooperation. But when critics took notice of the photo, it disappeared as quickly as it was posted.
The reason for this sudden deletion? The photo was taken at premises owned by the IGMG mosque association, and the men in the picture are members of a committee that the ruling party AKP founded for the upcoming election campaign. The photo revealed what the IGMG had been trying to hide — their involvement in the election campaign of the Turkish ruling party in Germany.
The IGMG, or Islamische Gemeinschaft Millî Görüş, is part of a political movement whose goal is to transform Turkey into an Islamic state. The movement was founded in 1969 by Necmettin Erbakan, former Turkish Prime Minister and head of the Islamist Felicity Party in Turkey, until his death. The ideology and political agenda of Millî Görüş calls for an end to the secular regime in Turkey through education and preaching. IGMG oversees the work of Millî Görüş chapters in at least 12 European countries and claims to have over 127,000 members worldwide, portraying itself as independent from the Turkish state. IGMG secretary general, Ali Mete, claimed in an interview in January that there is no AKP election campaign in IGMG mosques.
However, recent events suggest otherwise. The AKP lobby group Union of International Democrats (UID) reported hundreds of joint events with the IGMG in an end-of-year presentation. And now, an organizational chart obtained by GIOR shows that a separate committee has been set up to coordinate the election campaign, headed by AKP deputy Muhammed Fatih Toprak. The committee comprises several longtime Erdogan government lobbyists and prominent UID members.
UID claims to be a voluntary NGO founded in 2004 that operates in several European countries. It aims to enhance the economic, political, and social activities of Turks and “sister communities” abroad while combating Islamophobia without alienating their identities and values. However, the German Office for the Protection of the Constitution has classified the UID as “nationalist” and incompatible with Germany’s free democratic order. The committee also includes former UID president Bülent Bilgi, UID Secretary General Zuhal Aksoy, and former chairman of the Bavarian regional association Mehmet Akkoc.
According to a tweet, Turkish-German influencer Tugrul Selmanoglu has been appointed as the head of the Promotion and Media Unit. The 43-year-old, who boasts a whopping 360,000 followers on Facebook, is known for his staunch support of President Erdogan. Selmanoglu has not been shy in using his social media platform to spread political messages. Recently, he seized on the Russian attack on Ukraine to appeal to young Turks. In a post, he warned his followers not to make the same mistake as the Ukrainians who had elected a comedian as their president, only to lose their country to Russia.
The AKP is mobilizing a mass of campaigners, relying on cooperation with associations close to Islamist, nationalist, and far-right camps. Besides IGMG, the Foreign Elections Coordination Center also visited the ATIB community in Dortmund and agreed to create a consultative body among the associations. The German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution considers ATIB part of the extreme right-wing Ülkücü movement, a splinter group of the German arm of the Turkish MHP party. Intelligence from security circles reveals that the organization has increasingly moved closer to the AKP in recent years, as evidenced by dozens of meetings and photo opportunities between ATIB officials and party representatives.
As the upcoming Turkish election approaches, it seems that the AKP is relying on cooperation with associations that hold right-wing and Islamist extremist views. The involvement of IGMG and ATIB in the election campaign raises questions about the extent of the AKP’s influence in the Turkish diaspora in Germany and Europe and their commitment to democratic values.