Wednesday, 24 September 2014

What the Columnists Say

Published in Roundup of Columnists

The question whether or not and to what extent Turkey is going to participate in the fight against ISIS is at the center of the attention of the Turkish columnists after the release of the Turkish hostages held by ISIS. Abdülkadir Selvi in the leading pro-government daily Yeni Şafak writes that Turkey is never going to participate in operations “directed against the Islamic world.”  Ali Bayramoğlu, also in Yeni Şafak, writes that Turkey is concerned that the fight against ISIS is going to bestow new legitimacy on Bashar al-Assad, and that the PKK is going to become empowered as a part of the coalition. Ergun Babahan on the t24 news site cites Kurdish news sources that claim that Turkey has been providing weapons and ammunition to ISIS forces that have laid siege on Kobane, and warns that the Kurds cannot be controlled by using the methods of the Cold War.


Abdülkadir Selvi in Yeni Şafak asks if Turkey’s policies toward ISIS are going to change, now that the hostages have been released. Let me put it even more bluntly: is Turkey going to take part in the coalition against ISIS? Turkey declared ISIS to be a terrorist organization on October 10, 2013. Turkey is the country that has incurred most costs than any country because of ISIS’ actions. As of yesterday, seventy thousand refugees crossed our border. Meanwhile, the United States, which let alone seventy thousand, has not even provided a piece of bread for seven people, has taken upon itself to lead the fight against ISIS. The inventor of ISIS is the U.S. Again, the U.S. is the one country about whom we cannot be sure that it will not cooperate with ISIS tomorrow. The United States is going to depart, while we are going to continue to live in this location. Turkey is on board when it comes to taking measures like establishing buffer zones. But it is on when it comes to providing boots on the ground or operations like allowing the use of the İncirlik base. To participate in operations directed against the Islamic world would amount to the bankruptcy of Turkey’s Middle Eastern vision.


Ali Bayramoğlu in Yeni Şafak writes that Turkey’s three concerns in the fight against ISIS are that Bashar al-Assad is going to gain legitimacy, that the PKK is going to become a part of the coalition, leading to a change of the political balances, and that more refugees are going to cross the border. Indeed, these concerns are reflected in the fact that Turkey’s concrete proposals are focused on the establishment of buffer zones; this is as much about the concerns above as it is about humanitarian reasons. Yet even if a UN decision authorizing buffer zones – an unlikely event – were to be taken, the military protection that the buffer zones are going to require cannot be expected to affect the ISIS-PKK-PYD equation. In other words, the strengthening of PKK-PYD which Turkey is concerned about is not poised to be reversed in any circumstance. In this situation, the most realistic and effective option for Turkey is to play the Kurdish card. The Kurdish Peshmerga, PYD and PKK, is the only actor that can balance and push back ISIS in the Kurds’ own sections. Regardless of what Turkey and other countries think, regardless of how the story of ISIS is going to end, the Kurds are going to be the main organizing force of those regions by the middle of the 21st century.


Ergun Babahan on the t24 news site observes that Kurdish media and news agencies have been claiming that Turkey’s direct aid to ISIS has increased during the last days. Just before the hostages were released, these sources claimed that a train from Turkey had carried ammunitions and weapons to the ISIS forces that are besieging Kobane. So far, Ankara has not made a statement commenting these allegations. It’s too early to tell whether or not the hostages that were held by ISIS were released as a result of such an agreement. However, the fact that the ISIS has been an interlocutor and that a serious bargain has taken place was made public yesterday by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. There is an effort made to ensure that an entity that could cause trouble for Turkey in Kobane does not come into being, by the use of ISIS. It is obvious that the goal is to create a Syria on the basis of the Sunni-Arab population. That’s a plan that may stand a chance of success in the short run but that in the long run carries the risk of turning the countries of the region, chief among them Turkey, into lakes of blood. There’s a reality that all the countries of the region, starting with Ankara, need to recognize: You cannot rule millions of Kurds spread out in four different countries with the methods of the Cold War.


Rusen Çakır in Vatan writes about ISIS recruitment in Turkey. Al-Qaeda already had a network in Turkey to recruit volunteers, send them to the jihad areas, and procure logistic necessities. It is being said that ever since Mosul fell, this network has been used by ISIS. We know that a large number of Kurds from Iraq and Turkey have joined ISIS. One reason is that the percentage of religious Kurds is above average, and another is that especially in Turkey, Kurdish youths are poor, deprived, and hopeless. ISIS can be attractive for Kurdish youths in the metropolitan suburbs. This also has a political aspect: for those Kurds who do not like the PKK or are opposed to it, joining ISIS is an opportunity to defy or challenge it. It is easy to go from Turkey to Syria or Iraq and fight in ISIS ranks. First of all, they are very close. Secondly, ISIS and similar groups can easily organize, recruit volunteers, and send them to the jihad regions. Furthermore, there is a convenient political atmosphere because Ankara is extremely determined to topple the al-Assad regime. In terms of ease, we must also draw attention to the following aspect of the issue: if these people try to do in Turkey one tenth of what they do in Syria and Iraq, they will face significant reaction, starting from the pious. In other words, jihad, which is difficult in Turkey (at least for now) can be quite easy in other lands.


Ali Bulaç in Zaman writes that the Muslim Brotherhood has only resorted to arms three times during its eighty five year long history. The first of these occasions was the war (against Israel) in 1948. The second occasion was when the Brotherhood took up arms was in Syria in 1982.  That time, the Brotherhood committed a major mistake by believing that it could topple the Baath regime in an armed insurrection. The third occasion came, again in Syria in 2011. In fact, had the reasonable leaders of the Brotherhood prevailed, there would not have been an insurrection. Because they knew that they were very weak on the ground. And moreover, Bashar Assad was unlike his father Hafez. He had taken Turkey as a model and he was implementing reforms that were overhauling the system. Besides, contrary to what is claimed, Syria was not a sectarian, Alawite dictatorship; 85 percent of the military officers were Sunnis and Sunnis dominated the bureaucracy and the world of business. In 2011, Assad had commissioned new madrassahs in order to breathe new life into Islamic sciences. If Syria had been left to its own devices, the country would have changed and the Brotherhood would have been in a position of being able to participate in legal politics. The Sunni ulama and leaders desperately warned that a new armed insurrection would bring disaster. Unfortunately, Turkey committed a major mistake and totally misread Syria, thinking that Assad was going to be toppled by abetting the Brotherhood which lacked support on the ground.

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The Turkey Analyst is a publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Joint Center, designed to bring authoritative analysis and news on the rapidly developing domestic and foreign policy issues in Turkey. It includes topical analysis, as well as a summary of the Turkish media debate.


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