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memri
July 13, 2015 No.
1175

Turkey's AKP Gov't Appears To Support Its Jihadi Neighbors To The South – But Orders Turkish Military To Syrian Border To Stop Kurdish Advance On ISIS; Says West Is Plotting Against Turkey, Muslim Middle East

By: R. Krespin*

Introduction

Following the June 15, 2015 capture by Kurdish forces, with U.S. and coalition assistance, of the Syrian border town of Tel Abyad from the Islamic State (ISIS), ISIS fighters fled the area. The loss of Tel Abyad was a serious blow to ISIS, because the town has, since the beginning of the Syria crisis, been a major crossing point into Syria from Turkey for supplies and fighters, including ISIS's. It was also ISIS's main route for providing support to its de-facto capital of Al-Raqqah, Syria, 60 miles to the south.

Turkey, although a NATO ally of the West, has long ignored requests by the West to more firmly control its border with Syria to prevent supplies and fighters from reaching ISIS. It has watched as Kurdish fighters from the People's Defense Units (Kurdish: Yekîneyên Parastina Gel, or YPG) - the armed wing of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) - along with Buraq Al-Firat, a small faction of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), effectively repel ISIS, accomplishing a mission that the West had expected Turkey to undertake. Turkey has refused to play a more active role in fighting ISIS alongside the coalition forces, and has instead prioritized fighting forces of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and preventing the Kurds from taking hold along its border.

Alarmed at the Kurdish takeover of Tel Abyad, which linked the two Kurdish autonomous cantons of Jazeera and Kobani, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held multiple security summits in his palace, to address the "national threat" posed by the possibility that a Kurdish corridor could be established along Turkey's southern border. In a televised speech at an iftar dinner, Erdogan said: "I say to the world: We will never permit the formation of a [Kurdish] state in northern Syria. I want this to be well known. We will prevent this no matter what the cost may be."[1]

It should be noted that when ISIS declared the Islamic State in June 2014, near Turkey's border with Syria and Iraq, the AKP government had not only not considered it a threat, but had maintained an open-door policy with its new jihadi neighbors, allowing fighters, weapons, and ammunition to cross into and out of Syria. Turkey's support for terrorist organizations in Syria has been disclosed by some Turkish mainstream, anti-AKP dailies which have documented heavy weaponry and ammunition being brought into Syria on large trucks, accompanied by personnel from Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MIT). Despite an AKP government blackout on any news on what has come to be known as the "MIT trucks incident," on May 29, 2015, Cumhuriyet released a video of a search conducted on two of the trucks in January 2014, revealing their cargo. Subsequently, President Erdogan sued Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Can Dundar, who is now charged with treason and could face two life sentences. Also, the anti-AKP Birgun daily reported, on September 22, 2014,  that Turkey has built special hospitals in southern border towns where wounded jihadis are brought in from Syria for treatment. These and other Turkish media reports will be the focus of the next report from the MEMRI Turkish Media Project.

Following the June 29, 2015 Turkish National Security Council summit, headed by Erdogan, it was officially declared that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) had been ordered to take all possible measures to secure Turkey's southern border, and that they were fully prepared to take any action necessary against "ISIS terrorists" and against the "PYD terrorists' attempts to institute demographic change in the region by cleansing it of its Arab and Turkmen inhabitants." It is clear that the AKP government hopes that by misrepresenting its actual aims by couching them in this language, which they are using in its international diplomatic campaign, it would be able to justify, legitimize, and gain international acceptance for the military intervention in Syria that it is planning.


The Turkish military moving tanks, missile launchers, artillery, and other heavy equipment to the Turkish southern border town of Kilis. (Photo: Hurriyet, July 2, 2015)

The following are articles from the Turkish media on these developments:  

Turkey's Military: Wary And Reluctant

A June 27, 2015 report by the Turkish mainstream daily Hurriyet broke the news that the military had received orders to prepare for war. It also noted that the military had refused to act on verbal orders from the outgoing AKP government which had lost its parliamentary majority in the June 7 general elections, but that Chief of Staff Gen. Ozel had insisted on written instructions, which were provided promptly by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

According to the report, the reluctant military officials were concerned about the risks involved, including situations in which Turkish forces could come under attack by ISIS, Syrian Kurds, and Syrian government forces, as well as possible civil unrest inside Turkey that massive protests by Turkey's Kurds would create. Turkey's top brass said that the country must have compelling reasons to justify any military action it took in Syrian territory, beyond its concerns that a Kurdish state would emerge in northern Syria. They warned that such military action could pit Turkey against the U.S., as well as against Russia and Iran, if undertaken without first consulting them. Military officials also said that the Syrian government should also be consulted, so that any Turkish military operation would not violate international law.[2]

Erdogan: West Is Plotting Against Turkey And The Region; AKP Islamist Media Pushes For War Against Syria

In the pro-AKP media in Turkey, anti-West sentiment is on the rise, as it stresses the necessity of military action to prevent a Kurdish entity from emerging along Turkey's southern border, and the need to rescue Turkey from the grand designs of the Western powers. Front-page headlines declare the Kurdish PYD "more dangerous than ISIS"[3] and promulgated the AKP's claims that the Kurds in Syria are engaged in ethnic cleansing of Arabs and Turkmen in Tel Abyad.


Media depiction of Turkish military plan of operation against Syria (Photo: Cumhuriyet , June 29, 2015)

Turkey's pro-AKP Islamist media is urging Turkish military intervention to seize a strip of land in Syria, between Jarablus and Marea, near the de-facto autonomous Kurdish canton of Afrin, to serve as a buffer zone, thus preventing a possible Kurdish takeover of Jarabulus and a subsequent unification of the three Kurdish regions along the border. They write that the U.S. and other Western powers, along with their Turkish media pawns and the Kurds, are conspiring against Turkey, and are preparing the ground for a Kurdish state along the southern border, that will stretch from northern Iraq to the Mediterranean. Some even claim that the Western powers that created ISIS, and that are acting together with the Assad regime and the PYD in Syria against Muslim countries in the Middle East, are drawing new Sykes-Picot lines to change the map of the region.

On June 25, 2015, Erdogan also spoke about foreign designs on the region. Noting that an historic transformation was underway in Anatolia and the entire region, he added: "For the last 100 years, the history of our region has been determined by the Sykes-Picot setup. This order, that was built 100 years ago, is the main cause of all the wars and bloodshed between [Muslim] brothers. Today too we are witnessing a new Sykes-Picot being constructed in our south. The events taking place in Syria and Iraq cannot be assessed as [resulting] solely from those countries' internal dynamics.

"We are seeing engineered plans put into motion, that will shape the future of our country and of the entire region. Projects that are foreign to the history and nature of our region are being brought to life. It is as if they are showing us the option of death, so that we agree to accept the fever [i.e. the lesser of two evils]."

He continued: "We cannot permit terrorist organizations to be used as a lever, and we cannot pretend not to see these plots and act as if they do not exist. Nobody can expect us to [merely] observe these events that impact us as a nation while sitting in the grandstand." Attacking the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) for daring to accuse Turkey of supporting terrorists, and for organizing global campaigns on Twitter to discredit the country, he called the party "the pawns of foreign lobbies hostile to Turkey."[4]

Islamist columnist Ibrahim Karagul wrote that military intervention is "a must" to "save Turkey from the destruction planned for it by the West." He wrote about the danger of foreign grand designs, and about the formation of a hostile front in the south to destroy Turkey, block its growth, limit its reach, and sever its ties with the Arab and Muslim world by "imprisoning Turkey within Anatolia."[5]

Anti-AKP Turks Oppose War

Mainstream media, opposition parties, and legal authorities in Turkey strongly oppose any military intervention in Syria, arguing that a lame-duck interim government or president cannot authorize such an action without consulting the newly sworn-in parliament.[6] They fear that Erdogan will lead the country into a quagmire in Syria that will cost the nation dearly, to serve both his personal ambitions and his hatred of the Alawite rule of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, whom he wants to see replaced by Sunni Islamists like himself.

Turkish analysts, such as Kadri Gursel of the mainstream daily Milliyet, think that Erdogan, following his upset in the June 7, 2015 elections, would undermine the process of coalition-building by pushing for his long-desired military intervention in Syria, knowing well that no opposition party would agree to join a coalition with AKP if it starts a war. He would create chaos, says Gursel, and declare early elections, hoping to ride the rising tide of nationalism and emerge a winner himself, and then have the AKP gain back its parliamentary majority.[7] Most Turks believe that Erdogan has not abandoned his grand ambition to become the absolute ruler of an Islamist, expansionist, neo-Ottoman country of his dreams.

The AKP's Fabricated Excuses For War: Marketing It Domestically As Against Kurds, Internationally As Against ISIS

Fehmi Tastekin of the liberal Turkish daily Radikal also wrote that Erdogan might try to start a war, with the aim of redirecting his failed attempt in the June 7 elections to become a super-president by trying to run as a super commander, and burning Turkey in the process. He added that the AKP would try to market a military intervention by presenting it to Turkey as a "precaution to prevent the formation of a Kurdish state" and internationally as "an operation against ISIS." All the so-called justifications for a war, he said, are fabricated by the AKP government:  

"These false excuses include: ethnic cleansing of Turkmens and Arabs by Kurds; the formation of a Kurdish belt along the border that would threaten Turkey; the likelihood that ISIS, having lost Tel Abyad, would move westward with the help of Assad's forces, and that ISIS would seize the border crossings of Bab Al-Hewa [Cilvegozu on the Turkish side] and Selame [Oncupinar on the Turkish side]."

Tastekin believes that only the latter could be considered a realistic justification for war for the AKP, since losing these two border crossings would mean the severing of its ability to provide the logistical and material support that Turkey, in partnership with the Saudis, gives to the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat Al-Nusra and Ahrar Al-Sham and other jihadi organizations in Syria.

Regarding the AKP's false accusation that the Kurds are carrying out ethnic cleansing in Tel Abyad, Tastekin claims that the displacement of the majority of the Syrian population was a result of the proxy war, in which Turkey is the main actor. He points to the AKP's hypocritical silence when Syrian opposition forces expelled the Shi'ites and Christians from Homs, and the Alawites from Latakia. Likewise, he says, Turkey did not object when ISIS expelled the Kurds from Raqqa, Menbic and Al-Bab in 2014. He says that the Kurds' success in forming the 'social contract' that made it possible for people of all colors to live and survive in Rojava (northern Syria/western Kurdistan) should be seen as a model, not a threat.

Tastekin then warns about the consequences of a Turkish military intervention in Syria, a sovereign state, and says that this would constitute an invasion: "The AKP may claim that no one is controlling these areas anyway. But if Turkey stops the flow of arms and fighters through its borders, and stops shooting at the Syrian government forces every time they come near the border, control would be established there.

"Such an intervention would bring Turkish military face to face with Syrian government forces. If the 'buffer zone' includes the ISIS-controlled Jarabulus, ISIS will target Turkey directly, and the fighting will not be conventional fighting limited to the borders. If the intervention targets Kurdish YPG areas, this would mean fighting the Kurds, who, God forbid, will burn our cities."

Tastekin claims that since there are no moderates left in Syria, the only beneficiaries of this military intervention would be the jihadi organizations: "Such an intervention would turn Turkey into another Syria."[8]

Turkish columnist Nuray Mert of Cumhuriyet wrote that there was nothing more comical than the excuse for war given by the Islamists who were pushing for it, and added that those in the pro-AKP Islamist media who claim "that fighting ISIS would demonstrate that Turkey is not related to terrorists" would make a cat laugh. She asked: "Did [the idea of] fighting ISIS occur to them only now?" The ones who are voicing war cries now, she wrote, are the same ones who called it a 'victory' when Mosul was occupied by ISIS, and who had said that what was important was the Sunni resistance and the Sunni State.  One of the war-promoting daily newspapers, she wrote, referring to the pro-AKP Sabah, had published the headline, "The PYD is more dangerous than ISIS" - thus openly acknowledging that a military operation was planned by the government against the Kurds, and not against ISIS.[9]

ISIS Infiltrates Kobane Again, Massacres Civilians; Kurds Claim They Came Through Turkey

Having left the Kurdish town of Kobane on Syria-Turkey border on January 26, 2015, ISIS militants returned to attack the town in pre-dawn hours of June 25, entering from the north and the south. They detonated simultaneous car bombs, one near the Turkish border crossing of Mursitpinar just north of Kobane. The fighting continued at locations outside Kobane for the rest of the day, until Kurdish forces cleaned the town of ISIS terrorists. In what is considered to be the second-largest massacre that ISIS has ever carried out, over 200 people, mostly children, were killed, and about 150 were wounded. In Berxbotan village, 28 women and children were decapitated by ISIS. Nearly 100 of the wounded were carried over the border fence into Turkey, where they were taken to hospitals in nearby Suruc.

There was widespread belief among Kurds that ISIS fighters had infiltrated into Kobane from Turkey, through Mursitpinar crossing - a claim strongly denied by Turkish government officials.[10]

Twitter Campaign Condemns Turkey For Helping Jihadi Organizations In Syria

On June 25, 2015, a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #terroristturkey condemning Turkey's involvement with and its aid to jihadis trended to the No. 1 spot globally.


Chart showing estimated tweets per hour for #terroristturkey. Source: #terroristturkey, Twitter, June 25, 2015.


President Erdogan allows jihadis in through the border but keeps refugees out. Source: #terroristturkey, Twitter, June 25, 2015.

PYD leader Salih Muslim told reporters that there were signs that some of the terrorists had infiltrated into Kobane through Turkey. He said, when told that Turkey vehemently rejects these allegations, "Turkey always denies everything, but it is mendacity itself."[11]

Osman Baydemir, former mayor of the Kurdish-majority southeastern province of Diyarbakir, and newly elected HDP MP, exhibited on television a Turkish government-issue identity card found on one of the ISIS fighters killed in Kobane. Baydemir said: "This ID card that I hold in my hand belongs to one of the monsters that participated in the massacre in Kobane. It is proof that this murderer was sheltered in one of the camps in Akcakale" in Turkey - that is, he reached Kobane via Turkey.[12]


HDP MP Osman Baydemir shows Turkish government ID found on an ISIS fighter killed in Kobane. Cumhuriyet, June 25, 2015.

The anti-AKP Turkish daily Yurt also accused the AKP government of supporting, aiding, and arming the jihadi organizations in Syria, and claimed that some of the ISIS fighters who had carried out the massacres in Kobane had come through Turkey, as had the car bomb that was detonated near the border crossing. As evidence, Yurt provided photos of a Turkish government-issue ID found on Syrian ISIS fighter Ahmet Shikh, captured in Kobane by Kurdish forces.


Turkish government-issue ID found on Syrian ISIS fighter Ahmet Shikh, captured in Kobane by Kurdish forces. Source: Yurt Gazetesi, June 27, 2015.

HDP Co-Chair: "The AKP Government Is Trying To Create An Excuse To Invade Syria" Because Of Its Animosity Towards The Kurds

Figen Yuksekdag, co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party of Turkey (HDP) headed a delegation of HDP parliamentarians on a visit to the Turkish border at Kobane, where she lashed out at the AKP government for its complicity in the massacre of the 146 civilians in Kobane. The ISIS attack, she stated, had been well planned, well-prepared, and well-coordinated to be conducted on multiple fronts, one of which was at the Mursitpinar crossing on the Turkish border. She said that this was no infiltration but free passage given to the ISIS murderers and their car bombs by the Turkish government, that facilitated the slaughter. There are ISIS camps and centers inside Turkey, she said, and the evidence of this is clear, but the government denies this. Because the judiciary and law enforcement serve the AKP, not a single investigation is being conducted, she said.

Yuksekdag further stated that the AKP government was trying to build a case to justify military intervention in Syria, through lies and false accusations against the Kurds, on the pretext of protecting the Turkmen. She demanded: "Mr. Prime Minister, where were you when thousands of Turkmen women were kidnapped, raped, sold into slavery, or killed by these murderous, subhuman ISIS gangs? Why do you never tell this to our people? There are over 200 Turkmen women in the hands of ISIS right now! Aren't they the Turkmen that you supposedly defend?

"It is not you but others who are defending them! It is the Kurdish forces of the YPG and YPJ that are defending the Turkmen. It is the PYD that has taken upon itself the responsibility to defend, protect, and provide security to all those targeted by ISIS, without discriminating on the basis of their nationality, ethnicity or religion."

Calling on the AKP government to stop its support for and cut its ties with the terrorist gangs, and just for once to launch an operation against ISIS to prove that it is not with them, she added: "If you do not support and stand behind these terrorist gangs, then for God's sake round up some of them - just like you arrest and imprison scores of children and women, young and old, every day in this country."[13]


Still from video showing two ISIS militants at the Turkish border in apparently friendly conversation with Turkish soldiers, after stealing or setting fire to cars and trucks abandoned by refugees escaping Kobane. Youtube.com/watch?v=xz_Sd-6uAhs. September/October 2014, accessed July 8, 2015.

Turkey Is Now "The Jihadi Highway" - Because Of AKP's Pan-Islamist, Ottomanist Foreign Policy

In his February 26, 2015 column in the mainstream Turkish daily Milliyet, Kadri Gursel, who has written frequently in the past three years in opposition to the AKP's foreign policy, particularly its Syria policy, accused the AKP of blurring the lines between Turkey's domestic and foreign policies, in line with its Islamist ideology, with disastrous results: "The AKP's policy is 'Islamism at home, Islamism in the world.' Its social engineering project to create a devout society at home through its authoritarian Islamist rule spilled over into Syria, with the aim of ousting [the Alawite] Assad by inciting civil war and to install there a Muslim Brotherhood government. This pro-Sunni, neo-Ottomanist and Islamist foreign policy has further exacerbated the polarization in Turkey.

"Turkey has become a country in which any opponent of this disastrous Syria policy is called 'Assadist,' any citizen who does not give the four-finger [Rabi'a] Muslim Brotherhood hand sign is called a 'coup-planner,' and anyone who criticizes AKP's Middle East policy is accused of being 'an agent for Israel.'"

Previously, on January 12, 2015, Gursel wrote that the AKP government had created an emotional climate in Turkey in which some (i.e.pro-AKP) sectors of the population assumed that the civil war in Syria was actually taking place in Turkey. The AKP, he said, wanted its electorate not only to show humane solidarity with the people of Gaza, but to identify with Gaza by making it the main focus of its policy. "Likewise," he added, the AKP "engineered a fictitious perception to elicit from the public the same reaction to the coup in Egypt that it would have had if Erdogan himself were ousted."

He added that AKP government officials had until recently refused to call ISIS a terrorist organization, and had downplayed the threat it poses, in excusing its actions. Accusing the AKP of spreading its pan-Islamist ideology and causing thousands of young Turks to join the jihad in Syria and elsewhere, he warned that if they do not die there, they will come back to Turkey as fanatics who know very well how to kill.

 

* R. Krespin is Director of MEMRI's Turkish Media Project.

 

Endnotes:

[1] Yeni Safak, Turkey, June 27, 2015.

[2] Hurriyet, June 27, 2015.

[3] Sabah, Turkey, June 19, 2015.

[4] Hurriyet, June 26, 2015.

[5] Yeni Safak, June 16, 2015.

[6] Cumhuriyet, June 29, 2015.

[7] Milliyet, June 29, 2015.

[8] Radikal, June 30, 2017.

[9] Cumhuriyet, June 29, 2015.

[10] Cumhuriyet, June 25-26, 2015.

[11] Cumhuriyet, June 25, 2015.

[12] Cumhuriyet, June 30, 2015.

[13] Radikal, June 27, 2015.