IR : Is Turkey supporting ISIS? If so, why?
Answer by Jon Davis:
Support takes on many forms. If one were to ask if Turkey is providing assistance to the Islamic State in the form of weapons, training, and financing, I've seen no evidence to validate that. There is, however, much more to the point that seems to imply that yes, Turkey is supporting ISIL through inaction and as a roadblock, preventing anti-ISIL Kurdish forces in taking part in the fighting of North central Syria. Even more dangerous, there may be a few very good reasons why the Turks would want to see ISIL forces succeed, in as far as it reaches their own borders.
Ian Traynor with The Guardian recently posted an article on the growing dissent brewing in Turkey as government officials remain aloof towards towards the siege "a stones throw from their borders".
To understand the conflict you're going to need to understand the strategic importance of Kobane, a significant location to Kurds throughout the region. Kobane is an important point on the map because it represents the northernmost town in central Syria, literally on the border between Syria and Turkey.
Recently, the city has represented a vital choke point for fleeing refugees to Turkey. In late September, a key bridge from the Euphrates was taken which allowed ISIL forces to encircle the region. Within days, at least 50 villages were taken which sent tens of thousands of fleeing villagers on a mass exodus to Turkey. The brunt of these flowed through Kobane.
Second, as the map shows, it is a valuable Kurdish town in that it is the centermost Syrian Kurdish city. It would be, and has been an effective staging point for People's Protection Units (Kurdish militia) forces to attack from to assault ISIL near a central region. Without it, central Syria is effectively lost to the People's Protection Units and ISIL forces would have free reign. This also isolates the far Western cities of Efrin and Cindires for the Kurdish militias in the East far more than they were so before. Along with this, losing Kobane means that many of the logistical networks holding up Kurdish fighters in the major Syrian city of Aleppo would be lost. If Kobane falls, Kurds will have no logistical supply location between East and West Syria except when they travel through Turkey. They must go deep through Turkish lands to be able to supply and help protect their other cities, which now are surrounded by ISIL forces.
Lastly, shoring up resistance in Kobane will free up ISIL fighters as their central region will be much more solidified with one less town to fight against. You can see this illustrated clearly in the map below. The purple region in the north central part of Syria just went from, "ISIL is attacking this" to "This is no longer a problem for ISIL". This means they have a relatively secured path from Aleppo to Mosul all the way to Fallujah in the central part of Iraq. This Sunni Triangle will now be a massive and much more secured region for the insurgency forces, if Kobane is lost. By some reports, there have been as many as 9,000 jihadist forces involved of the siege. Once these forces are no longer involved in the fighting of Kobane, they will be free to augment forces and carry out operations elsewhere.
Now the city is embattled on the edge of Syrian Turkish border. The battle has been declining for Kurdish and FSA against ISIL militants Outnumbered, by most estimates 6:1 the Kurdish defense forces are in a losing battle for the future of Kobane, even with coalition air raids. The tide only seems to be turning a major corner after weeks of desperate and heroic fighting by the defenders and countless American and coalition air strikes. This being the case, many are asking, why the Turks are literally sitting sidelined for this fight, only a mile outside the battlezone of Kobane, where they have the potential to prevent a possible massacre as well as deliver a major defeat against the ISIL insurgency.
Traynor's Guardian article displays some disturbing truths about the precarious stance of the Turkish government.
What's important to know is that, while Kurdish forces are gaining great notoriety for their ability to maintain Northern Iraq and Syria, they have not been well liked throughout the region and primarily in Turkey.
If you look at the region many would consider Kurdistan, the region populated mostly by those of Kurdish ancestry, you'll see that a massive block of Turkey is actually populated predominantly by Kurds. Kurds also comprise between 10% and 25% of the population and have been subjected to official repression for decades. Over the past three decades, Kurdish nationals in Turkey have been fighting for independence and equality with the rest of their fellow Turkish citizens. One group above all others, has been leading the fight toward independence in the form of an actual insurrection against the Turkish government.
The Kurdistan Workers' Party, commonly referred to by its Kurdish acronym, PKK, is a Kurdish militant organization which from 1984 to 2013 fought an armed struggle against the Turkish state for cultural and political rights and self-determination for the Kurds in Turkey. The PKK's ideology was originally a fusion of revolutionary socialism and Kurdish nationalism, seeking the foundation of an independent, Marxist–Leninist state in the region known as Kurdistan. The name 'PKK' is usually used interchangeably for the name of its armed wing, the People's Defence Force (HPG), which was formerly called the Kurdistan National Liberty Army (ARGK). The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization internationally by several states and organizations, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the United States, and the European Union.
For that reason, Turkish views of many Kurdish fighters are less than admirable. This is personified most by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan when he equated the Kurds of Kobani and their defenders with the islamic jihadist insurgents.
“It is wrong to view them differently, we need to deal with them jointly.”
Yet more concerning is that the ISIL Crisis is uncovering what appears to be signs that the fanatical jihadists aren't being viewed with such vehement scorn as they are viewed from the West.
“A significant part of the Turkish public believes the Sunnis of Syria and the Middle East are fellow victims of injustice and that Isis represents a legitimate Sunni grievance,” the International Crisis Group said this week in a report from Ankara.
Expert on Islam, Sam Harris, recently explained why this may happen by describing some very troubling patterns that modern liberal tolerances haven't yet come to deal with about the religion. He stated that when we try to truly study and understand muslims, we see the fundamentalist leanings are much larger a percentage of the total population than at first we wanted to believe. His view is that, while most muslims by a wide margin are not fanatical terrorists, the number of those sympathetic to the jihadist's call may be higher than many believed. It's important to remember that not all muslims are like those we experience in the West, those who are well educated and well socialized to American and Western values. The values that much of conservative Islam hold are not congruent with life in much of the rest of the world. For that reason, many of us have come to the belief that muslims across the world are like the muslims we know in our cities and that we know as friends. When you change locations however, you see a culture which is much different, and where values we hold are viewed as intolerable. He describes running throughout much of the Middle East a deep inner circle of Islam, one which "wakes up every day wanting to kill apostates and hoping to die if they don't" as the jihadists. Outside of this group are the islamists. They as convinced of the idea of martyrdom, but aren't willing to to kill themselves to see others brought down. They are willing to fight and want to see an end to democracy and the instillment of an Islamic theocracy. They're just not going to blow up a bus to do it. Harris fears that between these two groups, you have a section that represents as much as 20% of the Islamic population. Outside of this population you will see the conservative branch of Islam. These groups completely don't agree with the acts and atrocities of groups like ISIL, but in much larger numbers than we have led ourselves to believe, still have extremely intolerant views "towards women's rights, toward homosexuals that are deeply troubling… and they keep women and homosexuals immiserated."
An International Crisis Group added that private polling within Erdoğan’s religion-based Sunni Muslim AK party revealed sympathy for Isis. With his constituency seeing the Islamic State as anything other than a murderous jihadist horde, "This makes it hard for a Turkish government to directly attack Isis.” reported the International Crisis Group.
The New York Times also recently reported that as many as 1,000 Turks have joined ISIS, according to Turkish news media reports and government officials there. Recruits cite the group’s ideological appeal to disaffected youths as well as the money it pays fighters from its flush coffers. Turkish fighters recruited by ISIS say they identify more with the extreme form of Islamic governance practiced by ISIS than with the rule of the Turkish governing party, which has its roots in a more moderate form of Islam.
In response to numerous factors, Turkey has gone to great lengths to secure their Southern border. This, only after, thousands of Turkish recruits made their way through, along with perhaps thousands more international travelers. Regardless, now military forces are no longer allowing passage into Syria. This has the effect, however, of essentially blockading Kobane from the rest of their Kurdish allies.
Looking back at the map of the Middle East which focuses on levels of high Kurdish population, you'll see that Kobane indeed rest on a very narrow "peninsula" of Kurdish population stretching from their main population center in Turkey to Syria. Also present in Syria is a very strong region of Syrian Kurds protected by the People's Protection Units, and further to the East, the Kurdistan Regional Government, Iraqi Kurds who have a long history of support against fanatical islamists. These two groups, along with the PPK in Turkey all wish to take part in aiding the stranded fighters in Kobane. To do this, however, they must either go through the extremely occupied region of central Syria or through Turkey. The Turkish blockade of northern Syria, however, is in effect, a second siege preventing potentially thousands of willing supporters for the Kobane defense effort.
While I can see the Turkish stance as being, perhaps, logical from their point of view, the facts of the matter are that it has outraged many thousands of Kurds living in Turkey presently. Over the past few weeks, thousands have gone into the streets across to protest Kurdish inaction and what they view as preferential treatment for the fanatical islamist regime. In actions across Turkey, at least 30 people were killed and hundreds more injured as protests turned to riots.
The last week has meant much for the future of the Middle East. A small town on the Syrian border has made present yet another ethnic divide ripping the region apart. Instability has spread to showcase a future for Turkey where militant collapse in their Eastern half, the same type of collapse which saw ISIL go from a backwater terrorist faction, to the modern State of Terror. In a report by the AP, the situation has just gone from isolated protesting in the streets to an all out conflict, reminiscent of beginnings of civil wars from Libya, and now most notably, Syria.
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — In a sign of further turbulence for the U.S. led-coalition against the Islamic State group, Turkish warplanes have struck suspected Kurdish rebel positions in southeastern Turkey, media reports said Tuesday.
It was the first major airstrikes against the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, since peace talks began two years ago to end a 30-year insurgency in Turkey. It added to tensions between the key U.S. coalition partner and PKK, a militant group listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. that is also among the fiercest opponents of the Islamic State group.
The return to violence between the two parties suggests that Turkey's focus may not be on the Islamic State group, even as it negotiates its role with the U.S. and NATO allies fighting the extremists. Turkey has provoked frustration among allies, by saying it won't join the fight against the Islamic State militants unless the U.S.-led coalition also targets Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.
The article mentions Turkey negotiating its role with the U.S. and NATO over how it will be engaged in the war against ISIL. The Turkish government agreed on Monday to let US and coalition forces use its bases, including a key installation within 100 miles of the Syrian border, for operations against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq. Apparently, there was even a promise by Ankara to train several thousand Syrian moderate rebels in the fight, as well. Many hailed this as good news, seeing another major regional player now joining the battle against ISIL. I have to wonder.
Given the apathy and resentment shown by Turkish officials to the plight of foreign Kurdish fighters, even to the point of allowing jihadi fundamentalists to occupy a key region a stone's throw away from their own border, along with their complete inability to take direct action against the terrorist organizations, along with signs that a major segment of their population may be sympathetic to the goals of the islamists, I have to wonder what motivations are behind any actions to allow American or any other Western intervention in the conflict.
To pose my own pessimistic view, one which I hope others will consider given the information I have shared, I think it is because Turkey may want an American security blanket against it's own insurgency which looms around the corner. The rise of Kurdish prestige and victories over the last year has galvanized their spirit and the renewed call for Kurdish nationalism. As I have said before in this post, the nation with the largest single stake in the future of the Kurds is Turkey. Kurdish autonomy has spread throughout the region, giving rise to the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq and another like it in North Eastern Syria. This zeal is going to invite more Kurds to carry on the torch of autonomy and independence which has no one to hurt than Turkey. In the political environment that is the Middle East, one of ever growing chaos, reorganization and upheaval, I have to wonder if Turks true focus is ISIL at all. I truly wonder if really, the recent allowance to allow coalition forces to use Turkish military bases and train Syrian defense forces was really only an effort to ensure their assistance in the event of a future Kurdish uprising. Turkey has long been a friend of the United States amidst much less moderate neighbors. Now, however, it seems that conservative Islamic factions within Turkey have grown tired of their Western friendly policies and are now acting in accord with ISIL forces, even if indirectly. This won't sit well with the Kurds of the region who, until only yesterday, enjoyed a brief two year lull in a 30 year feud with the nation. Now, it seems, they are hedging on the possibility of Kurdish uprising with the presence of US and NATO allies to keep Turkish lands within the sovereign control of Ankara.
The Enemy of My Enemy
There is a Arabic saying that translates "The enemy of my enemy is my friend". The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has unanimously gained no friends across the world. No nations and no allies have come out to show support for the fanatical regime, even among fellow Islamic terrorist organizations. In the case of Turkey, however, there hasn't really been much done to show that they actually do view them as enemies. Instead, they seem to be looking at others as potential risks within their own borders. They've seen a problem which has existed for decades, namely the Kurdish population within Turkey and seen its sudden rise to popularity in the world's stage, as well as its rise to power in military and political efficacy. This can only mean bad things for the future of Turkey. For all these reasons, one has to wonder if the Turks really see ISIL as their enemy or merely as the enemy of their longstanding enemy, the Kurds. If we view it in that light, we can see how it shouldn't surprise anyone how much help Turkey has provided, if by nothing else than timely inaction, to the Sunni jihadists. Perhaps it is simpler than this. Perhaps, in light of President Erdoğan's statement that, “It is wrong to view them differently, we need to deal with them jointly," exactly that is being done; allow the two enemies of Turkey to fight each other to their mutual oblivion.
To be clear, Turkey has never aided ISIL through troop support, nor is there any evidence that they have provided weapons, financing or aid of any kind, but their policy of preventing the success of Kurdish forces, primarily in the battle for Kobane, as well as their inability to prevent the same sort of assistance being given to Islamic State fighter, they have given more indirect assistance than one could have imagined possible in keeping these terrorist's alive. For those of us watching this conflict in the future, I am reminded of yet another Arabic saying, oddly fitting this time:
"Be wary around your enemy once, and your friend a thousand times."
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