For some Americans, concerns about Russian spying and interference in its elections are growing, with new reports emerging nearly every day. But in Europe, officials are fighting off an even greater incursion from another country, which is now spying even on civilians: Turkey.
Recent investigations and leaks in Germany, Austria and The Netherlands confirm ongoing efforts by Turkey’s government to intimidate European-Turkish citizens suspected of having ties to Fethullah Gulen, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s one-time ally, whom he now blames for the failed coup against him last July. Imams in Germany connected to the Turkish state, for instance, admitted to spying on teachers in German state-run schools. Even teachers and parents have been asked to spy on the classes and report in any criticism of Erdogan or his government. In Austria, parliamentarian Peter Pilz has referred to a “global spying network,” with Austria’s union of Turkish-Islamic groups sending reports on Gulen-tied organizations back to Ankara. Targets have included educational institutions, cultural centers, and various NGOs. And in The Netherlands, the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam has revoked the passports of several Dutch-Turks thought to support Gulen. (Turkey maintains consular offices in several Dutch cities; to date, reports of passports being revoked are limited to the Rotterdam office.)
Erdogan’s involvement in European affairs beyond Turkey’s borders, especially in the affairs of Europeans of Turkish descent, is nothing new. In 2008, while speaking at a rally in Cologne, Germany, he encouraged all European Turks to resist assimilation, which he called “a crime against humanity.” In 2013, he interfered in a Dutch child abuse case against a Dutch-Turkish mother after the child was given over to lesbian foster parents. And last year, he called on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to prosecute a German comedian who had written a song critical of him.
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