By Harut Sassounian,
I wrote last week about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plans to collect votes from Turkish Americans for his reelection next year by opening an office in Washington for his ruling party (AKP) and hiring his cousin, Dr. Halil Mutlu, as a registered lobbyist. Already, Erdogan has scored an initial political success in the United States with the victory of Turkish-American Dr. Mehmet Oz in the Pennsylvania Republican primary for the U.S. Senate.
This week, I would like to report on Pres. Erdogan’s similar political efforts in France by planting Turkish moles in the French legislature. This has been their long-term objective of Erdogan ever since 2010, when he urged his compatriots in France, during his visit to Paris, to run for political office.
Naturally, no one can object to Turks in France and the United States to run for political office. However, when such political action is prompted and supported by a foreign government, in this case Turkey, and its autocratic leader, serious concerns are raised that these Turkish politicians can become a tool in the hands of Erdogan to export his despotic policies beyond Turkish borders and propagate anti-Armenian positions.
Heeding Erdogan’s marching orders, Ali Gedikoglu, founder of the Strasbourg-based Equality and Justice Party, “presented 50 candidates in the 2017 [French] legislative elections,” Intelligence Online reported. “Gedikoglu is also known to be a long-time close associate of the Turkish foreign affairs minister and founding AKP member, Mevlüt Çavusoglu.”
For the upcoming June 12 and 19, 2022 French Parliamentary elections, the Turkish news website Medyaturk, in collaboration with the French version of Turkish government-owned Anadolu Agency, has been promoting three Turkish candidates: “French-Turkish dual citizens Celil Yilmaz (for 5th constituency of Ain); Yalcin Ayvali (14th constituency of Rhône); and Ramazan Calli (5th constituency of Saône-et-Loire),” a candidate of the Union of French Muslim Democrats. All three are “involved in the Strasbourg-based association Cojep (Conseil pour la justice, l’égalité et la paix), whose name translates as council for justice, equality and peace,” according to Intelligence Online. Created in 1985, Cojep has an annual budget of 300,000 euros. It “advocates for the interests of the Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ‘Turkish Justice and Development Party’ or AKP, to which its leadership is close.”
Candidate Celil Yilmaz is President of the Cojep association and former town councilor for Nantua (east of France). Cojep’s director Gedikoglu is an active denialist of the Armenian Genocide in the European Parliament where he is registered as a lobbyist with the Parliament’s Transparency Registry. He is also described as “the driving force behind the AKP’s media presence and charity work in France,” according to Intelligence Online.
Given the widespread recognition of the Armenian Genocide throughout Europe, Turks who deny the Genocide become the laughing stock of Europeans, just as in the United States, after both chambers of congress and Pres. Biden recognized the Genocide. Turkish denials of the Armenian Genocide are the equivalent of trying to prove that “the earth is flat.”
Candidate Yilmaz was “indicted in 2018 by the Paris prosecutor’s office for ‘incitement to hatred,’” according to Intelligence Online. “Yilmaz demonstrated his capacity to rally people to his side when, in just a few minutes via social media, he managed to gather a hundred Turks to counter a pro-Kurdish demonstration in front of the Turkish consulate in Lyon in January 2018.”
Intelligence Online revealed that “Yilmaz also arranged for Cojep staff to meet with an official delegation from the Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC] that had travelled to talk with senior AKP members at its headquarters in Turkey in August 2021. The DRC party included President Félix Tshisekedi’s brother Roger Tshisekedi. Yilmaz also relies on Cojep’s Vice President for international relations, Sati Arik, who is a substitute on the board of AKP’s women’s branch ‘AKP Kadin Kollari.’ Arik, who hails from Strasbourg, is close to the Turkish-German AKP Member of Parliament Zafer Sirakaya. According to her biography on the party’s website, she writes reports on “Muslims in France” for Sirakaya. The other two candidates, Ayvali and Calli, only show their association with Cojep via social media, though Calli is its local contact person for Montceau-les-Mines, eastern France.”
In addition to the United States and France, Erdogan has set up a chain of lobbying groups throughout Europe. They consist of “Union of European Turkish Democrats (Union des démocrates turcs européens) created by the AKP in Brussels [Belgium] in 2003 to back Turkey’s candidature to join the European Union. This entity has since become the parent company of several micro-parties close to the AKP, such as “Be.one” in Belgium, the Multicultural Law Party (Multicultural Recht Partij) in the Netherlands and the Alliance for Innovation and Justice (Bündnis für Innovation und Gerechtigkeit) in Germany,” according to Intelligence Online.
This extensive Turkish lobbying effort should be confronted by everyone, not just Armenians. Even though Turkey is a bankrupt country, Pres. Erdogan, has chosen to use his country’s limited financial resources to arm its military and disseminate Turkish propaganda around the world.