In a meeting with representatives of a Turkish-backed diaspora group in Geneva, Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, urged his supporters in Europe and other countries to work hard to secure important posts in the governments of their host countries, pledging them the support of Turkish government agencies.
Erdoğan attended a workshop with representatives of the Union of International Democrats (UID, formerly UETD) in Geneva on the sidelines of the Global Refugee Forum held December 16-18, 2019.
UID is often described as the long arm of President Erdoğan in Europe for mobilizing the Turkish and Muslim diasporas for the goals of the political Islamist rulers back in Turkey.
In his speech Erdoğan underlined that Turks living in Europe should try to get important positions in the governments of their host countries. Erdoğan also asked UID country representatives to work with other diaspora groups and promised the full support of Turkish government agencies.
The UID meeting was attended by Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, Technology and Industry Minister Mustafa Varank, ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) officials and other government representatives.
The Turkish government regularly briefs UID representatives on its policies and priorities and coordinates UID activities. The most recent coordination workshop was held in Antalya, a tourist destination in southern Turkey, on November 8-10, 2019. The meeting once more revealed the UID links to President Erdoğan’s government and how it is controlled by ruling party officials.
Thirty-eight representatives from 17 European countries attended the workshop organized by the AKP Antalya branch. The UID representatives were hosted at the popular Ramada Hotel by Turkey’s ruling party.
On November 8, the UID members were briefed by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on a military operation in northern Syria, bilateral relations with European countries and a number of foreign policy issues. Çavuşoğlu was accompanied by Deputy Foreign Minister Yavuz Selim Kıran, in charge of consular affairs at the ministry.
Cevdet Yılmaz, chairman of the AKP’s foreign affairs department and former minister of development, informed participants about party policies and possible projects and underlined the importance of lobbying in Europe, saying, “The number of Turks living abroad has reached 7 million, and they should engage in politics, economy, sports and the arts in order to lobby for Turkey.”
Then, Abdullah Eren, the head of the diaspora agency, the Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (YTB), described Turkish diaspora policy and explained YTB activities focusing on Turks in Europe. Moreover, the UID representatives noted local challenges faced by diaspora members and their suggestions for overcoming these problems.
Participants representing UID country or regional branches also discussed UID’s long-term strategy and its role in Turkish communities in Europe.
Zafer Sırakaya, a lawmaker from the ruling party, high-level party officials, UID President Bülent Bilgi and Vice President Ayşe Aşut and head of the youth branch Metehan Çapacı were also present during the workshop.
According to its web page, UID was originally founded in in Cologne in 2004 as the Union of Turkish Democrats of the European Union (UETD) and changed its name to UID in 2018 at a convention in Sarajevo attended by President Erdoğan as keynote speaker, reflecting the ambitions of the group to expand its operations beyond Europe. It currently has 152 offices in 17 countries: Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Czechia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
In 2017 an investigative report by German police linked Ankara to a boxing gang in Germany accused of going after opponents of the Turkish government. According to the investigation Turkish parliamentarian Metin Külünk provided money to a boxing gang, Osmanen Germania, in Germany to buy weapons, organize protests and go after critics of the Erdoğan government, German media reported. The police investigations also suggested Osmanen Germania has contact with UID, the AKP’s external lobbying group.