Austria’s government has announced plans to shut down at least 7 mosques and expel over 50 imams in what is being called the first use of the 2015 . The laws require imams to speak German and also bans Muslim organizations from receiving foreign funding. The seven mosques were investigated by the Austria religious affairs authority, after images surfaced in April of children re-enacting the WWI battle of Gallipoli at a Turkish mosque. Of the over 50 imams that are under investigation, two have received deportation orders and the rest are under investigation and could face deportation orders soon.
Austria is home to over 500,000 Muslims of most of whom are of Turkish origin.
At least 40 imams are members of the Union of Turkish-Islamic Cultural Association in Europe (ATIB), a group suspected of close ties to the Turkish government and the Turkish nationalist group, the Grey Wolves. The Turkish-Islamic Cultural Associations (ATIB) organization is a branch of Turkey’s religious affairs agency known as the Diyanet.
The Grey Wolves are an unofficial paramilitary wing of the Turkish Nationalist Movement Party. The Grey Wolves support the establishment of a single Turkish nation that stretches from the Balkans to Central Asia. The Grey Wolves backed Turkish President Erdogan in restarting hostilities with Kurdish parties in Turkey after the ceasefire broke down in 2015. The Grey Wolves are known to engage in violence, and members have killed left-wing activists, as well as Kurdish activists, since the group’s formation in the late 1960s. Grey Wolves members have also been spotted fighting in Syria.
The Turkish government was quick to call the charges violations of minority rights and social integration politics.
The remaining six mosques are suspected of links to the Arab Religious Community, which has been ordered closed by the Austrian government following accusations that the group promotes pro-jihadist doctrines, and has ties to Islamic State and Al Qaeda.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that shutting down the Turkish nationalist mosque in Vienna and dissolving the Arab Religious Community mosques are just the beginning of enforcing the ‘Law on Islam’. Kurz goes further stating that “Parallel societies, political Islam and radicalization have no place in our country.”
Austrian-Turkey relations have been degrading in recent years.
The current prime minister of Austria Sebastian Kurz’s campaign responded to public concerns about Muslim immigration and the integration of immigrants. Kurz has sought for the European Union to limit ties to Turkey, which in turn led Turkey to veto NATO cooperation with Austria. Turkey is a full-fledged NATO member while Austria is not a member, due to Soviet demands in the 1955 Austria State treaty which ended occupation of the country following World War II.
Turkey is looking to expand the influx of immigrants into Europe, while at the same time seeking EU funds for housing . In July, Kurz will become president of the EU and said he will work on securing the external borders of the EU countries.
The coming weeks will tell how much effect the Austrian law has on the relations of Turkey and Austria, but are likely to degrade already weakened relations.