Euro 2024: Erdogan to attend Turkey game amid diplomatic row

Euro 2024: Erdogan to attend Turkey game amid diplomatic row
Euro 2024: Erdogan to attend Turkey game amid diplomatic row

Erdogan has canceled a visit to Azerbaijan to attend the weekend game following controversy over a Turkish footballer’s gesture. Demiral’s wolf salute has prompted Berlin and Ankara to summon each others’ ambassadors.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is attending Turkey’s football game against the Netherlands this weekend, following controversy over a Turkish footballer’s celebratory gesture.

Merih Demiral celebrated his second goal against Austria in a group of 16 knockout game in the Euro 2024 earlier this week by a gesture associated with an ultra-nationalist group.

The tournament organizer, UEFA, said it was investigating the gesture for “inappropriate behavior,” while host Germany slammed the player’s actions.

Ankara has defended the Turkish player, describing Berlin’s reaction as “xenophobia.”

How has Ankara reacted?

Ankara summoned the German ambassador on Wednesday over the reaction to Demiral’s gesture.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry later defended Demiral, saying the gesture he made was a historical and cultural symbol that did not target anyone during his celebration of joy.

The 26-year-old defender had made the so-called wolf salute — a symbol of Turkey’s far-right “Gray Wolves” — with both hands. The player also denied his gesture had a “hidden message,” stressing it was purely an expression of his “Turkish identity.”

Erdogan did not directly comment on the controversy. However, the presidency confirmed to the French AFP news agency that he will attend the Saturday quarter-final game.

Presidential sources told the German DPA news agency that the Turkish president has canceled a planned trip to Azerbaijan scheduled for the same day.

Erdogan was likely using the sports disagreement as an opportunity “to score a goal” domestically, describing the Turkish president as “someone who knows both football and politics very well.”

Hahn speculated that Erdogan’s last-minute change of schedule aimed to “demonstrate power in this diplomatic row with Germany, while at the same time he wants to appease nationalist voters here in Turkey who’ve been very unhappy with how Erdogan manages the economy and other issues, especially migration.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he also makes this wolf gesture from the VIP box in Berlin in the stadium,” Hahn said.

Germany summons Turkish ambassador

Berlin has meanwhile blasted Demiral’s salute. On Thursday, the Foreign Ministry announced summoning the Turkish envoy.

“As Euro 2024 hosts, we hope that sports brings people together,” the ministry said on social media platform X, formerly Twitter.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser warned that “the symbols of Turkish right-wing extremists have no place in our stadiums” and said that “using the European football championships as a platform for racism is completely unacceptable.”

What is the ‘Gray Wolf salute’?

Right-wing extremists have claimed the wolf as their symbol, in reference to a gray wolf from Turkish mythology.

The Gray Wolves, who adopted this symbol as their own, are regarded as the military wing of Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), an ally of Erdogan’s AK party. The group was established in the late 1960s and became prominent amid political violence in the late 1970s.

German authorities characterize the group’s ideology as ultranationalist, anti-Semitic and racist.

The group holds hostile views toward Kurdish, Armenian, Jewish and Christian people, and believes in the superiority of the Turkish nation. In the past, members of the Gray Wolves committed numerous acts of violence, including murder, particularly in the 1970s.

The Gray Wolf gesture is legally prohibited in Austria but not in Germany, but a similar ban is being discussed.

DW Chief Political Correspondent Nina Haase said that the latest controversy due to Demiral’s wolf salute has reignited a decades-long debate in Germany, home to the biggest Turkish diaspora, regarding the Gray Wolves.

“Several political groups, including members from parties in the government, are now calling for the Gray Wolves and their symbols to be banned here after this incident,” she said.

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