Τρίτη, 15 Ιουλίου 2014

Turkey faces threat from returning jihadists

Under the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Turkey has lost its proxy war in Syria after being recklessly dragged into it by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Had Turkey emerged victorious — in other words, had the Damascus regime been toppled and replaced by the rule of Syrian Islamists — Sunni Turkey would have been the primary beneficiary. It would have led the building of a new Syria, reaping economic and political gains and consolidating its status as the Middle East’s new regional power and playmaker. It would have basked in the strategic feat of dealing a blow to its Shiite rival Iran’s clout and influence in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The AKP’s Turkey based its game in Syria on a big gamble, a feature typical of the foreign policy adventures commanded by Erdogan and Davutoglu. Now that it has lost the war, it should be prepared to live — possibly for a long time — in a turbulent environment of crisis and threats.
Turkey’s two southern neighbors, Syria and Iraq, are now “failed states.” Turkey holds a direct responsibility for Syria becoming such a state due to its regime-change policy. In Iraq, the Islamic State — the al-Qaeda offshoot formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham — would have been unable to grow strong enough to capture a number of Sunni Arab cities if not for the Syrian turmoil. Hence, Turkey also bears an indirect responsibility through its Syria policyfor Iraq's troubles.
The combined length of Turkey’s borders with Syria and Iraq is 1,208 km (750 miles), including 10 border crossings — nine with Syria and one with Iraq. Only two of those crossings — Kessab (facing Yayladag in Turkey) on the western end of the Syrian border and Qamishli on the eastern end — are currently controlled by a state whose sovereignty and status is internationally recognized, and it is a failed state. Syria’s Baath regime wields only limited and isolated control in areas along the Turkish border. The actual control is in the hands of non-state actors: Syrian Islamist militants, the Islamic State and the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, the Syrian extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
On the Iraqi border, Turkey neighbors the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which can be described as a “proto-state” at best. The KRG territory is home to the PKK’s main command base and armed units. At the time this article was penned, the Islamic State’s (IS, formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS) capture of Mosul and its ensuing storming of the Turkish consulate in the city was an event 28 days old, and 48 Turks, among them Consul-General Ozturk Yilmaz, are still being held hostage. Commenting on the hostage crisis and the situation in general, Davutoglu said June 28, “A big crisis is currently at our doorstep and we, as neighbors, are being affected. … Iraq and Syria have become intricately entangled with each other.”
The crisis, in fact, is not at Turkey’s doorstep but inside its house. But because it is still in an early stage, not all segments of society are able to directly grasp its dramatic impact. Government censorship has also been instrumental in this regard, particularly the ban on reporting and commenting about the hostage crisis.
The crises in Syria and Iraq seem to be taunting Davutoglu. Those who have attended the lengthy lectures Davutoglu once enjoyed giving to columnists are well aware that the minister is not at ease with the existence of nation-states in the Middle East and the legitimacy of their borders. During one such gathering in Ankara in July 2012, Turkey’s foreign minister talked about how borders in the Middle East were wrong and artificial. He said, “Qamishli and Mosul are separated from one another. Erroneously erected walls have determined those borders. We have to respect them, but we need to render them insignificant, as the borders in Europe are. Economic and cultural borders should take their natural forms. We should draw the Middle East puzzle in a way that will allow us to integrate on larger scales rather than splitting up on smaller scales.”
Ironically, only two years later, the "artificial borders" between Syria and Iraq are being rendered insignificant. This process, however, is not taking place peacefully under the guidance of a public authority, but in a brutal, bloody manner by the hand of an al-Qaeda offshoot. The Islamic State, which has declared a caliphate for itself, is “entangling” Iraq and Syria just as Davutoglu said, taking control of a Sunni Arab axis stretching from Iraq along the Euphrates basin into Syria, then moving northwest up to the Jarablus border crossing that faces Karkamis on the Turkish side.
Davutoglu’s regional utopia, which seems to be the product of Ottoman nostalgia and overexposure to Sunni Islamist romanticism, is now in the hands of barbarians with Salafist al-Qaeda ideology, devolving into a cruel dystopia for anyone but the jihadists who espouse it.
And is the Iraqi-Syrian border the only one that has been rendered insignificant? Let’s recall that the Turkish-Syrian border was the first to blur. As part of military efforts to topple the Baath regime, everything that comes to mind minus the regular Turkish army — logistical support, weapons and jihadists — have crossed in large numbers from Turkey to Syria since 2011. Today, this is a simple and universally known fact.
A large part of the Turkish public believes that only jihadists from Western countries are crossing the border to join the war in Syria, since Turkey’s traditional media do not — cannot — report the whole story. Similarly, a large part of the Turkish public thinks that only Western countries are facing the threat of jihadists returning home from Syria.
A simple Google search with the keywords “Syria," "martyr" and "mujahedeen” in Turkish suggests that many Turks have crossed to Syria to fight the regime and some have been killed there. The names of 29 Turkish jihadists “martyred” in Syria can be counted in a single video on YouTube.
Only the intelligence services can know the actual number of Turks fighting in the ranks of jihadist groups in Syria. The figure is likely to be in the hundreds. Given that the trend of jihadists going to and returning from Syria has been underway since 2011, the total figure may well be in the thousands.
Regardless of whether they maintain their links to al-Qaeda, thousands of people who have taken part in bloodshed in the ranks of al-Qaeda-linked groups should be, no doubt, seen as a potential threat to Turkey’s internal peace. Given the climate of hatred created in Turkey as a result of polarizing policies and constant incitement against the country’s Alevi community and secular segments, the presence of thousands of people who have mastered and internalized killing may have the effect of a powder keg meeting with fire. Preventing this threat from materializing is up to the AKP government, which holds the primary responsibility for the creation of the problem.
Some terrorism experts, meanwhile, draw attention to still other aspects of the problem. The Turkish nationals fighting in jihadist ranks in Syria also include Kurdish Islamists, while some Turks have joined the armed factions of Turkmen Islamists. Arab Alawite youths, on the other hand, are said to have gone to fight in pro-regime militias.
Even if the AKP had succeeded in toppling the Syrian regime, the Turks who went to fight there would have still posed an internal threat upon their return home. But the chaos simmering across Turkey’s southern borders today has greatly amplified the threat of the boomerang.

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/07/gursel-jihadists-turkey-syria-iraq-isis-nusra-returning.html#ixzz37XO8CaMy

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